Title: "The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids by Doing Less"
Authors: Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison
Publisher: The Experiment LLC, 2017
Rina Mae Acosta is a writer of Philippine descent from San Francisco. By her account, she grew up in a “Tiger Mother” home. Her family stressed education and being the best in school. She now lives in Holland with her Dutch husband and two children.
The authors, intrigued by a 2013 UNICEF report that said Dutch kids were the happiest in the world, sought to discover why this is the case. The book is a cross-cultural study of parenting and education styles and a personal tale of how the authors became “Dutch mothers.”
The Dutch home is child centered and a place of “cozy” comfort. Emphasis is placed on getting sufficient sleep and eating breakfast and dinner together as a family. Fathers take an equal role in child rearing.
Dutch families are pragmatic and frugal. Second-hand toys and clothes are fine. Parenting has a no-nonsense attitude. Instead of heightened stimulation (as with “Baby Einstein”), the focus is on calmness. Parents do not do for children what children can do for themselves. Children have the freedom to learn to be independent and self-reliant. The focus is on learning social skills over achieving top grades. It is fine to be average, but bad to show-off.
“The Dutch approach contributes to a good, open communication within the family … (There are) clear rules, (and) structure (which) produces, as a consequence, happy children.”
For the Dutch, success comes from happiness — not happiness from success.
Education begins at age 4. However, learning to read does not begin until the child is ready. This is generally at age 6. The atmosphere is noncompetitive; there is no top of the class. Getting a passing grade is enough.
Schools emphasize what the child wants and what the teacher thinks is best. They track progress in several areas of development. Parents receive some feedback on progress. The authors state, “The Dutch system proves that academic achievement is possible without pressuring students to overachieve and without competition.” International testing places the Dutch third after Korea and Finland.
Acosta cites evidence that children from San Francisco were ahead in reading and math because they started quite early. However, by the second grade, she says, “I see their head start stall …”
Children without the early push achieved equal grades. The authors indicate research, “… suggests that homework for young children is a waste of time.” In the Dutch primary schools, there is no homework. That begins in secondary school.
At age 12, Dutch students take tests to help decide what educational “stream” they will follow. Based on scores and teacher impressions, students move into an academic stream or a vocational stream. The first has two divisions, a university path and a professional careers path. The vocational stream has four subdivisions.
Only 40 percent of students enter the academic path. This is in contrast to the United States, where the popular idea is that everyone should go to college.
The book is very interesting, with thought provoking chapters, such as “Dutch Teenagers Don’t Rebel.” The authors conclude that, in the U.S. and the UK, what started out as “… wanting the best for our children, morphed into wanting our children to be the best.”