As I was growing up I had a friend called Joanna, her mum was Danish and I remember always loving the way she mothered, the little drawings she left in her daughter’s lunch box, her warm open way and I have a particular memory of just sitting around a fire in their garden toasting marshmallows. It was not like visiting my other friend’s families. So when I heard about the Danish Way I was keen to find out more.

Hi Iben, Welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum or dad should have to do everything themselves, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! You have upgraded your life by embracing the Danish Way. 

Danish People are frequently cited as the Happiest people in the world, can you tell us a bit more about Danish core values? 

Denmark is often at the top of international measurements of trust, low corruption, security and happiness. This is partly due to the fact that most of us trust that our fundamental rights are guaranteed, as the legal system is independent and everyone is equal before the law. I would also say that our free spirit and gender equality are core values and which are based on a premise that all people must have the right to decide their own life. 

Associations are a fundamental way of organizing communities throughout Denmark and they are one of the places in the community where we have the opportunity to meet and get to know each other across social differences. In association life, children, young people and adults can learn about democracy and co-determination, which is very important to all of us. And then, of course, there is the idea of coziness (Hygge) that takes up a lot in all Danes’ self-awareness. Hygge is considered a special way of being together under relaxed conditions, and all Danes would say that is a special core value to us.

Iben-Sandahl- The-danish-way

How does this translate into the Danish Way of Parenting? 

Absolutely perfect! When writing the book I had to look deeply into whom I am to conceptualize the idea of the acronym: PARENT; Play, Authenticity, Reframing, Empathy, No Ultimatums and Togetherness (Hygge). I didn’t look after Danish values in general at all, because I had to find it within to make sure it came from an authentic place in me. It was a wonderful process, and when I sent the manuscript draft out to different people in Denmark for a pre-read, they all responded by saying: ‘This is amazing, you have put words on what we already knew we are doing, but didn’t have the words to express.’ 

So to me, the concepts in the book characterises or sums up what have made Danes the happiest people in the world for more than 40 years, in my eyes and what core values we bring with us and raise our children. 

What parenting tips would you advise for those wanting to try The Danish Way? 

Let children be children and let them play more! That is something we have done for ages. 

It has actually been considered an important pedagogical theory in Denmark since 1871 and is still very much ingrained in our educational and private setting. By letting our children explore the world around them without too much parental interaction – we allow them to explore their own zone of proximal development without even noticing it and on their terms.

And, no parental interaction (or less) and more trust! Children are able to choose what they are doing, and I think these days we are becoming so into over programming our children that they don´t have that ability to run their own lives. Children develop independence and self-esteem when doing things themselves.

Iben Sandahl The Danish Way

One of the things my daughter loves most is unstructured free time, we make sure she gets a lot of this, why do you think it is so many parents are worried to give this freedom to their children?

I know there are many places around the world where it isn’t possible to let children play alone outside or do things on their own – there are too many risks to take into account, and I respect and understand that. I have often been asked what to do then? Unaccompanied play – or time, can seem dangerous and maybe irresponsibly, but so many things can happen all the time and today we spent most of the time protecting our children from bad things. By shielding them from the “natural hazards and accidents” – by not allowing them to use their imagination and play in nature and wherever it is possible, we actually risk having children who will be paralyzed and frightened in the long run. And that’s why we set up a lot of adult led activities, because we deep down know, that play is something all children should do. But when we structure the physical play, children never get into the risky zone, and then they never learn to master it since it is only through doing things on their own and practicing the skills that they have learned, that children will be able to take ownership of their learning and be able to apply it in different situations. That’s why free play is more important than ever. All of our actions, in order to give our children the best possible conditions to thrive, are counteracting what we really want. We want creative people who can make independent decisions and not small robots who can’t think for themselves. In this respect, free play- or free time is important. Free play is the decisive force in terms of being able to transcend oneself and enter into creative processes.

Iben-Sandahl- The-danish-way

You say that “resilient, emotionally secure, happy kids who turn into resilient, emotionally secure, happy adults who then repeat this powerful parenting style with their own kids” can you explain more why that is? 

Yes! Children do as we do and not as we say. Therefore to make sure we teach them to be healthy and sound people, we must be good role models and live in accordance with our values and stick to them even though it means, that we have to go against the majority. We must teach them to stand up and be proud and to make good decisions that benefit not only themselves but everybody. We must live in such a way that when our children think of honesty and integrity, they will think of us – and eventually, they will practice the same way of living with their own children, when they become parents themselves.

I love these philosophies and they are very much how I approach parenting, but it can seem isolating when you are working hard to be conscious in parenting your child, how do you suggest parents can connect with other like-minded parents. 

By living honestly and authentic! Then all your energy will emit strong and true, and with your open heart, you will open the hearts of others. I really believe in that. It will create a cohesion that the world needs, and we won’t feel alone in doing what we are doing anymore. That being said, I am beyond happy with the community I have found on Instagram. There I have met likeminded people, with the same values and with the same mission as me, which for me is to bring balance, integrity and respect into parenthood, in a way that children are met equally and with the opportunity to thrive and feel good about themselves. Something all children deserve.

You can buy The Danish Way here, visit the website, read Iban’s articles on Psychology Today here and follow The Danish Way on Instagram