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Today, Dutch mother, Kittie, is sharing her story about How Dutch parents make their children self-reliant.   

“I recently shared the reason why Dutch children sleep longer: an average of two hours more per night.   While this plays a huge impact on their behavior, it also helps the parents get the rest that they need, setting us up for a wonderful day of teaching our children to be self-reliant.

When I look out of my kitchen window at after-school-hours, I see the perfect example of the Dutch way of upbringing. Kids as young as four are playing outback.  When you walk through a neighborhood, you see groups of children running around or playing at the neighborhood playground.

Older children are coming home by bike from school, while one kid is walking the dog and rings the doorbell of a neighborhood friend. Parents are inside and doing their own thing,  checking in on their children every 30 minutes or so.  They are allowing them to play with friends without hovering… teaching the child to be independent, to be problem-solvers, and to be self-reliant

Dutch parents make their children self-reliant

How Dutch parents make their children self-reliant

Dutch children are brought up to be free and independent starting at a young age. Many parents in the Netherlands believe that bringing up happy and self-reliant children is the highest parenting goal. And here’s how the Dutch reach that goal.

  1. Fewer rules 

Dutch parents don’t have many rules. Most things are negotiable, and discussion is not considered a bad thing. The few rules they make (like strict bedtimes and set dinner times) are sacred. And with those rules, Dutch parents are very consequent. The rest of the family life is designed with the input of all family members, no matter how young children are.      

  1. Giving children a voice

Giving children input on their life is an important (and sometimes criticized) Dutch parenting principle. Young children are given choices between two kinds of vegetables; slightly older kids can choose what’s for dinner once a week.

When they get even older, they get to choose their own sports, hobbies, and friends. Suddenly quitting hockey while you’re just getting good at it or bringing home a playdate that your mother doesn’t like is more normal for Dutch children, as they learn the consequences of their actions without their parents stepping in. 

Their parents let their kids make their own mistakes, although sometimes reluctantly.

  1. No pressure

The choices children make are rarely pushed by the parents. Children can explore their own passions, and even school is not an area parents will push their children to the limit. Repeating a class is not something that is shameful in Dutch culture and getting and learning a practical skill in community college isn’t either.
As long as their kids have a future insight where they are happy and can support themselves financially, the parents are content, feeling as they have done their job correctly.   

  1. Taking the time to make children independent

The fact that Dutch parents give their children a lot of freedom and room to make their own choices doesn’t mean they don’t spend time with their children. Most mothers work part-time[1] and most fathers work four workdays or less. Parents make a lot of effort to eat family meals with the whole family.

Spending quality time and conversing with their children is high on the priority list. 

Besides the fact that many parents enjoy spending a lot of time with their children, this time investment is necessary to teach children to become independent. The learning curve is slow at the start, but it will pay off later. It’s much easier to help a child to put on his or her jacket instead of teaching the child how to put the jacket on.

Also, being available as much as possible as a parent allows you to answer the endless stream of questions children have on their journey growing up. The better parents can help them understand the why, the what and the how, the faster a child can develop new skills and get into new activities. The initial time and energy investment is high, but it pays off eventually.  

The pros and cons of focusing on independence early on

Every choice you make in raising children has its benefits and downsides. The most important benefit of the above-discussed approach is that children quickly become self-reliant.

They seem to have a lot of confidence and are not afraid to speak up. Also, since they are used to making their own choices and as they have had plenty of opportunities to explore their own passions and qualities, it becomes easier later in life to make education and professional choices that fit them well.

All this contributes to Dutch children being among the happiest in the world[2].  

dutch children are more independent

Is there a downside to independence?

What may be a downside of independence directed upbringing is that children learn to be less receptive to parents, teachers, and authority in general.

This is not bad, but Dutch children may appear rude, although they are simply being independent. In other cultures children treat their parents with a lot of respect, and challenging their parents is not very common.

Dutch children will share their opinion all the time, even when one might think it is not appropriate. Like telling their grandmother they don’t like her new haircut (true story).

Another possible downside of focusing on independence in upbringing may be the high level of individualism of Dutch society and culture. Compared to other countries, family ties may seem less tight.  

Teaching children to be self-reliant isn’t always easy

Teaching children to be self-reliant isn’t always easy, but doing so is truly an act of love and support to your children. It makes them feel like you believe in them and trusts their judgment.

It’s like when I let my three-year-old daughter dress for pre-school. While her closet is full of most beautiful clothes, the other day she managed to pick quite combinations that I find uhm.. not so great. After struggling to put her clothes on herself (sweater backward), she went to school looking like a little clown.   However, a very proud and independent child, who knows what girls of her age like to wear. 

So, I let it go like I one day must let her go. ” 

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Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. I was brought up that way. Played tennis, hockey and baseball in High School. We got ourselves to the games, generally no parents watching or yelling from the sidelines. It was mostly us kids playing and interacting with each other. Games were in club format or intramural. We did have coaches, but apart from training with them twice a week, we practiced by ourselves. Competitive play on weekends only. Wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.