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Why Danish Schools Train Kids in Empathy

Why the Danes excel in well-being and create nourishing workplace cultures.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

We’ve all heard that the Danes are happy people. A 2017 article in the CPH Post reveals that the nation’s emphasis on teaching empathy in schools may be a significant contributor to that happiness.

Earlier this year, bestselling author and Danish parenting expert Jessica Alexander visited Danish schools to research how the Danes teach empathy and the resulting emotional and social impact on students.

What she learned echoed the themes of the 2016 book she co-authored with Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl, “The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident Capable Kids.”

Here’s what they discovered about how teaching empathy affects cultural definitions of success and well-being:

1. Learning as a group.

Danes teach empathy through a “co-operative learning” model, where students with varied strengths and weaknesses work together, Alexander wrote in the CPH Post. Since every student has unique capabilities, through skill-sharing, each takes on the role of both teacher and student. It teaches kids early on that you can’t achieve success alone, and that helping others leads to better results down the road.

Additionally, when you teach someone else material you already know, you also build your capacity for empathy. According to Alexander, “Having to listen to the way someone receives information, and putting yourself in their shoes to understand how they learn, is strengthening your mental wires for empathy.”

2. Teamwork.

The Danes are passionate about collaboration. Team projects account for about 60% of schoolwork in Denmark. These skills translate well into the workforce, and may play a role in Denmark’s ranking as one of the best places to work in Europe, Alexander wrote.

3. Compete with yourself, not others.

Danish schools do not offer trophies to their students based upon achievement in sports or academics, Alexander wrote in the CPH Post. The rationale is that this creates unnecessary competition between students. Instead, they cultivate a culture of intrinsic motivation—being motivated to achieve progress as measured against yourself, not others.

In these ways, the Danes are guiding students toward internal well-being as well as academic and workplace success. Happiness begins with caring for others.

You can find the full article here

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