Empathy Is Taught To Students Ages 6 To 16 In Denmark Schools


According to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report, on the list of top three happiest countries in the world for the past seven years is found Denmark.

What is a secret for happiness of the people in Denmark?

Some of the real reasons and the secret behind the happiness of the Danes are explained in the book The Danish Way of Parenting, by Iben Sandahl, a Danish psychotherapist, educator, and Jessica Alexander, an American author, and psychologist.

Actually, happiness is directly linked with the upbringing of the children, and it is a cycle that repeats itself: raised happy children by the Danish parents grow up and becoming happy adults raise happy children.

Teaching empathy has become mandatory in the Denmark education system, since 1993. Their students aged six to 16 years old are obligated to learn one hour each week, during “Klassens tid,” students are taught empathy lessons.

Looking on empathy from an evolutionary standpoint, it is a valuable impulse that helps humans survive in groups. The experts believe that empathy lessons help people to strengthen their relationships, prevent bullying, and succeed in work.

Empathic teenagers are more successful as they are more oriented towards the goals compared to their more narcissistic peers. Additionally, empathy promotes the growth of leaders, entrepreneurs, and managers.

All people need support of others to achieve positive results in their life, which actually makes sense why successful people don’t operate alone. Talking about their problems, personal ones or problems related to school, during this hour students are able to find an easier way how to solve them.

Discussion the problems and finding solution is a crucial part of the program, and the facilitators and children aren’t judgmental of the emotions they see, but they just recognize and respect those sentiments.

The main points of these classes, according to Iben Sandahl, are the tries to respect all aspects and angles of the problems, and together find a solution. A bigger community acknowledges the problem of the child, which is crucial for this way of solving problems. The main slogan of these classes is:

“When you are recognized, you become someone.”

Learning the importance of mutual respect, according to the journalist Carlotta Balena makes children more confident and they are not afraid to speak up, because they feel part of a community – they are not feeling alone.

When the list of problems is finished these classes are used by the children to relax and enjoy hygge, a word that is not translated literally, as it is a phenomenon closely related to Danish culture.

Hygge means “intentionally created intimacy,” which is a fundamental concept for the Danish sense of well-being.

The atmosphere created on this way is calm, friendly, welcome, and warm, which is also becoming a global phenomenon, having in mind that Instagram has more than 3 million posts with the hashtag #hygge, and Amazon sells more than 900 books on hygge, too.

The empathy training in schools is unreserved supported by the Denmark’s Mary Foundation—named after the country’s crown princess and soon-to-be queen.

The anti-bullying program stimulates 3- to 8-year-olds and has been implemented across the country, in order to talk about bullying and teasing and learning to care for each other. The results of this program are very positive, so more than 98 percent of teachers are recommending it to other institutions.

How the interest of others for The Danish Way of Parenting is can be seen from its translation into 21 languages. Also, the authors have conducted field research to understand how the Danes teach empathy and found that there are two ways the Danes teach empathy.

The first way is by teaching students on teamwork, which is almost 60% done at school. Instead of boosting their competitive skills they’re focusing on improving the skills and talents of students who are not equally gifted.

This way of teaching doesn’t approve prizes or trophies, but they just motivate students to improve and measure exclusively in relation to themselves.

According to Alexander the Danes give a lot of space to children’s free play, because that way of playing teaches children on empathy and negotiation skills. It has been implemented in the country as an educational tool since 1871.

Authors believe that the second way of teaching the students of happiness is by collaborative learning.

Danish society is humane and cohesive, implementing the systems in place to support everyone.

Teaching the children that no one can go through life alone is of great importance for enhancing collaboration, according to Alexander. He explained that when a child is naturally talented in mathematics, he won’t go much further without learning to collaborate with their peers, because he would probably need help in other subjects.

Other advantages of collaborative learning are developing communication and building empathy skills. Additionally, these skills are further strengthened by having to put oneself in the shoes of another person to understand how learning works and having to be careful about the way he/she receives the information.

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