Nikhe Aooijaman
Nikhe Koojiman with her family. Image Credit: Supplied

“I think the most important thing for every parent is to realise that you're not perfect, and you are allowed to make mistakes,” says Dutch mum based in the UAE Nikhe Koojiman.

And, it’s important to admit that you can slip-up, especially in front of your child. “It's very important as a parent that you are able to say sorry to your child. Because that helps them to say sorry to somebody else. And to understand that you're actually there to help them,” says the mum of three kids, aged seven, three and one.

It also teaches children that you value them as individuals. That give and take of respect is what forges the greatest of bonds between parent and child.

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Koojiman, who is from the Netherlands, says the Dutch way of parenting is very, very realistic. “We all know we're not perfect parents. So it's not a competition. We know we make mistakes, we learn from them. And I think we're also trying to be authoritative instead of authoritarian,” she mulls in an interview with Gulf News.

Authoritative parents are nurturing and responsive and supportive, explains the American Psychological Association, but they also set firm limits for their kids. (Authoritarian parents tends to have a more dictatorial approach to things.)

A Dutch nurse called Aafke Gesina in 1915 spoke of the three Rs for parenting: rust (rest), regelmaat (regularity), and reinheid (cleanliness), creating a foundation for the style that some say grow the happiest kids.

In 2020, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) conducted a study titled ‘Worlds of Influence. Understanding What Shapes Child Well-being in Rich Countries’, which analysed the mental, physical and academic health and social skills of kids aged 0 to 18 in 41 countries. The Netherlands was found to top the lists, with 93 per cent of the participants claiming they were satisfied with their lives.

Routine

How do they do it? Having a schedule is all-important to the Dutch household. “We think routine for children in general is something they thrive on. Kids need boundaries, they need rules,” explains Koojiman.

“My kids are in bed between 7pm and 7.30pm. Of course I can keep them up until nine 9.30pm. But at the end of the day, not only they but also I pay the price for it. Because the next day they're grumpy or tired. I think I'm a happier parent, too, when I have a few hours of the day for myself. That's quality time for me and my husband when the kids are in bed. So I think it’s [about striking] a balance,” she explains.

The family also ensures an example of gender parity early on. "There is a good balance in the house when it comes to parenting. Parents share the household tasks and the care of the children. Working mothers often work part-time and lots of fathers have a 'daddy day'," she explains.

The Dutch way to deal with a tantrum

Children are constantly testing their boundaries – sometimes it’s a quiet rebellion and sometimes, a loud explosive outburst in public. The way to respond, explains Koojiman, is to allow the kids their chance to have their tantrum.

And the way to do that is calmly, in a level tone of voice.

“My son is at a stage now he's three, and he's very much testing my boundaries now. And he starts crying or repeating like 1,000 times whatever you want in a very [odd] voice. And I’ll say, ‘Okay, I understand you want something, but I cannot listen to you when you have such a funny voice. If you talk to me in a normal way, then maybe we can find a solution.’ But I think the most important thing is that you acknowledge their emotions. Because in their world, it is very important in that moment that they get that what they want,” she adds.

Allowing children to scrape their knees

It’s important to facilitate growth, and that comes with taking risks, making decisions and sometimes, dealing with the consequences. The role of a parent, says Aooijaman, is not to mollycoddle a child into not being able to deal with the real world but to make that interaction safe and productive. “Kids are so much more flexible and resilient than we think,” she says.

“And, by trusting in what they think they can do, I think as a parent, you'll be surprised what they actually can do. Let them fall, let them hurt themselves. And when they fall, don't just jump up and pick them up. But see first, what is their reaction? Because I think nine out of 10 times a child starts to cry because of the reaction the parent gives. When the child falls. I always first check like, did they get up themselves? Are they crying? Are they hurt? And I ask them, ‘Are you hurt? Are you okay?’ And then, you know, I do what needs to be done,” she explains.

Use logic, not punishment to discipline

When it comes to dealing with children, says Koojiman, it’s important to remember that kids don’t have control over many things – things are decided by the adults in their life. But the thing they have full authority over is sleeping and eating. “If my children come downstairs and say, because I can't sleep, I will send them back. But I will never get upset because it's not something I can control. And the same with eating like, of course, I tried to stimulate them, but if they really don't want to eat, they don't want to eat. So I will not force them and then they will realize later on that they will get hungry,” she explains.

This belief – of allowing her kids to learn the fallout of their decision to sleep later than usual – has meant some sleepless nights but, she says, once they learn the repercussions of their actions, things go much smoother.

Another Dutch practice that users of the information-sharing platform Reddit wrote on a parenting group was that the parents will never reward bad behaviour. @David_Hosselhoff wrote that his mother who is a kindergarten teacher offered him three insights into Dutch parenting behaviours:

1. Don't baby the kids too much. To an extent, talk to kids as you would talk to adults. Just as in any other relationship, also in a child-parent relationship communication is key. If kids are taught from a young age to articulate their wants and needs clearly and can understand your answer, this smoothes out a lot more conflict than you'd think.

2. Set very clear boundaries, make sure the kids understand them and be 100 per cent consistent 100 per cent of the time. If you say they need to go to bed in five minutes, make sure they're in bed after five minutes. If you say they can't have something, make sure they don't. Don't budge, especially if they cry or throw a fit. They'll soon realise it doesn't get them what they want anyway and won't bother.

3. Base your reasoning on logic rather than authority. Make sure to always explain yourself and also admit when you're wrong. ‘Because I say so’ or ‘because I'm the boss’ is never a valid reason.

Eating together

Food is a bonding agent; this is especially true during mealtimes, where families may come together to talk about their day, their learnings and their problems. “I also think by eating a meal together children develop healthier eating habits. We eat the same [thing], I will never cook a different meal for my kids. We eat what we eat, and that's on the table and they sometimes might not like it as much. But that's fine. I mean, I don't like every type of food. But by understanding that it's not always something they really like and still it's it needs to be eaten because it's healthy for them, they learn about you know the importance of healthy food,” says Koojiman.

This spending time together is also an expression of love. "We believe love comes with spending time together and not with materialistic things," she explains.

Let kids be kids

As imperative as it is for children to have a framework of activity, it’s just as necessary for them to gain responsibility one step at a time. “I think that we should not put too much pressure on children in you know, trying to get them to where we would like them to go. In the ways of learning for instance, in school in the Netherlands, we start school at the age of four … no matter what time of the year. And the first two years of school, there's no requirement for children to learn to read or write or do maths. They do it in a playful way, but there's no pressure on it. So it's only from the age of six that we actually start teaching children,” says Koojiman.

Routine, repetition and logic are the pillars of the Dutch brand of parenting. As Reddit user @StillSilentMajority7 says: “My Dutch friend liked to say, ‘there's no such thing as bad behaviour (from kids), there is only allowed behaviour’. You're watching the cumulative effect of many rounds of discipline. The [Dutch] kids know the rules, and they follow them.”


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