We all want our kids to be happy. And happiness is something the Danes have figured out. Denmark, a small country in the north of Europe, has been voted as one of the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row! One of the reasons they are so happy is due to the way they parent. Danes use a “no ultimatums” approach which essentially means they govern with respect not fear.
In Denmark, you almost never hear yelling or screaming, and spanking has been illegal for over 20 years. Children are seen as growing equals in need of guidance, in need of control and discipline. The motto is “teach respect, be respectful, and you will be respected”. Danes absolutely do not want their kids to ever fear them. The problem with giving ultimatums to children is that it essentially puts parents in a position where there has to be a winner and a loser.
No one really likes to be given an ultimatum because it is always a power struggle. It never offers a win/win solution. And what parents don’t realize is that they are often the ones who end up losing with this method. They lose closeness because governing with threats and fear does not beget closeness. They lose respect because children learn that boundaries don’t mean anything if parents don’t follow through. And they can lose perspective because they get bogged down with the battles instead of the big lines of parenting.
With fear, children don’t always know the reason he or she shouldn’t do something, they merely want to avoid being yelled at. This doesn’t foster closeness and trust, particularly down the road in the teen years.
The Danish “no ultimatums approach” takes practice, but you absolutely can get better at it. Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1.) What are your big lines of parenting?
What are the main values you and your partner feel are most important in raising your child and how do you want to encourage and reinforce those? In the “no ultimatums approach”, one of those values should ultimately be to maintain an atmosphere of respect, not fear.
2.) Try to stay calm and forget what others think.
Often, we get stressed around our own families and friends because we feel judged and this puts us on edge to make our kids behave. Children sense your stress and this can make them act out. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Maybe forcing them to finish their food right now because you said so isn’t the most respectful request? Think about where and how you want to enforce the big lines of parenting. Do you want to do this in front of others, where you may also be stressed? Your big lines and your relationship to your child are what really matter.
3.) Have empathy for your children.
Are they hungry? Tired? Upset? The more you understand the meaning behind their behaviors, the stronger your relationship will be. Every age has a theme of what can be expected from it. The more you know about this, the easier it is to see your child’s behavior as normal and healthy, not terrible and annoying.
4.) Remember that we are responsible (“response-able”).
The cycle of what you give will come back to you. Good begets good, bad begets bad, out of control begets out of control, and calm begets calm. Try working on responding with calm and empathy rather than reacting with threats or ultimatums. It’s not always easy and it takes practice, but it really does work in the long run and both parents and children are happier as a result.
5.) Pay attention to words.
A problem is only a problem if it referred to as a problem. One very interesting difference in Danish language is that the term ‘terrible two’s’ doesn’t exist. Instead, they call it ‘trodsalder’ or ‘the boundary-pushing age.’ Thus, pushing boundaries is seen as normal and welcomed, not terrible and annoying. This makes a tremendous difference in how parents see and react to toddler behavior. Words really do matter. They form the lens through which we see our world. How you choose to describe your child will ultimately affect your reaction or response to them.