Some people may think that empathy and compassion are hard to instill in the young minds of children or even teenagers. However, Danish schools proved that children, even at a very young age, can learn how to be compassionate and emphatic towards other people.
Since 1993, empathy lessons have been a part of the Danish education under the mandatory national program “Step by Step.” These lessons are called “Klassens Tid” for students aged 6 to 16 years which lasts for an hour. The Danes believe that this lesson can help children build relationships while practicing empathy and compassion.
For an hour of Klassens Tid, the teacher shows the children pictures of kids where each of them shows a different emotion: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and frustration. The children are then asked to talk about the cards and what they think about those emotions. This activity aims to help them learn not only empathy but also self-discipline, problem-solving and reading facial expressions.
The kids are also encouraged to talk about their personal problems or school-related problems. Along with the teacher, they try to solve those problems through listening and understanding.
“Together, the class tries to respect all aspects and angles and together find a solution,” a Danish educator, author , and psychotherapist, Iben Sandahl said. “Kids’ issues are acknowledged and heard as a part of a bigger community and when you are recognized, you become someone.”
To take a deeper look at the Danish upbringing, Sandahl and psychologist Jessica Alexander wrote a book entitled “The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids.” They did comprehensive field research to understand how Danes teach children empathy and compassion.
According to their study, one of the ways they do it is through teamwork. Instead of making the children compete against one another, they encourage them to take responsibility for helping others who are not equally skillful.
To prevent competition, Danish schools don’t offer rewards like medals and trophies to children who excel academically. Instead, they motivate the students by giving them a lot of playtime while still being responsible and emphatic.
“The Danes give a lot of space to children’s free play, which teaches empathy and negotiation skills. Playing in the country has been considered an educational tool since 1871”, Jessica Alexander explained.
Another strategy that the Danes use to teach is empathy is collaborative learning where they bring together students with different capabilities and weaknesses in different subjects. The students are then expected to help each other out and learn through collaboration.
“A child who is naturally talented in Mathematics, without learning to collaborate with their peers, will not go much further. They will need help in other subjects. It is a great lesson to teach children from an early age, since no one can go through life alone and that helping others lead to better results,” Alexander said.
Undoubtedly, The Danes are dubbed as one of the happiest people in the world not only because of the country’s financial strength, equal society, and excellent health welfare but also because of having a well-balanced education system that teaches the youth some of the most important virtues such as empathy, accountability and teamwork.
Watch the interview of the author of The Danish Way of Parenting to learn more about kids being thought empathy and compassion in Denmark.