Babies cry. Tears are an infant’s way of letting their parent know they’re hungry, tired, or they need to be near their mom, and a baby’s ability to communicate those needs is important to their survival.
Fussy nights and tear-filled afternoons are a reality of motherhood that most have come to accept, but that doesn’t necessarily mean most moms wouldn’t jump at the chance to cut back on tears if they knew how it’s done.
Of course, all parents like the idea of happier babies, but that is much easier said than done. When my baby fusses, I find myself working through a list of possible reasons. Does he need to eat? Is he tired or uncomfortable? Does he need a diaper change? Is he bored?
Sometimes, even after I have worked my way through this mental checklist, he continues to fuss and I’m left clueless about how to soothe his frustrations.
There is one population who appears to have figured out the key to keeping their babies calm, according to a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics. Danish parents seem to have nailed down the trick to raising babies who cry less and grow into happier kids.
The study took a close look at parental reports of fussing or crying in newborns as observed in 28 different studies. Researchers compiled the data on 8,690 infants, specifically examining the mean fussiness in newborn babies based on their age.
The data found by researchers shone a light on Denmark, where children cry significantly less than children in the other countries included in the study.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint one specific reason that Danish parents have an advantage over new parents in the rest of the world, according to the study’s authors, they did raise a few possible areas that warrant closer examination.
For instance, there is a chance that there are economic factors that influence parents in Denmark, and parents are more responsive to their newborns’ needs. The researchers also speculated that genetics could play a part, with babies inheriting their parents’ genes that influence their temperament.
Others have chimed in with theories on what influences how little Danish babies cry. Jessica Joelle Alexander, author of The Danish Way of Parenting, told The Guardian that she believes paid maternity leave could be directly tied to this phenomenon.
Denmark has one of the best maternity leaves out there, giving mothers a month off before their baby is born and then an entire year at home with their child after their birth.
It makes sense that Danish babies are happier, because their parents are less stressed and more capable of responding to their needs during that first year.
Danish babies grow into happier kids.
Fewer tears aren’t the only bragging rights Danish babies have over their fellow children around the globe. Older kids in Denmark are also all around happier than children in the rest of the world. Each year countries around the world are carefully surveyed for a World Happiness Report. In this report, the Danish are consistently found to be the happiest people in the world.
Of course, there isn’t one single factor that gives Denmark the corner on happiness, but there are definitely people making some convincing arguments. For instance, inequality of overall well-being is higher in countries that report low happiness scores.
One of the most popular theories, perhaps, is that happiness is directly linked to the way the Danish parent. In fact, there is an entire book on the topic, comparing parenting methods in America with those used in Denmark.
From the way we discipline to the time our children spend outdoors, The Danish Way of Parenting makes a pretty convincing case that American parents could raise happier children if they were simply willing to take a closer look at what parents are doing in Denmark. In fact, there is even a Ted talk discussing this approach.
What American Parents Can Learn From Denmark
So what’s the secret to raising happier kids? According to the authors of The Danish Way of Parenting, there isn’t a simple answer. In one article for Brit + Co, the writers outline seven keys to parenting the Danish way. It’s evident that implementing these practices would require a complete reworking of the typical American parenting model.
American parents, for instance, tend to rely on harsher parenting practices, according to The Guardian. The majority of parents in the States are still using spanking in their discipline toolbox, despite research that indicates the ineffectiveness and harmfulness of this practice.
In contrast, Danish parents rely heavily on using empathy to connect with their children, providing clear boundaries but avoiding ultimatums or demanding obedience. Instead, parents in Denmark work to develop a mutual respect with their children, explaining the reasoning behind rules and calmly responding to challenging behaviors.
Parenting happy children extends beyond what we do when our kids are upset or challenging our patience. How we approach their downtime directly plays into the state of their well-being, according to the authors of The Danish Way of Parenting.
Danish parents place a high priority on being together—so much so that their word for togetherness, hygge, has become a trend all over the Western world. For the Danes, family time isn’t a trend, however, it is a daily way of life. Whether it’s family meals, a hike, or a project, kids who spend regular time with their parents are more secure and all around happier.
Statistics regarding the state of the family dinner in America indicate that 25 percent of families eat together fewer than three nights a week. If this is any indication of how the rest of the day is spent—and we’re pretty sure it is, we can say with confidence that American families are not spending enough time together.
The flipside of the practice of togetherness in Danish families is that children are also given an incredible amount of independence. Whereas American parents may feel pressure to keep their kids scheduled or offer entertainment, Danish families think free play is the key to a happy childhood.
When it comes to the logistics of American parenting, there is a marked difference. For instance, children in America have quite busy schedules, and 1 and 5 parents with an average income of $75,000 says their kids’ lives are hectic.
After-school activities dominate the schedules of American children, according to the Pew Research Center, with 73 percent of parents reporting their child is in sports and 54 percent in the arts after school or on weekends.
Even children with free time may not be given a lot of opportunities for unsupervised play, since most American parents believe kids should be at least 10 years old before they can play outside without a parent present.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the huge difference between Danish and American parenting, especially when we have so little control over factors like paid maternity leave.
Don’t let that discourage you if you would like to make same changes. Start small, by setting goals for cutting back on screen time and getting your kids outside more often, sitting down for a family meal three or more times a week, or reading up on responding to tantrums with empathy instead of anger.
Even a small change toward more positive parenting can make a big difference in the well-being of your child.