If you want to raise happy kids, look to the Netherlands for advice.
After all, Dutch kids rank #1 worldwide in happiness and education.
So what are the Dutch doing so right to raise such joyful and well-adjusted kids?
That is the subject of the book The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison.
I recently read the book, took detailed notes, and came away with 10 key principles of Dutch parenting that positively impact the welfare of their children:
1. Dutch parents keep their kids on a routine
Dutch parents believe children stay calm and relaxed when they are in a routine.
Dutch babies are kept on a schedule with specific feeding and sleeping times, ensuring they get plenty of sleep and enough food. Even as kids get older, they often eat dinner at the same time every night and keep a consistent bedtime.
However, that doesn’t mean that Dutch parents are authoritarian taskmasters. While they might keep firm times for starting the bedtime routine and for lights out (e.g. 7pm start time for an 8pm bedtime), what happens in the middle is often flexible and up to the child (order of brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading books, etc.).
2. Dutch families eat meals together
The Dutch highly value eating meals together as a family, including breakfast and dinner. This means that the whole family sits to eat at the same time and gets up from the meal at the same time.
They prioritize togetherness over fancy cuisine, choosing foods that are easy and quick to prepare, affordable, and nutritious. The Dutch in general eat a healthy, balanced diet, and are not prone to overeating.
3. Dutch parents model good behavior and are firm with their kids
Dutch parents believe they need to set a good example so their children will copy that behavior. And when they do tell their kids to do something, they say it firmly (“I want you to…”) instead of simply asking.
Good behavior is reinforced with praise and unacceptable behavior is stopped immediately. Examples of punishment might include taking away TV time (screen time in general is limited for Dutch kids), being sent to bed early, cleaning up a mess they made, or repairing something they damaged.
Good manners are taught to Dutch kids from a very early age (“Please” and “Thank You” are musts).
4. Dutch value education for their kids’ well-being (not achievement)
Education in the Netherlands is seen as the route to a child’s well-being and personal development, not as a path to success or achievement. In this sense, Dutch parents and teachers aim to minimize academic stress, leading to a better overall school experience.
They believe the best progress is made when it is child-led, not parent-pushed.
5. Dutch parents allow (encourage) their kids to play outside unstructured
Dutch childhood consists of lots of freedom and plenty of play. In fact, Dutch parents believe play is more important for kids than quiet obedience.
Dutch kids seem to spend their entire lives on their bikes, they go outside in all types of weather, and they play outside unsupervised a lot. Dutch parents believe all of this helps their kids develop character, grit, and independence (not to mention the physical benefits of exercise).
6. Dutch parents value independence in their children
Dutch parents believe independence and autonomy make kids happy. This independence also lightens the load on parents.
Dutch parents do not believe it is their job to constantly entertain their kids. Instead, kids are forced to find ways to occupy and entertain themselves, which stimulates their creativity and ingenuity. Dutch kids also often walk or ride their bike to school and activities, which means less shuttling by mom and dad.
Overall, Dutch parents aim to strike that perfect balance of letting their kids play where they want and respect their autonomy, while also remaining responsive and involved when needed. Importantly, they let their children be themselves instead of forcing anything upon them (there is not the pressure to be a mini version of the parent).
7. Dutch parents take work-life balance very seriously
The Dutch work on average 29 hours per week — the shortest working hours of any developed country. They pride themselves on being the part-time work champions of Europe, and believe that physical and mental health are more important than work. They also get more sleep on average than anyone else in the world (8 hours, 12 minutes a night). All of this means that Dutch parents are more available for their children, and in better spirits when spending time with them.
8. Dutch moms and dads both carry the load
With such great work-life balance, both parents are able to share the parenting responsibilities. Dutch dads are known to dedicate at least one day a week to spend time with their kids. And often the childcare structure will include both parents working part-time, plus additional help from both sets of grandparents, as well as neighbors and babysitters.
9. Dutch families take a lot of vacations
Taking vacations is an integral part of life for the Dutch. Three vacations per year is standard for a middle class family, often for 3–4 weeks at a time. In between these holidays, they still manage to get away for long weekends. But these trips aren’t necessarily luxurious. Camping is the vacation of choice for the Dutch — primarily because it is an economical way to travel that lets kids roam freely in a comfortable setting.
10. Dutch families live the simple life
The norm in the Netherlands is simplicity — simple, low-cost activities, and a down-to-earth approach. Thriftiness can be felt in every aspect of Dutch culture and social policy. The Dutch choose time over money, and practicality over luxury. This teaches their children to appreciate what they have instead of always wanting more.
I don’t suggest that it is practical to always follow these 10 principles, but I do believe that incorporating even a few of them will yield noticeable benefits for your children.
And while every country and culture is a bit different, “Going Dutch” will help you raise happier, healthier kids.
It works in the Netherlands and I hope it works for you, too.