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So here we were thinking French women, Tiger Moms and B#tches had all the answers. But it turns out the happiest kids in the world live in the Netherlands—at least according to Unicef. (Dismally, U.S. kids are apparently among the most bummed out, ranking 26th out of the 29 countries studied.) And the authors of buzzy parenting book The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less wanted to know why (for one thing, there are no helicopter parents in Amsterdam). Their discoveries just may blow your maternal mind.   

RELATED: Quiz: What Type of Mom Are You?

dutch parenting hagelslag

Dutch moms feed their kids chocolate for breakfast

It’s called hagelslag: chocolate sprinkles eaten on buttered bread. No wonder these kids report such high levels “life satisfaction.”

dutch parenting fort
Twenty20

Dutch kids don’t get homework until high school

In the Netherlands, reading, writing and basic math aren't even touched upon before age six. “Until then, the focus is on structured play.” Dutch parents “don’t send their toddlers to music lessons or academic enrichment programs or worry about getting them into the right nursery school.” And that hands-off educational attitude continues until they’re 12—if not beyond. Even when it’s eventually assigned, “homework should not be done at the expense of sports, hobbies and recreational activities,” says one teacher in the book. Instead, the (free) Dutch school system, where everyone gets into college, “is in favor of placing the child under minimal stress…there is more emphasis on what the child wants and what the teacher thinks is best than on what parents might aspire to.”

dutch parenting chalk
Twenty20

Dutch kids play outside unsupervised

In the Netherlands, “Independent outdoor play is seen as the antidote to breeding passive, media-addicted couch potatoes.” Dutch parents teach their kids to swim, cycle and cross the road safely starting around age four. Then they gradually "lengthen the leash" so that kids as young as six meet for self-arranged playdates in public parks unaccompanied, ride their bikes to school with classmates around eight, and play in the street (the street!) unsupervised, rain or shine. As a result, “Dutch children don’t demand the constant attention of grown-ups. They know how to entertain themselves.” While we hover and snowplow, Dutch parents have “hit that elusive balance between parental involvement and benign neglect.” 

RELATED: 7 Things That Might Happen If You Try Free-Range Parenting

dutch parenting soccer
Twenty20

Dutch kids spend tons of time with their parents

Hold on to your butts: Dutch parents work 29 hours a week on average, and dedicate at least one day a week to spending time with their children. Typical middle-class Dutch families eat breakfast and dinner together daily, as well as vacation together three times a year—for three or four weeks at a time. And even though 75 percent of Dutch women work part-time, dads play a more equal role in childcare: “When a child has a temperature, for example, Dutch parents will take turns staying home with the child, with most employers showing understanding and leniency.”

dutch parenting restaurant
Twenty20

Dutch kids aren’t expected to behave like miniature adults

Children and adults are on much more equal footing—and share mutual respect—in the Netherlands. There, it is perfectly OK for children to run around in restaurants, happily playing with ear-splitting abandon. “One of the things that contributes to the running-around-restaurants-screaming is that Dutch children in the Netherlands are welcome everywhere. It’s a much more child-friendly, child-centered culture. Cafés and restaurants consciously cater to families. Most of them have play corners with books, puzzles and games.” But no judgments.  “In the Netherlands, children are encouraged to act spontaneously. Play is more important than being quietly obedient.”

dutch parenting grass
Twenty20

Dutch parents don’t try to be so damn perfect

The book is laced with practical nuggets of wisdom like, “[American] parents often focus too much on the things that their children can’t do, and not enough on what they can...” and "If they don't fall, they don't learn." But this one takes the cake—or rather, the hagelslag: “There’s absolutely no shame in not keeping it together all the time.” 

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