Schools In Denmark Are Teaching Kids Empathy As Part Of The Curriculum

If there’s one thing this world could use some more of, it’s empathy. 

Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. This is according to the UN’s World Happiness Report, an important survey that since 2012 classifies the happiness of 155 countries in the world, and that for seven years has placed Denmark among the top three happiest countries on a global level. The fact that teaching empathy has been mandatory since 1993 in schools in Denmark is a factor that contributes to the happiness of the country.

Empathy helps build relationships, prevent bullying and succeed at work. It promotes the growth of leaders, entrepreneurs and managers. “Empathic teenagers” tend to be more successful because they are more oriented towards the goals compared to their more narcissistic peers.

What many people don’t realise is that empathy is a learned skill, and that teaching empathy from a young age has not only been proven to make children more emotionally and socially competent, it also greatly reduces bullying and can also help them be more successful as adults in the future.

Denmark’s empathy program starts at age six in the first year of school and continues until age sixteen. For one hour each week, the children have empathy lessons during ‘Klassens tid’ or ‘The Class’s Hour’. Set for a special time once a week, and a core part of the curriculum, the purpose is the students to come together in a relaxed and comfortable setting to discuss any problems they may be having and the class tries to find a solution.

Any problem is open for discussion and could be personal problems or problems between individual students or groups, anything regarding the school or even unrelated to school. The rest of the class, and the teacher then debate ways to solve the problem. The teacher helps the students by teaching them how to really listen to and understanding others. When no issues are raised for discussion, the group come together and enjoy hygge, a word (and also a verb and an adjective), which cannot be translated literally, since it is a phenomenon closely related to Danish culture. Hygge could be defined as “intentionally created closeness and relaxation.”

Competition is exclusively with oneself, not with others. Danish schools offer neither prizes nor trophies to their students who excel in school subjects or in sports, so as not to create competition. Instead they practice the culture of motivation to improve, measured exclusively in relation to themselves.

Sounds like something we should try in other countries as well, don’t you think?