DO­ING IT THE DAN­ISH WAY

Find out why cud­dles and cush­ions will help you and your baby live hap­pily ever af­ter

Mother & Baby - - CONTENTS -

Why cud­dles help you bond bet­ter with your baby

Jes­sica Joelle Alexan­der is a Dan­ish par­ent­ing ex­pert and mum of two; jes­sica joel­lealexan­der.com

HYGGE was the big trend this win­ter 2016. In the shops, you can hardly move for all the throws, cush­ions and can­dles to make our homes more snug. But the Dan­ish phi­los­o­phy, which loosely trans­lates as ‘cosi­ness’ isn’t just about in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing. In essence, hygge (pro­nounced ‘hooga’) means cre­at­ing a warm at­mos­phere and en­joy­ing the good things in life with good peo­ple around you. It’s en­joy­ing a can­dlelit snug­gle on the sofa with your part­ner or spend­ing time over a meal talk­ing about the mean­ing of life with those you love the most in the world. And it’s prob­a­bly why the Danes are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the hap­pi­est peo­ple on the planet and top the UN’s an­nual World Hap­pi­ness Re­port year af­ter year.

Jes­sica Joelle Alexan­der, co-au­thor of The Dan­ish Way of Par­ent­ing, says it does have a lot to do with this pas­sion for cosi­ness, but there’s more to it than that. “Su­per­fi­cially, it might be about fill­ing your home with can­dles and cakes,” she says, “but fun­da­men­tally, it’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal space you en­ter into with your loved ones. Em­brac­ing hygge means the whole fam­ily fo­cuses and con­nects in the mo­ment.” Try this life-chang­ing trend that is suit­able for all ocas­sions.

MAKE BATHTIME EX­TRA COSY

“Hygge is such a big part of Dan­ish fam­ily life that they do it with­out think­ing,” says Jes­sica. For the rest of us, how­ever, get­ting into what she calls ‘the hygge space’ re­quires con­scious ef­fort. “The un­spo­ken rule is that every­one leaves their own stresses at the door, so they can fo­cus pos­i­tively on the whole fam­ily in­stead of just them­selves,” she ex­plains.

One way to prac­tise this is to choose a spe­cific place and time dur­ing your day to fo­cus on hygge: bathtime is per­fect. “As a mum, you might be busy and stressed for a mil­lion dif­fer­ent rea­sons,” says Jes­sica, “but try to close the bathroom door on all that. Re­mind your­self that the next few min­utes are for fo­cus­ing en­tirely on you and your baby, with no in­ter­rup­tions. Re­mem­ber that time moves re­ally fast: fo­cus on this mo­ment in time, when he is so lit­tle and adorable. Light some can­dles, well out of his reach, warm some fluffy tow­els, and play some calm clas­si­cal mu­sic in the back­ground to make bathtime as re­lax­ing and bond­ing as it can pos­si­bly be.”

IN­CREASE THE CON­TACT

“Mas­sag­ing your chil­dren is super hygge too,” says Jes­sica. A lovely, sim­ple start to baby mas­sage is to lay your baby on his back on a towel, some­where safe and warm. Us­ing a lit­tle oil, wrap your hands around the top of one thigh and gen­tly pull down till your hands reach his foot. Re­peat, swap­ping legs. “This is some­thing you can do with sib­lings too. Lay them next to one an­other, and it’s bond­ing for the whole fam­ily,” she adds.

TURN OFF THE TECH­NOL­OGY

Jes­sica de­scribes the hygge men­tal­ity as ‘we-full­ness: like mind­ful­ness but with the em­pha­sis on the whole group rather than the self’. So if you’re check­ing your smart phone ev­ery few min­utes, it can be hard to be fo­cused on the mo­ment and on your fam­ily. Set­ting a fixed time of day, such as meal­times, when grown-ups turn phones off helps to cre­ate a hygge space and teaches smaller fam­ily mem­bers that fo­cus­ing on each other is im­por­tant. And think about your tod­dler’s screen time too. “TVs and iPads are re­ally use­ful, I know,” says Jes­sica, “but they de­tract from to­geth­er­ness and stop kids be­ing truly present. Hygge time is screen-free time, when the whole fam­ily fo­cuses on be­ing to­gether.”

And that ‘to­gether’ bit is key. From a very young age, Dan­ish chil­dren are en­cour­aged to work on group projects, while teach­ers praise em­pa­thy, hu­mil­ity and team­work. When fam­i­lies come to­gether for hygge time, older chil­dren are en­cour­aged to spend time with younger babies and tod­dlers. “Chil­dren learn so much when they play with oth­ers of dif­fer­ent ages, so en­cour­age this col­lab­o­ra­tive play,” says Jes­sica. “Danes are big on tra­di­tional wooden toys too. Lots of over-stim­u­lat­ing toys can dis­tract from the sim­ple things, like hear­ing the sound of the wind out­side.”

BAKE CAKES TO­GETHER

“Since hygge is all about team­work, every­one helps out,” ex­plains Jes­sica. And if the fam­ily is com­ing to­gether

for a meal, chil­dren are ex­pected to help: “The lit­tle mem­bers can’t do a huge amount, of course, but he only needs to be old enough to stir the mix­ture to help out. Cook­ing to­gether is a very bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and eat­ing the re­sults to­gether is very hygge too.”

Singing also pays a part. “When­ever fam­i­lies come to­gether, no mat­ter what the ocas­sion, there will al­ways be singing, even if it’s just mak­ing up silly lyrics to a pop­u­lar tune.” And we know it works: stud­ies on choir singers show that singing to­gether makes peo­ple feel happy, as it re­leases the happy hor­mone oxy­tocin, low­er­ing stress and in­creas­ing bond­ing. “It’s an ab­so­lutely won­der­ful thing to do with your baby,” says Jes­sica.

REACH OUT

“For new mums, when ev­ery­thing is new and pos­si­bly over­whelm­ing, spend­ing time with other mums is a good way to be calm,” says Jes­sica. In Den­mark, new moth­ers are given the names and con­tact de­tails of other lo­cal women who have re­cently given birth. They are then able to meet to chat and sup­port each other. So seek out your own sup­port net­work at a mother-and-baby group or tod­dler class, and share a warm­ing hot choco­late and a slice of cake with the mums you meet—it’s very hygge af­ter all!

BE­COME A STO­RY­TELLER

“Telling, and retelling, funny, lov­ing and happy sto­ries about fam­ily mem­bers has been one of the big­gest game chang­ers for my fam­ily,” says Jes­sica. “Sim­ply telling your child tales of things that hap­pened in your own child­hood, or de­scrib­ing what your own par­ents were like be­fore they be­came grand­par­ents, can give your child a sense of the fam­ily as a team. This helps fo­cus on the pos­i­tive things in your life, in­stead of the neg­a­tives, and gives your child a sense of where he comes from, and the val­ues your fam­ily holds dear.”

BUILD A FEED­ING SPACE

Whether you are breast- or bot­tle­feed­ing your baby, it’s the per­fect time to em­brace hygge. “It’s all about slow­ing down and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the mo­ment, so make the most of this time when you have to stay still with your baby,” says Jes­sica. “Set up a per­ma­nent feed­ing space in your home—it doesn’t have to be super so­phis­ti­cated. Just choose a comfy chair and stock it with all your favourite things: cosy blan­kets, pil­lows, maybe a scented can­dle nearby, or what­ever else makes you most com­fort­able.” While you feed, try to be as present as pos­si­ble by fo­cus­ing on small de­tails— the tex­ture of your baby’s skin, the smell of his hair, or the eye con­tact be­tween you. “These are the pre­cious mo­ments, af­ter all,” says Jes­sica, “and that’s what hygge is re­ally all about—cre­at­ing won­der­ful me­mories of life’s most im­por­tant things.”

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