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Monday, July 10, 2017

The Happiest Kids in the World

Hola! So I just enjoyed reading some new non-fiction I picked up at the library:

click for Amazon reviews ;-)
The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids by Doing Less by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I was (strangely) somewhat disappointed to learn that I was already doing many of the things the authors recommend. Isn't that odd?! I already doing a pretty good job of giving my kids a happy childhood!

The book has thirteen chapters, which mostly take the reader through the authors' thoughts on each age: prenatal, baby, preschooler, school kids, and teenagers, and also break out into particular topics like schooling, discipline, food, and sex education. I read the whole book and found interesting things in each chapter, but I felt like a lot of my reading was just enjoying hearing someone else's experiences, rather than enjoying learning something new. 

I already knew that I should take good care of myself and make sure my own physical, emotional and social needs were met. The authors talk about what wonderful sleepers Dutch children are, and . . . my kids are wonderful sleepers! When Benjamin, my oldest, was first born, my mom said to me, "Once he gets to be about 6 weeks old, he can sleep for 6 hours a night. I wish someone had told me that was possible and healthy with my firstborn!" That bit of advice was huge for me, and coming from my mom it was much more meaningful than coming from this book. The book was more like, "Dutch babies can sleep a lot! Can my babies do it? I'm not sure? I think it might be working? But it might just be a symptom of them growing older." 

It was kind of the same story with schooling: Dutch parents don't get really choosy about their kids schools, and don't pressure their kids (as much as parents in the US and UK) to perform well academically in school. I learned to be relaxed about school from my own mom. We never lived in a place that had a private school option. I grew up in a time before online school was a thing. My parents didn't pressure us to excel academically, because . . . we did that naturally, without pressure. I'm not saying I was immune to the cultural pressure to perform. I definitely felt that pressure. But I knew it wasn't coming from my parents. I knew if I got bad grades my parents would be like, "What do you think are the contributing factors here? How can we help you do better?" instead of slashing my privileges or withdrawing their love. 

And recently when my own son was struggling with enjoying Kindergarten, my mom gave me the good reminder that if a child can be happy at school, that's what makes life good. Kids spend so much time at school. So when the authors of the book were talking about how the Dutch let kids begin academics at their own pace and emphasize relationships above academics in primary grades, I was like, "Yeah. Thumbs up to that."

I think the biggest piece of advice from the book that I am putting into practice in my own life is to get my kids outdoors more. It was inspiring to read about Dutch people (and the authors!) going camping, biking through snowstorms, and just getting outdoors regardless of the weather. I have friends who are better at this than I am, so I have some real-life inspiration here, too. Anyway, the authors talked about how going outside and playing outside in inclement weather gives kids grit

So a few days ago we drove my oldest to a playdate, and on our way we passed a playground that we had never seen before. It was a good-looking playground, too! But it was actively raining. I thought about bringing it up, but didn't. But then my four-year-old daughter saw the playground on our way home and asked to stop at it. So I reminded myself of a few things: 1. Playing in the rain will give us grit. 2. When I was a kid I always played in the rain, because rain in AZ is a celebration worthy of dancing in the streets. 3. If the author Michele can take her kids biking through the snow and then dump them in a hot bath, I can totally take my kids to a playground in the rain and then do the same if need be. The fact that I found a towel in the back seat of the van cinched it, and I said we were going out!

Benjamin was at his playdate. Jubilee loved the idea from the start. But it took Levi (age 6) longer to warm up to the thought of playing at the park in the rain. He couldn't be coaxed out of the car until he had his umbrella up, and only then to run under the pavilion. But pretty soon he was swinging while holding his umbrella, and then you know how it's just easier to do things when you're not holding an umbrella . . . plus the rain let up a bit. So we got him by degrees. And once I could see that he was enjoying himself, I started really talking it up. "Wow, this is fun, isn't it? All the other kids think they can't come to the park today because it's raining, but we know you can!" Haha. Honestly it helped me that this park was not muddy at all. Very grassy, nice paved path, and rubber under the swings and playground area. So I'm not saying I'm hardcore yet. I'm just saying this book convinced me to try something I wouldn't have otherwise, and I think it made my kids a little happier.

4 comments:

  1. Firstborn checking in: I seem to have turned out mostly all right. =)

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  2. I also did everything that every book I ever read recommended. The only hint that was ever useful was a book that suggested that if it made life easier, I should do it. I got a freezer in the basement because mine wouldn't hold a frozen pizza or more than two loaves of bread and a couple of bags of frozen vegetables. My thought is this: If you're reading the books, you're already doing it right!

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  3. This all sounds right to me. I'm also not as good about getting my daughter outside, despite my own memories of being outside most of the time as a kid...

    I find in general that when we read advice that resonates with something that's inside us already, that's when we follow it. Otherwise, it just slips away...

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  4. Oooh, I'm excited to read this one! I love me a good other-country parenting from an American's perspective book. Also, I love bakfiets.

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