I'm a child psychologist in the Netherlands, home to the world's happiest kids—6 things parents here never do

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As a Dutch child psychologist who works with families in the Netherlands, I've observed a number of different parenting styles across many cultures.

While each approach has its benefits, Dutch kids are consistently ranked as the happiest in the world. This had me thinking about we do differently here to raise happier and more resilient children.

Based on my research as a psychologist and experience raising two young daughters, here are six things Dutch parents never do:

1. We never drive our kids to school when we can cycle.

There is a huge cycling culture here, and it starts early. As soon as a baby can sit up, they are fastened to the front of a parent's bike and cycled around in any type of weather.

Biking through the storm — in proper rain gear, of course — teaches kids that no matter what kind of obstacles they face in their lives, they'll be able to get through it.

It also teaches independence. By the time most kids are 9 or 10, many parents trust them to bike to school on their own or to their friends' houses. This freedom and trust helps young people develop into autonomous, self-sufficient and confident adults.

2. We never hover over our kids.

It's very common to see Dutch kids run free on the playground without too much supervision.

An expat parent told me once how shocked they were when they went to a Dutch playground for the first time. All the parents were sitting on a bench, calmly chatting amongst themselves, while their kids were climbing, running and falling all over the place.

But Dutch children are encouraged from a young age to explore their surroundings, to believe in themselves and to dust themselves off when they fall.

3. We never work more than 40 hours a week.

One of the biggest reasons Dutch people are so happy is that they value work-life balance.

A 2021 study found that nearly half the workforce in the Netherlands had part-time jobs. Dutch fathers also take at least one day off each week (their "Papaday") to spend with their children.

Having that dedicated time at home means more room for activities for the children, like playdates, clubs and sports, or extra down time to spend with parents.

4. We never eat too many meals separately from our kids.

Dutch parents make a point to have at least one meal together every day. It's a time for family members to connect and talk about their day.

Feeling connected improves the mental health of all family members and contributes to happier, more emotionally balanced children. And it doesn't hurt that chocolate sprinkles ("hagelslag") on bread is a popular breakfast option in the Netherlands.

5. We never throw away structure.

From the moment their children are born, Dutch parents are advised to provide "rust, reinheid, regelmaat," which roughly translates to "rest, cleanliness, and structure."

Dutch children are consistently given a clear daily schedule that allows for plenty of naps for the little ones and prioritizes stability.

For children to flourish, they need structure, predictability, rest and hygiene. It helps them feel safe and comfortable exploring the unknown. This form of more authoritative parenting is often linked to positive child development.

6. We never say our opinion is the last word.

Dutch parents want to make their kids feel both seen and heard. They involve their children in the decision-making process as soon as they can understand language and communicate.

This way, kids learn to negotiate and set their personal boundaries from a young age. When we ask for our children's opinions and truly listen to them, they'll be more likely to develop a sense of positive self-worth.

Dutch parents also don't shy away from discussing uncomfortable topics like sex, drugs and gender. We understand that accepting our children for who they truly are is all they really need to grow into confident, happy and balanced adults.

Veronique van der Kleij is a child and school psychologist based in the Netherlands. For 10 years, she has worked both in mental health care and at The International School of the Hague with children, adolescents and their families. She specializes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Follow her on LinkedIn.

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