A few years ago Unicef did a study about the happiness and wellbeing of children and teens around the world. Recently, the World Health Organization surveyed children and teens of different age groups in countries in Europe and North America. Both studies concluded that children in the Netherlands are the happiest in the world. The next question is obviously: what is different about the way children live in the Netherlands that would explain these results? The good news is that what the researchers found are things we can also implement here in the United States.
Researchers of the World Health Organization indicate that a few things stood out in their surveys of Dutch children and teens that they believe explains their happiness and wellbeing:
- They report that Dutch children/teens reported more often than respondents in any other country that they regularly eat breakfast with their family. We all know that eating breakfast is important to get a good start to the day. Children who eat a healthy breakfast perform better in school and show fewer behavioral problems. Eating breakfast with the family is also a great opportunity to spend time together and bond, before each family member goes out to fulfill their responsibilities for the day.
- The second thing they found, was that Dutch families and schools tend to put low pressure on children to perform academically, and that students tend to enjoy going to school and report an intrinsic motivation to learn. The lack of pressure to perform does not translate in to lower achievement – in fact, international data consistently place the performance of Dutch children in the top ten or fifteen of countries world wide in all content areas. My theory is that generally Dutch students do not work hard in school to please adults, instead, they work hard simply because they love to learn!
- The study also found that Dutch children and teens tend to get along well with parents. Teens in particular, reported that they are comfortable discussing sensitive topics with their parents. It is not surprising that close relationships between kids and their parents is associated with happiness and wellbeing!
The take-away from this study is that there are several things we, as American parents, can do that this study suggests has positive effects on the happiness of our children. This includes taking time every day to connect with our children, for example during meal times. It is also important to help foster in our children an intrinsic love of learning, and put less emphasis on grades and competition with peers. Finally, it is always important to foster a positive relationship characterized by mutual trust between parents and children. Here are some tips for how to foster such a relationship.