Dutch parents raise the happiest children in the world – this is what they do differently
As parents, raising children who are happy and healthy is pretty much what life is all about.
The thing is, not all of us, it would seem, are doing such a great job at it. Certainly not as well as the Dutch.
According to a 2013 Unicef report, Dutch children are, in fact, the happiest in the world. So much so that they are miles ahead of their peers in 29 other industrialized countries when it comes to childhood wellbeing. In the ranking, children in the UK came 16th, while the US were far down neat the bottom of the list in spot #26 – just above Lithuania, Latvia and Romania – the three poorest countries in the survey.
In the Netherlands, however, children ranked the highest in the entire survey when it came to all categories, that were: material wellbeing; health and safety; education; behaviours and risks; and housing and environment. And the best bit? They felt happy. In fact, more than 95 percent of Dutch children considered themselves happy.
And interestingly, this happiness seems to start early, as new research also suggests that Dutch babies are happier than their American counterparts. After examining the temperamental differences between babies born in the US and the Netherlands, Dutch babies were found to be more contented – laughing, smiling and cuddling more – than American babies.
So what are Dutch parents doing differently? A lot, it would seem. So much so that two American expat mums, who are living and raising their children in the Netherlands, have now written a book about it.
In 'The Happiest Kids in the World' authors Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison explain why Dutch children are so happy all the time – and what we can learn from them.
9 things that set Dutch children apart from those in the UK and the US
Dutch babies get more sleep
This, the Dutch believe, leads to happier children and happier parents too.
Dutch kids have little or no homework at primary school
Most children will start school around the age of four, but structured learning doesn't really kick in until they are in third class, and are closer to six or seven. There is little or no homework, and no pressure to become the next child prodigy.
Dutch children are not just seen but also heard
In the Netherlands, children are encouraged to act spontaneously. Play is more important than being quietly obedient. The Dutch believe in inspiring children to explore the world around them and to learn from that. Play can be noisy and disruptive to other people, something the French would not tolerate and Britons and Americans might disapprove of.
Dutch children are expected to be friendly and helpful towards their elders but not to automatically defer to them.
Dutch children are trusted to ride their bikes to school on their own
Freedom, to a much larger degree than children in the likes of the UK and the US get to enjoy, is treasured by parents and kids in the Netherlands.
Dutch children are allowed to play outside unsupervised
Again, freedom is encouraged and valued. Given an equal role in the family, children are taught to be self-sufficient and accept responsibility at an early age. Playing outside unsupervised is a rite of passage that teaches them independence and toughens them up.
Dutch children have regular family meals
Sitting down to eat around the table as a family, before school and the working day, is a routine that underpins Dutch family life. In no other country do families eat breakfast together as regularly as they do in the Netherlands.
Dutch children get to spend more time with their mothers and fathers
Dutch fathers are not afraid of looking like sissies – they take an equal role in child-rearing and household chores,
Dutch society has fought for and achieved an enviable work-life balance. As the part-time-work champions of Europe, the Dutch work on average 29 hours a week, dedicate at least one day a week to spending time with their children, and pencil in time for themselves, too.
Dutch children enjoy simple pleasures and are even happy with second-hand toys
The norm in the Netherlands is simplicity: families tend to choose simple, low-cost activities and take a back-to-basics approach. Children are used to having second-hand toys. Each year on King’s Day in April, as part of the vrijmarkt, the Vondelpark in Amsterdam is transformed into a vast open-air children’s market, and this is replicated in villages and towns around the country.
And last but not least, Dutch children get to eat chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) for breakfast
The Dutch are champions of breakfast time and seem to be happier and healthier because of it. But the real point is that they put as much value on the idea of starting the day together around the breakfast table, a calming and bonding experience for all the family.
Oh, and they actually totally put chocolate sprinkles on toast too.