Last month, I shared a post about Why Dutch children sleep longer than children in other countries. I’ve always been a fan of early bedtimes, so when Kittie, a Dutch mother & blogger, asked if she could write a post about it on YourModernFamily, I was excited to say yes. She asked if she could share another and of course, I said yes again. I love hearing her view of things. Today she is sharing her thoughts on why Dutch children are more self-reliant.
How Dutch parents make their children 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. Young children are playing in the neighborhood playground. 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, some may be checking in on their children every 30 minutes or so.
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Dutch children are brought up to be self-reliant 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.
- Less rules: Discussion is not a bad thing
Dutch parents don’t have many rules. Most things are negotiable, and discussion is not considered a bad thing. The few rules that they do make (like strict bedtimes and set dinner times) are held firm. 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.
- 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; older kids can choose what’s for dinner once a week. When they get 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 normal for Dutch children. Their parents let their kids make their own mistakes, although sometimes reluctantly. With discussion, instead of rules about these things, they learn from these mistakes.
- 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 not going to college, but instead learning a skill is not, either. As long as their kids have a future in sight where they are happy and can support themselves financially, the parents are content, feeling as they have done their job correctly.
- 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 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 of Dutch parents.
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, but it’s the teaching that pays off more than the ‘helping’ and doing it for them.
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 profession choices that fit them well. All this contributes to Dutch children being among the happiest in the world.
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. In cultures like France, 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.
Another possible downside of focusing on independence in upbringing may be the high level of individualism of the Dutch society and culture. Compared to other countries, family ties seem less tight.
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. Like when I let my three-year-old daughter dress for pre-school. While her closet is full of the 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 (cute) little clown. However, a very proud and independent clown, who knows what girls of her age like to wear. So, I let it go like I one day must let her go.
Thanks to Kittie for this post. As a former childcare professional and a mother of two toddler girls, Kittie Ansems is a toddler expert and victim all in one. With her blog, www.happydutchhome.com, she tries to help other parents survive their children’s toddler years with a Dutch take on parenting.