DOING IT THE DANISH WAY
Find out why cuddles and cushions will help you and your baby live happily ever after
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.
“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.”