Denmark has figured out how to teach kids empathy and make them happier adults

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Empathy, or the ability to read another person’s emotions, is a critical life skill. Many fear children are losing it—and that they’ll be less happy as adults as a result.

A University of Michigan study of nearly 14,000 college students found that students today have about 40% less empathy than college kids had in the 1980s and 1990s. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our-All-About-Me World, argues that that the rise of narcissism and loss of empathy are key reasons for why nearly a third of college kids are depressed and mental health problems among kids are on the rise.

Denmark, the land of the happiest people in the world (pdf), takes empathy seriously, with an hour of empathy-building each week a required part the national curriculum for all kids aged 6 to 16.

In Klassens Tid, or class time, students talk through any individual or group-level problems. Perhaps someone is being left out, or bullied, or there is a disagreement that can’t be solved among a few students.

“Together, the class tries to respect all aspects and angles and together find a solution,” says Iben Sandahl, co-author of The Danish Way of Parenting—What the happiest people in the world know about raising confident, capable kids. Kids’ issues are acknowledged and heard as a part of a bigger community, she says. “When you are recognized, you become someone.”

Sandahl is a former teacher and says Klassens Tid was always the highlight of her week. The goal is to create a safe and cozy atmosphere—the Danes call it hygee—where problems are aired and kids learn how to put things in perspective. There’s even a special cake the children themselves bake—the recipe is here—to eat while talking, and more importantly, listening.

Read more here: Quartz

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Iben Sandahl

Iben Sandahl is a bestselling Danish author, professional parenting expert, narrative psychotherapist MPF, family counselor, teacher and speaker. She has more than 20 years of experienced insight into child psychology and education, which in a most natural way anchor the Danish way of practicing parenthood. Her work has been featured in Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, NY Times and the Greater Good Science Center Berkley.

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