An Interview With Jessica Joelle Alexander
(By Gizem Erdem)
I came across for the first time ‘The Danish Way of Parenting” on BBC during an interview with the co-author of the book Jessica Joelle Alexander, and next morning I found myself at my favourite bookshop in front of the shelves dedicated to parenting styles. I contacted Jessica, and she has been so kind and accepted the interview with me.
Shall we start with your experience as an American mother living in Denmark, indeed what makes you write a book about parenting in Denmark?
I actually don’t live in Denmark. This was the whole premise behind the book. I have lived in many countries, and this was how I saw “the Danish way” as being special comparing it to other cultures “parental ethnotheories” (how different cultures raise children). My husband and family are Danish (I speak fluent Danish) and I lived in Scandinavia for four years. What I realised from living in different countries was that “The Danish Way” can be exported anywhere. I think that is why it has spread to so many countries (25 now). It isn’t about recreating Denmark or the Danish system. It is about a practical philosophy that can be implemented anywhere to increase wellbeing.
Denmark is well known for being an excellent place for raising happy kids, but in addition to the parenting style, the social and economic aspects play a significant role on this happiness, according to you what makes Denmark so unique to raise happy children?
I do a lot of talks and what I always tell people is “yes” their social system plays a role in their happiness for sure. However, I firmly believe that if we all raise our kids with more empathy, for example, they will grow up to change our system for the better in the future.
During one of your interviews, you have mentioned one of the best tips for parents is “let them play more”, shall we talk about more the role of play on children?
In Denmark play is considered an educational theory since 1871. It is serious learning. Children are learning empathy, negotiation skills, self-control, resilience and so much more. These are life skills that have been proven to increase wellbeing and success in the future. Over the years we have reduced the amount children play in many countries and we can see the negative effects in so many ways!
Is your book only for parents or anyone even without kids can benefit from your book?
Absolutely. Many people say this. It definitely changed my life as a person and a parent, and I think many readers feel the same. Some people even use it in business!
What do you think about screen-times for children nowadays?
I think we need to get kids out and play and use their imagination and creativity as much as possible. While I think technology is wonderful, I also think it is important to limit screen time for kids, especially at younger ages.
What does it mean “the no-ultimatums’ for you?
It means avoiding a power struggle. It is not making it “I win” “you lose”. Often, parents lose in this situation. It is using empathy and trying to understand the meaning behind the behaviour, so we can react better with our children. It is about not using physicality and yelling. The no ultimatums approach takes a lot of practice to achieve, but you do get better at it, and it really does make for a happier home.
I am a massive fan of Mindfulness Parenting course in my town, but the term that you have mentioned “we-fullness” sounds very interesting. Would you provide more information about “we-fullness” please?
This is how I describe “hygge”. It is “we time” not “me time”. It is being in the moment together with others in a drama free environment. You can read more in the “hygge oath” on my site jessicajoellealexander.com. I have written a lot about this concept.
Would you have any recipe to teach “empathy” for parents?
Practice makes perfect, and all change comes from us. Try listening to your language. Are you trying to understand others or be judgmental? Are you looking for meaning behind behaviour? Our children are mirroring us so one of the greatest teaching tools is working on ourselves. Truly. Also, read stories that encompass all emotions and talk about the different emotions with your child. Don’t be afraid to talk about sadness, death and upsetting emotions too. This is building empathy and resilience. Life is not always a happy ending and nor should our stories be.
How would you describe British parenting style? What would be the most significant difference between the British and Danish style of parenting?
I am American, so I would be better to compare the American style. This is a generalization of course, but there is much more pressure and competition between parents in the U.S. for many things; from raising children to education to the idea of a child’s “success”. In Denmark, it isn’t like that and they have a much different concept of success which is more based on wellbeing. There is also much more authoritarian style parenting in the U.S. and of course, spanking is legal (which it isn’t in Denmark and has not been for over 20 years). There are a lot of other differences but those are just some examples.