Dutch parents are raising the happiest kids in the world.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we discover a ‘chain’ of practices that put them on the top of rankings every year.
Children in Nordic countries generally have the highest rates of well-being, according to the 2020 Innocenti Report Card from the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef), which measures 41 countries against the categories of mental well-being, life satisfaction, physical health, and both academic and social skills. The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway held the top three spots (in that order). The UK was at 27, and the US was at 36.
Several other organisations, including Britain’s Child Poverty Action Group, and the World Economic Forum, have also ranked Dutch children right at the top, when rating personal happiness.
Here are five reasons why the Netherlands scores so highly, according to a June 2019 report in the US-based news website CNBC:
1. Babies get lots of sleep
Dutch parents are uncompromising about the sanctity of sleep. They are known to place value on rest and tend to have a more regulated sleep schedule for babies. A 2013 study from the European Journal of Developmental Psychology found that how well they slept impacted babies’ temperament – Dutch babies were found to laugh, smile and cuddle more than their American counterparts. Their efficient sleep practices extend right into adulthood, according to a 2016 study in the journal Science Advances, which found that Dutch people get more sleep than anyone else in the world: an average of eight hours and 12 minutes every night.
2. Children spend more time with both parents
In 1996, the Dutch government granted part-time employees equal rights as full-time ones, setting the standard for better work-life balance. Because of a culture where part-time work is encouraged, the Netherlands has the world’s shortest week for business professionals – just 29-hour work weeks – according to a 2018 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Just like working mums, dads too, work four days a week, leaving them with at least one day they can spend with their kids; this time off is known as ‘Papadag’, which means ‘Daddy day’.
3. Less pressure at school
Education is seen as just one more route for a child’s personal development in the Netherlands – it’s not about elite universities or high grades. In the country, there are two kinds of higher education qualifications – research-oriented degrees from universities, and profession-oriented degrees offered by colleges. To gain a degree, you just need to pass your high school exams – the grades don’t matter. The idea is that social skills are instrumental to happiness… even more so than one’s IQ (intelligence quotient).
4. Children are urged to express their opinions
Negotiation based parenting is the norm in the Netherlands, where children as young as three are allowed to negotiate and set their own boundaries. When kids question parents’ authority, it’s not considered disrespectful – they understand that the child is simply trying to express what he/she is or isn’t comfortable with. Negotiation is a skill that is useful when children are older, since they can use it resist peer pressure, assert themselves in the workplace and cope in difficult situations.
5. Families eat together at breakfast
Sitting down at the table as a family, especially at the start of the day, is a routine that defines Dutch family life. No one begins eating until everyone – including the children – are at the table, as a sign of respect. According to the Unicef’s 2013 World Happiness Report (where the Netherlands again came out on top), 85 per cent of Dutch children between 11 and 15 reported that they ate breakfast with their families every day. Studies have shown that eating breakfast is associated with better school performance and decreased behavioural problems, and that it fosters family bonding and identity development.