Dutch children are the happiest in the world, at least according to Unicef, as cited by Holland International Distribution Council. I have seen how children, both Dutch and non-Dutch, are happily raised by many parents here in The Netherlands. In my opinion, raising happy and balanced kids is not about being a Dutch that makes these children happy. Instead, it is the culture of raising children in The Netherlands. Being a mother of two Dutch-Filipino kids in the Netherlands, I can say that they are currently very happy and satisfied with their state of life. Not only me, but many of my international friends who have brought with them their children to study or work in The Netherlands have experienced and have testified that their kids are in general happier, less stressed, and more balanced as compared to when they were in their home country. But what are the key ingredients of raising happy and balanced kids the Dutch way? Let me share my observations and my experiences of more than three years of raising my children here in The Netherlands.
How to raise happy and balanced kids? Learn from the Dutch:
1. Kids spend more time with both their parents.
In my previous blog, Achieve-work life balance by embracing Dutch work habits, I mentioned that family is prioritized over work by many parents and that Dutch make a clear separation between work and private (or family) lives. But how do parents spend more time with the children while working and at the same time raising kids on their own? Here are the facts. Many Dutch women work part-time. In fact, the Netherlands has the highest percentage of mothers working part-time in the world. In addition, many Dutch fathers opt to spend their once a week “Papa dag” (Daddy Day), which is a legally allowed unpaid day-off of father’s to take care of their children in the first year. Dutch parents also do many things together with their children. For instance, it is part of the Dutch culture that children regularly eat dinner (and breakfast) in the table with their parents. Families often go on holidays together, shop together especially during weekends, and play on the playground. No wonder that Dutch parents are also among the happiest parents in the world and this is reflected on their children. In fact, many researchers agree that happy parents lead to raising happy and balanced kids!
2. Part of being happy and balanced kids are due to exposure to various activities.
Many Dutch parents expose their children to various activities, such as on playing, swimming, doing puzzles, reading books, and playing musical instruments among others. In the Netherlands, developing intellectual ability is not the sole focus of raising children and is not the measurement of good parenting. The exposure of children to various activities help the young ones to improve their emotional, physical, and mental developments. By the way, these activities are not forced upon children. If they don’t like the activity, they simply stop doing it or switch to another activity. In the end, the happiness of children is the most important.
3. Kids have the right to voice their opinions or feelings.
Children are raised not purely raised on authoritarian way. Every Dutch child is given a chance to explain his or her feelings, whether it is happiness or anger, or difference in opinion or view. Children voicing their own opinion is not a sign of disrespect. Instead it is a way for parents to show that they can listen to the thinking and emotions of their children, regardless of their young age. If parents listen to their kids at a young age, the more they will understand why their children are behaving the way they do and how they could grow in the future.
4. Kids are allowed to be kids.
In The Netherlands, there is less pressure imposed on children. The development of children is dependent on their capability. For example, there is no rush in letting them walk or no pressure to excel in academics. They are also stimulated to play more, to relax more. In short, just be kids. Unlike in other cultures such as in Asia, academic performance and being good at something defines the social status of the children thus many parents pressure their children to excel. In The Netherlands, academic is just one aspect of development of children and that there is more to life than academics. Besides, social status is not a thing in this country – everybody is equal.
5. Kids are given more independence.
The children are given a high level of independence in The Netherlands. For instance, parents allow their kids to crawl around, to walk, and do things on their own (unless they need the strong guidance). Of course, the control on freedom of children should not be on two extreme sides. On one hand, restricting the children or being over protective could hinder their development. While on the other hand, giving children too much freedom may lead to them making wrong choices in life. Giving children more freedom in a balance way allows children to grow and eases the burden of raising them. This could even be beneficial in the future. No wonder, many Dutch do part time jobs starting at the ages of 14 or 15. This does not only allow them to earn money, but also helps them to experience how to be a responsible person when they grow up.