Empathy is a crucial component of every interpersonal relationship. Together with compassion and kindness, it deepens bonds and reveals our humane side.
Apart from building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships, empathy also broadens one’s horizons and leads to more effective work and greater success in life in general.
The Danes are well aware of it, so the education curriculum there introduced mandatory empathy classes there in 1993.
And according to the UN’s World Happiness report over the past seven years, Denmark has ranked in the top three happiest countries in the world!
The authors of The Danish Way of Parenting, Iben Sandahl, a Danish psychotherapist, educator, and Jessica Alexander, believe that the secret to their happiness may lie in the heart of their education system.
Empathy is a learned skill, so studying it from a young age has been found to make kids more emotionally and socially competent. Also, it reduces bullying and helps them become more successful in life.
Successful people do not operate on their own, and people need support to achieve positive results in life, so the empathy classes promote the development of leaders, entrepreneurs, and managers.
The program starts in the first year of school, at the age of 6, and continues for ten years. Every week for an hour, children attend empathy lessons during ‘Klassens tid’ or ‘The Class’s Hour’.
During this time, children can freely discuss any problem they face, either related or unrelated to school, and the class works together to solve it.
“Together, the class tries to respect all aspects and angles and together find a solution. Kids’ issues are acknowledged and heard as a part of a bigger community. [And] when you are recognized, you become someone.”
The teacher encourages children to really listen to their classmates to be able to help them.
Journalist Carlotta Balena explained:
“The children are not afraid to speak up, because they feel part of a community, they are not alone.”
When there are no problems for debate, the class uses the time to chill. The study of Sandahl and Alexander showed that empathy is taught in two ways: via teamwork, and collaborative learning.
The first focuses on improving the skills among peers, instead of encouraging students to compete, and the second builds a humane and cohesive society.
In Danish schools, children receive no trophies or prizes, but they are instructed to focus on “the culture of motivation to improve, measured exclusively in relation to themselves” instead.
“A child who is naturally talented in mathematics, without learning to collaborate with their peers, will not go much further. They will need help in other subjects. It is a great lesson to teach children from an early age since no one can go through life alone.
You build empathy skills, which are further strengthened by having to be careful about the way the other person receives the information and having to put oneself in their shoes to understand how learning works.”
The program points out the importance of mutual respect, and it is an opportunity for children to be appreciated, listened to and encouraged. They also learn to help others and compete with themselves only.
The empathy program during ‘Klassens tid’ or ‘The Class’s Hour’ starts at the age of six, and continues until the age of sixteen.
The empathy program provides amazing results, so other countries should follow suit, as the number of anxious primary and secondary school children is on the rise across the globe