The Netherlands is famous worldwide for being a country liberal towards sex and drugs, but perhaps few know that under that reputation there is a relatively conservative society that revolves around the home and firmly puts children at the center of domestic life. Perhaps that is why Dutch children are repeatedly at the top of the list of the happiest in the world, according to surveys by UNICEF, the United Nations organization for children, whose latest report is from 2013.
-Children eat breakfast regularly as a family: family meals begin with breakfast itself, an opportunity to chat together at the table before starting the work and school day. This practice, which in other countries is skipped or lost in the middle of morning races, is a constant in the Netherlands. According to the 2013 UNICEF report, 85% of the 11, 13 and 15-year-olds surveyed eat breakfast every day. And this important first meal of the day almost invariably includes a small national indulgence: chocolate chips called hagelslag, which come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
-They ride their bikes to school: in addition to enjoying the outdoors and exercising, children can ride the bike lane by themselves safely, in an exercise of trust on the part of parents that helps develop their independence.
-There is no academic pressure in elementary school: the youngest children do not have exams nor do they usually have homework. The system focuses on fostering learning in a very positive way, with the goal of maintaining that attitude for life.
-You see many parents at the school gates: the Dutch government has policies to help balance work and family life. He legislated, for example, in favor of the creation of «days without father’s pay», to encourage families to share the responsibilities of raising children. As a consequence, Dutch children tend to spend more time with their mothers and fathers than children from other countries.
-There is a culture of playing freely: children are encouraged to play outdoors whatever the weather and without constant parental supervision. A natural result of raising independent children is that parents have more time for themselves, which affects their own well-being. And with happier parents, there are happier children.