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:

        

 

OWL: Observe, Wait, Listen

If you’ve visited the Children’s Department of the Cheshire Public Library you’ve probably noticed the large amounts of toys we have. We love to see kids play and love to see them playing with their caregivers together even more! We view play as a fundamental building block for preparing children to read as well as the general development of any child.

There are a few easy steps that you can take to enhance play with your little one in the easy to remember acronym OWL.  This system was developed by the Hanen Centre,  a not-for-profit charitable organization committed to promoting the best possible language, literacy, and social skills in young children. We provide parents and professionals with a variety of resources and trainings to help them maximize the early language learning of all children – including those with or at risk of language delays and those with developmental challenges such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. For more tips and strategies on building interaction into every part of the day, visit their website at www.hanen.org

Observe
Wait
Listen

Observe: Understanding what your child wants or what is going through their mind is difficult.  Taking the time to observe your child and see where their attention is focused on can help you share the moment with him/her.

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Wait: Waiting gives your child time to start an interaction or respond to what you’ve said or done.  Waiting means three things: stop talking, lean forward, and look at your child expectantly.  Waiting can be one of the most difficult things for parents/caregivers to do.  Counting to 10 to yourself can help ensure you don’t rush.

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Listen: Listening means paying very close attention to your child’s words and sounds and ensuring that you don’t interrupt him/her.  This can be difficult, especially when you are trying to figure out what your child is trying to tell you.

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 We have many books and DVDs by the Hanen Centre that expand on OWL at the Cheshire Public Library in the Parenting Collection in the Children’s Room.  Check them out today.

You can also attend our parent workshop: Helping Your Child Learn. We’ll go over ways you can incorporate the practices into playtime, reading time, and everyday activities.  Dinner and childcare will be provided.

Non-Fiction Summer Reading

There’s no reading quite as wonderful as summer reading.  Here are some terrific non-fiction books that are perfect for a relaxing summer day.

I Wear the Black Hat by Chuck Klosterman –  Mr. Klosterman questions the modern understanding of villainy and delivers perceptive observations on the complexity of the anti-hero in a very humorous way.  He blends cultural analysis with self-interrogation and imaginative hypotheticals.

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel – This is the true story of the young American wives whose husbands were sent into space as part of the Mercury Seven program.

Difficult Men by Brett Martin – An entertaining and insightful look at the creators of some highly rated recent television series such as Breaking Bad, The Shield, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and Deadwood.

The Good Life Lab – Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living by Jehanara Tremayne.  An inspirational story of how one couple ditched their careers and life in New York City to move to rural New Mexico to live self-sufficiently.

Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mayes, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age by Allen Barra.  The combined biographies of two baseball greats.