Happy Parents, Happy Kids

Perhaps one of the fastest ways to pick a fight with a stranger is to comment on their parenting style. Around the country, let alone around the world, each culture or region is convinced only their way is right. Yet, American education has been in decline for years, currently ranking 27th in the world.  On the world happiness index, the US only ranks 18th. How do we, as parents, raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted and productive children? Let’s take a look at a few approaches to child-rearing from beyond our shores…

Strict Helicopter

Parenting books number nearly as high as the number of parents, but several have made headlines. At one end is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua.  China, with more than a billion people vying for jobs, education, and housing, is perhaps the most cut-throat parenting system of all: children seen with potential are removed from homes as young as three, and raised by the state to become champion athletes, mathematicians, scientists. Parents are relentless in ensuring their child’s excellence, demanding study or practice eighteen or more hours a day in a method most Americans would label sheer abuse. Imagine the pressure on an entire class where being #2 is not an option. Chua has no qualms about pushing her daughters into being virtuosos and Ivy League scholars.

Don’t Bug Me, Kid

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman focuses on the ways the French raise their 

children. “The result of raising children French style, Druckerman writes, is “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters and reasonably relaxed parents.””  French parents have a me-first attitude – if the baby won’t sleep through the night by four months, let him cry. They don’t like to breastfeed, because it interferes with intimacy. They don’t speak to their infants in baby talk, treat patience and waiting as the highest virtue after social manners, and feed their infants table food, resulting in children who like to eat normal food. Are French children perfect? Bien sȗr, non, but they seem to have far fewer struggles than Americans.

One Big Happy

The Danish Way of Parenting, by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl may just have a little more power behind it. The Danes often score #1 on the list of Happiest Country in the World. They have high taxes, but they get free education, healthcare, paid maternity leave, and more – those things that are crushing us. To discuss Denmark (and many of the Scandinavian countries), one has to first understand the concept of Hygge, which rules everything the Danish do: Hygge (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-guh) is that warm, huggy feeling of comfort you get when you’re doing something with your family: sitting by the fire drinking cocoa, playing a board game, or maybe decorating cookies together, in one of those commercial-like scenarios where everyone is happy and the kids aren’t fighting and the dog isn’t chewing the game pieces – except, in Denmark, this is actually reality. It’s the land where Norman Rockwell must have taken notes.

The Danes rear their children with this mindset, which transforms them into happy adults. In (very) short:

  1. Don’t overpraise. Find something specific and praise that one thing instead. “What a nice, straight line!” Encourage growth; don’t let your child think s/he’s perfect.
  2. Let your child play. Play. With sticks, rocks, toys, not electronics. Play builds thinking skills, motor skills, social skills, and spatial relations a child needs for education.
  3. Promote togetherness. Family game nights, dinner, movies, puzzles, walks or sports or just playing in the park. Do it together, or with friends. This promotes strong social ties and models appropriate behavior. 40% of American families eat dinner together less than three times a week – 10% never do.
  4. Reframe negative thinking. Dwell on good things, not bad. If your child says they hate school, remind them of the things they do like.
  5. Practice empathy and compassion. Talk about emotions, and help your child learn to recognize them in themselves and others. Compassion for people and animals makes for a caring society.
  6. Let children figure things out for themselves. Don’t hover. Let preschoolers settle their own squabbles (within reason. If Agatha is beating Bjorn with a shovel, you might want to step in). 

There are no absolutes to child rearing. Some children are just darling; others seem to come out of the womb looking for trouble. But in a time when Americans are fracturing at the seams from stress, when schools are failing, children are parenting themselves, and society itself seems to be tearing apart, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere for advice. Considering the Danes were terrorized by two World Wars and are still the happiest people on Earth, maybe we should listen.

Also try:



Susan Reads: The Smartest Kids in The World

America’s schools are abysmal; in the world arena, our students barely break the top 20, ranking down there with Lichtenstein – and private prep schools aren’t significantly better.  In fact, America scores only seven points higher than dead center. We blame poverty, we blame spending, we blame teachers, parents, curricula, lack of diversity – but no one has come up with an actual plan that works.

               In The Smartest Kids in the WorldTime journalist Amanda Ripley follows three American exchange students of different backgrounds to some of the highest-scoring countries in the world – laid-back Finland (#3), the pressure-cooker of South Korea where students are in school more than 14 hours a day (#2), and upcoming Poland (#15), which, despite poor standing as a poverty-stricken, post-communist country, managed to climb from the bottom to the top ranks in only three years because of drastic and ongoing reforms.

                Not everything is rosy in all places; there are still pitfalls to each system, but one thing remains common to all good systems: value the education.  When anyone in America becomes a teacher because they want to be a sports coach, there’s a problem. All top countries made it extremely difficult to become a teacher – thus, only the top teachers actually make it to the classrooms.  Sports are not included in school; they are strictly extra-curricular.  Teachers are paid very well for making it that far – and if their students slide, they can be fired far easier than in America  – why keep a bad teacher?  Seriously – why do we do that? In most of these places, the teacher is not the focus. It is not about holidays, or length of day, or passing endless standardized tests: it’s about imparting learning to the child.  Education is about the child’s learning, and nothing else.

Ms. Ripley’s research illuminates what is wrong with our educational system, and lays out a course  to work towards fixing it. This book is a fantastic wake-up call to educators of all children, from Pre-K to college. It’s a fast, easy read that will leave you very angry with the status quo. – a must-read for anyone concerned about the state of education in America.

Go. Read it. And start bugging your schools.