The beautiful reason why Danish schools teach empathy to kids

For the past seven years in a row, Denmark has consistently ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world. Maybe the way they raise their children is the reason why.

The beautiful reason why Danish schools teach empathy to kids
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

If you're wondering what you can do to make sure your kids grow up happy and well-adjusted, you might want to look to Danish schools. Since 1993, students in Denmark have studied empathy as part of their curriculum.

It's nothing new, but because of how 2020 is shaping up, the Danish way of educating kids on empathy is now trending online as parents in other nations seek to teach kids this important skill.

Here's what you need to know about the Danish way of educating kids on empathy:


Starting in kindergarten, Danish students learn about emotions, how to articulate their feelings and how to support their classmates. In the book The Danish Way of Parenting by Iben Sandahl and Jessica Alexander, the authors assert that the Danes raise empathetic, capable kids who grow into confident, happy adults. It's a winning cycle that starts with how they teach their children empathy.

For the past seven years in a row, Denmark has consistently ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world. Maybe the way they raise their children is the reason why.

Danish students participate in the Step by Step program. Students are shown cards that feature kids who are experiencing different emotions, like sadness, anger, and happiness. The students are asked to not just identify the emotion, but to explain what it means to them. They learn how to interpret others' emotions and how they make them feel. Perhaps most tellingly, the students don't judge the emotions. They simply recognize and respect them.

Students also participate in the CAT-kit program, which focuses on identifying and articulating emotions. It was originally designed as a tool for children on the autism spectrum and has since been picked up by educators and parents worldwide. It uses visual pictures to help students learn how to name their thoughts and feelings.

In an essay in The Atlantic, Jessica Alexander, one of the co-authors of The Danish Way of Parenting, explains that teachers also subtly mix children of different strengths and weaknesses together. "The goal is for the students to see that everyone has positive qualities and to support each other in their efforts reach the next level," she writes. "The math whiz may be terrible at soccer, and vice versa. This system fosters collaboration, teamwork, and respect."

Yet another program that Danish schools utilize comes from The Mary Foundation, established by HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark in 2007. The anti-bullying program is taught to elementary-aged children and encourages them to be more caring towards each other. According to The Foundation's website, "Everyone has the right to belong. The Mary Foundation works for the many people who are alone."

It's not just a one-off lesson or a conversation held on World Kindness Day. Students learn about empathy, kindness and respect from the time that they enter the school system. Danish teachers place equal emphasis on academics as well as emotions.

And it's not just about making a grade—it's about raising kind, understanding children. That's something we definitely support.

Jamie Orsini is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, military spouse, and a mom to two busy toddlers. In her spare time, Jamie volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador program with NASA/JPL and reads anything she can get her hands on. She’s currently working on her first novel.

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