Empathy is Taught to Students Ages 6 to 16 in Denmark Schools

The Danish people are considered to be the happiest people on the planet and the UN organization confirms that. Namely, the United Nation’s World Happiness Report has been listing Denmark in the top three happiest countries in the world for the past seven years.

You may wonder what their secret is; is it something complex or not?

This has been explained in the book The Danish Way of Parenting, by the Danish author Iben Sandahl, a psychotherapist, and educator, along with the American author Jessica Alexander, a renowned psychologist. In this book it is elaborated the real reason for the happiness of the Danish people.

Their happiness results from good upbringing that represents a repetitive cycle, meaning  Danish parents raise happy children who grow up to be happy adults who also raise happy children.

Empathy – The Key for Happiness and Success

In 1993, the Denmark educational system has introduced weekly classes that teach empathy lasting for an hour. These classes are named as “Klassens tid,” which are mandatory and visited by students in the age group of 6 to 16 years old. These empathy lessons help the children to strengthen their relationships, prevent bullying and be successful in their work.

Empathic teenagers are more successful since they are focused on their goals, which is not the case with their narcissistic peers. Students talk about their issues whether they are personal or related to school in this class, which are later on discussed with the teacher and their peers. In this way they easily find out the solution as the facilitators and children aren’t judgmental of the emotions they see. In this class there are no judgmental issues as the problem is just recognized and the others show respect to the sentiments of the involved students.

Empathy is a valuable trait that has been proven to help humans in having higher survival rate when functioning in groups. Plus, it supports the growth of leaders, entrepreneurs, and managers which is true as successful people always need the support of others to achieve positive results in life.

The author, Iben Sandahl says that the whole class tries to respect all aspects and angles of the given issue and all try to find the best solution. The problem of the child becomes recognized and acknowledged by a bigger community thus becoming its integral part, which is very important, as “when you are recognized, you become someone.”

Carlotta Balena, a journalist states that Danish people are not afraid to speak up as they know that they belong to the community and are never alone. In such surrounding the children learn the importance of mutual respect, and very often when there is no problem to discuss, they relax and enjoy “hygge”. There is no literal translation of this word as it is closely connected to Danish culture.

Hygge correlates to “intentionally created intimacy” which represents a basic concept of Danish sense of well-being. This relaxing condition creates a calm, friendly, welcome, and warm atmosphere, in which every person would like to be a part of it. As a result of that this phenomenon has become very popular globally, namely Amazon sells over 900 books on hygge, and on Instagram there are over 3 million posts with the hashtag #hygge.

The Danish royalty also supports the teaching of empathy in school; specifically the Denmark’s Mary Foundation—named after the country’s crown princess and soon-to-be queen.

Bullying is not an issue after the implementation of these classes, and the facts confirm that. Danish have also incorporated anti-bullying program across the country encouraging young children in the age range of 3 to 8 years old to talk about bullying and teasing and learn to care for each other. This program has showed great efficacy and teachers like it to, almost 98% of teachers recommend it to other institutions.

The book of Iben Sandahl, Danish Way of Parenting has been translated into 21 languages. Due to its great success authors have carried out field research to understand how the Danes teach empathy. According to Sandahl and Alexander there are two ways of teaching empathy.


This way does not involve any prizes or trophies, and because of that there is no competition. The students work in teamwork and 60% of the given tasks at school are done together motivating the students to improve their skills and talents which is of great help for the students who are not equally gifted.

Alexander says that the Danish give a lot of space to children’s free play believing that through play the children are being taught of empathy and negotiation skills. This is a traditional educational tool dating since 1871.

Collaborative learning

This is the second way of teaching empathy that according to authors it brings happiness.

Let us not forget that the Danish society is humane and cohesive with incorporated systems with a purpose to support every person.

Alexander says that children are taught that they are not alone and that no one can go through life by himself or herself. If a child has a natural gift in mathematics it will not go much further if he does not collaborate with its peers, as it is inevitable that he or she will need help in other subjects.

Collaborative learning teaches children how to communicate which in turn builds up empathy skills that become even stronger as they are taught to be careful about the way the other person receives the information. They are always reminded how they would feel if they were in a same position.

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