I live in a country where children generally fare well in happiness surveys and Dutch children always rate much higher in the happiness stakes than British children ever do.
It’s no coincidence that the Dutch shine through in reports such as the UN’s World Happiness Report. From what I see around me, the Dutch work consciously to raise happy, healthy, independent children* and I consider myself lucky to be raising three children here.
So, for the record, here are my six reasons why I’m happy I’m raising my children in the Netherlands.
1. School Allows Children to be Children
Children are encouraged to play on the streets in residential areas (where traffic signs indicate children are at play and the speed limit is severely reduced).
My children love being outdoors, love being active in all sorts of weather. It reminds me of my own childhood in Britain in the 1980s, when we entertained ourselves out on the street with nothing but our imaginations, or perhaps a ball and our bikes.
3. Child Friendly Society
We don’t have to walk far in our neighborhood to stumble over yet another children’s playground or park. They are all small scale but varied and numerous. If we really wanted to, we could visit a different playground on foot each day of the week. Neighbourhoods are designed with children in mind.
Similarly, many restaurants are child friendly and the amount of amusement parks, animal parks and children’s attractions across the Netherlands is just staggering for such a small country. There’s more than enough to entertain children of all ages.
4. A Sense of Community
Like many playgrounds, Dutch primary schools are also small scale, but numerous, and children usually attend a school close to home. School catchment areas are generally quite small (but not fixed – if you want to send your child to a school further away you may).
This means that school runs are generally done on foot or by bike, and when primary school children are older it gives them a sense of independence that children don’t feel being ferried to school in big cars, the type you see clogging up the roads around the schools in England.
I like that the Dutch tend to keep things local. My children go to school with children they live near. After school children play together in the local playgrounds with their classmates. It gives a sense of community. Work together, play together.
5. Dutch State
The importance of family filters down from the politicians. There are various state benefits for families with children: subsidies for child care as well as child benefit payments. State education is free. The Dutch youth care system is wide and varying – and in most cases the services are free.
It starts from birth with help from kraamzorg and continues with visits to the consultatiebureau, which, love it or hate it, is undeniably a unique service for parents. The system may not be perfect, but whenever I have needed a helping hand as a parent I’ve had welcome support. Even though I am an expat with a small family support network, I feel like I have people to lean on if I need it, because of the Dutch youth system.
|This could easily be the motto of the Dutch when it comes to raising children|
6. Work Life Balance
Last but absolutely not least, the focus on striking a balance between working and family life is extensive. Putting the emphasis on family life is ingrained in Dutch society.
More than a fair share of the working population works part-time, predominantly women, all with the aim of being around for their children and working around school hours. Again, love it or loathe it it is how it is. I happen to love it.
Parents, whatever their situation, need to find a work and family balance that works for them and the Dutch attitude and family culture means that parents have options.
Children have parents that, in general, have the opportunities and time to be present and involved.
It’s Not Hagelslag, It’s Attitude
So, my belief is that the happiness of Dutch children has nothing to do with hagelslag (sprinkles) on bread for breakfast as others have lightheartedly suggested, rather it stems from an attitude, a deep ingrained culture that focuses on children and allows them to make the most of childhood.
Dutch parents around me don’t put pressure on their children to grow up fast. Instead, they give them permission to be children for as long as possible and not worry about their future at a young age. I recently read a few articles about American parents pressuring their children to excel in many fields from a young age, both in and out of school, children that have an after school activity schedule that would make most Dutch children’s eyes water.
It’s true that the Dutch have a reputation for being liberal, a bit too liberal on some matters in some culture’s eyes, but what I see is an openness and a manner of carefully considered parenting that seems to work, which seems to foster independent children that feel listened to, that feel valued. Ones that are keen to tell researchers who care to ask that they are happy with their lot.
So, I for one intend to keep watching the parenting examples around me, and dish out good doses of Dutch parenting to my three sons. Hopefully, one day, when a UN researcher asks them questions for her World Happiness Report they’ll be as positive in their answers as the children that have gone before them.
What do you think makes Dutch children fare so well in happiness studies?Does the parenting culture in your host country differ widely to that in your birth country? Is the local parenting culture where you live something you aspire to?
*It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that Dutch society has it’s share of problems, and that includes the lives of some children too. Some Dutch children live in poverty, some Dutch children live with absent parents, some Dutch children are deeply unhappy. I am in no way suggesting with this post that all Dutch children are ecstatically happy. However, there is a general culture related to parenting that I see every day around me. And that is the essence of this post.*