Can “Reframing” really make the happiest kids in the world?

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san-feliciano-frame4-2Have you ever had the experience where your child is visibly upset about something but you don’t know why? Maybe they come home after school and you can see something is wrong but you can’t get them to talk about it? It’s not always easy to know what is bothering our children and sometimes it’s even harder to get them to express what is really going on. How and when we choose to talk about these things can have a profound affect on their future happiness says a new book out “The Danish Way of Parenting: a guide to raising the happiest kids in the world.”

The book refers to a powerful tool called “reframing”. That is, the language we use to describe and discuss situations. Denmark has been voted as the happiest country in the world for over 40 years in a row and the authors claim that the Dane’s ability to reframe with their children is a major contributor for this.

“The language we use is extremely powerful.” Iben Sandahl, a Danish psychotherapist says. “It is the frame through which we perceive and describe ourselves and our picture of the world. How we describe something affects how we feel about it. Human beings try to find meaning in action. When we don’t understand something, we create our own conclusions about what happens and these are often negative identity conclusions like ‘since I don’t understand, it must be me who is wrong.’ But the reality is: a problem is only a problem if it is referred to as a problem. Our frame on the world has a huge affect on how we feel about the world. Teaching kids to reframe can change their lives.”

Reframing with children is all about listening for the positive details in a story and helping them enlarge those details to become the story they actually focus on. Essentially turning something dark and negative into something more positive or empowering. We as parents have to help children focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do.

Here are some tips to remember when helping an upset child reframe

1. Be patient. If your child is upset, try to put your own needs aside to understand the situation immediately. We as parents often want to know and solve our children’s problems immediately but your child emotions can feel like they are in a rushing river trying to stay afloat. It’s very difficult to talk when you are swimming upstream in a turbulent river. Acknowledge their feelings but be patient to know more. Get them to a safe place first.

2. Make them feel calm. Do whatever you need to calm your child. Give them a branch to get out of that river of emotion. Give them a hug. Try taking a walk or talking about something completely different. Only when they are really calm are they in a place to explore what has happened. By being away from the feeling (fear, anger, sadness) they can see that it is not who they are.

3. Listen for the positive details: When the time is right and they begin to talk about why they were upset, be sure to listen to the subtle details. If, for example, they had problems with a kid at school try to ask questions to get as many details to the story as possible. This will make it easier to hear something positive or empowering. Sometimes, we can have the habit of focusing on the negative aspects of a story when there are many other aspects to focus on.

4. Build on the good stuff when you hear it. When you hear the right details, build on those. Perhaps your child said no to a bully but is focusing on how people made fun of her and she feels bad. Go into how amazing it it is she said no. Explore how saying no felt and talk about that. Go into other times she said no and how great that felt. In the end, the entire experience will feel very different for her because it is about something other than the negative identity conclusions.

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Jessica Joelle Alexander

Jessica Joelle Alexander is a bestselling American author, Danish parenting expert, columnist, speaker, and cultural researcher. Her work has been featured in TIME, The Atlantic, Salon, NPR, Huffington Post, NY Times and the Greater Good Science Center Berkley.

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