### Lessons from Parenting in Denmark: Insights from Raising Children Among the World’s Happiest Kids

In a contemporary Scandinavian residence overlooking the Baltic Sea, a significant moment transpired. Following numerous attempts, two blue lines appeared, signifying a life-altering event. Embracing parenthood in the rural setting of Denmark was never part of the initial plan. Departing carefree and childless from London in 2013, amidst Denmark being crowned the happiest nation globally, marked the beginning of a new chapter.

My spouse secured a position in Jutland at the renowned toy company Lego, while my profession as a journalist allowed for remote work. Thus, we embarked on a one-year trial to explore the renowned Danish lifestyle (hint: it’s not solely about the weather).

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Fast forward to the present, encompassing a boisterous redhead and unexpectedly, twins, I find myself rooted here. Despite imperfections, we have persisted as it has become the sole environment our children have known, and Denmark stands out as a favorable setting for families. Why, you may ask? The Danes have a distinctive approach.

Primarily, Danish youngsters commence public daycare around 10 months of age (even the heir to the throne). This service is subsidized by the state up to 75%, emphasizing the notion that childcare yields invaluable returns, with the belief that socializing at a tender age is imperative.

Both parents typically engage in the workforce and share household responsibilities. In the dim, Nordic mornings, I observed an equal mix of fathers and mothers participating in the daycare drop-offs.

Moreover, the “Viking” parenting philosophy significantly diverges from conventional practices. In Denmark, educational institutions lack physical barriers, allowing infants to nap outdoors in their prams even in subzero temperatures (Wim Hoff’s feats pale in comparison to Viking infants).

This practice stems from the belief that ample fresh air benefits children’s health, and outdoor napping fosters robust lung development. Anecdotal evidence from Danish acquaintances suggests that this practice cultivates better sleep patterns in infants, minimizing abrupt awakenings to external stimuli.

It is noteworthy that an astounding 79% of Danes exhibit trust in the majority—a statistic that captivated me. The Nordic region consistently secures top ranks as one of the safest globally. Despite initial apprehension, I cautiously followed suit with the redhead, influenced by my Danish parent peers, and later with the twins due to the impracticality of maneuvering a large pram into my local café.

Thus, I secured the coveted window seat, overseeing their activities. Presently, my nine and six-year-olds exhibit an impressive ability to sleep through disturbances, a trait I, plagued by parental insomnia, struggle to emulate.

Surprisingly, children are encouraged to engage in outdoor play regardless of inclement weather conditions. The adage “no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate attire” resonates deeply, supported by research indicating enhanced motor skills and reduced conflicts among children exposed to nature.

Helen Russell Danish Parenting Image supplied by HopeN@fmcm.co.ukThe Danish parenting ethos embodies uniqueness

Equipped with an extensive array of all-weather gear, my children navigate snowsuits, windsuits, rainsuits, balaclavas, thermal undergarments, gloves, waterproof mittens, snow boots, rain boots, and standard footwear. Second-hand or pre-loved items suffice, emphasizing the importance of children’s preparedness for harsh weather conditions.

While jests circulate about the absence of stringent health and safety measures in Nordic territories, studies underscore the benefits of permitting children to partake in adventurous, risk-prone activities, fostering overall well-being.

In addition to daycare, my children participated in the formidable Danish institution known as “family Scouts.” This initiative entails toddlers engaging in activities such as whittling, handling axes, and experimenting with matches. At one such event, I found myself uttering the now-famous family mantra, “you can have a saw once you’re four!” to a two-year-old.

Playfighting, a prevalent form of play among mammals, holds significant value in child development, promoting cooperation, social skills, confidence, and sound judgment. Contrary to some U.S. establishments with a zero-tolerance policy towards such activities, Danish parents endorse and encourage playfighting.

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Danish parenting also embraces a softer side, exemplified by the tradition of community singing or fællessang at educational institutions, family gatherings, and public events—a practice believed to enhance social cohesion. Central to Danish culture is the concept of samfundssind or “community-mindedness,” evident in the volunteer-driven activities, clubs, and associations. Witnessing parental involvement instills a sense of communal responsibility in children.

Renowned family therapist and mother of three, Sofie Münster, advocates for integrating samfundssind into daily interactions with children. Encouraging acts of kindness towards others is prioritized, fostering a sense of altruism and empathy. Respect is inherent in Nordic children, requiring no validation—it is bestowed unconditionally. Criticism towards other children or excessive self-praise is discouraged, promoting a culture where every individual is esteemed for their mere existence.

The evening ritual of gathering as a family at 4 pm underscores the significance of familial bonds in Danish culture. Defined daycare hours have structured the Danish work schedule, with typical office hours spanning 8 am to 4 pm. Although parents may resume work post-bedtime, the window between 4-7 pm is revered as sacred family time in my community, dedicated to shared meals and quality interactions.

Embracing a unique approach to nutrition and child-rearing, Danes adhere to the principle of feeding children when hunger strikes, devoid of coercive tactics or incentives. The absence of mealtime ultimatums is rooted in the belief that children possess distinct biological rhythms, influencing their appetite patterns.

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How to Raise a Viking by Helen Russell is published on February 15 by 4th Estate, priced ?16.99 supplied by Hope Ndaba

Formal schooling commences at the age of six in Denmark, diverging from conventional practices. Research from Stanford University indicates a 73% reduction in attention-related issues and hyperactivity when kindergarten enrollment is delayed. The Danish educational system eschews class rankings and formal assessments until the age of 18, postponing literacy instruction until approximately eight years of age. Initially apprehensive about this approach upon relocating to Denmark, I now recognize the benefits, as early literacy pressure can induce anxiety, whereas delayed readers often surpass early learners.

Recent data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks all Nordic countries above the OECD average, with Danish students outperforming their British and American counterparts by the age of 15. By this stage, Danish teenagers exhibit a strong foundation for navigating life’s challenges. Endowed with freedom and minimal restrictions on activities like screen time, curfews, or alcohol consumption, Danish adolescents are well-equipped to handle the complexities of teenage years. The Nordic region consistently excels in Unicef rankings for happiness, education, and equality, boasting the highest levels of child well-being globally.

Embracing the Viking-inspired parenting style required a leap of faith, diverging significantly from my upbringing. The Danish term tillid, translating to both “trust” and “faith,” embodies the essence of Nordic society, a principle I now embody. Parenting, often a thankless endeavor, thrives on trust and faith in the future, with the belief that children will navigate their journey successfully. The prospect of fostering happier children underscores the mutual benefits of this approach.

‘How to Raise a Viking’ by Helen Russell is published by 4th Estate, £16.99

How to raise a Viking

  • Encourage daily play activities.
  • Embrace outdoor adventures with suitable attire for all weather conditions.
  • Avoid undue academic pressure, trusting in eventual progress.
  • Fuse permissiveness with respect for a powerful parenting dynamic.
  • Cultivate a sense of community-mindedness and kindness in daily interactions.