Like any parent, I’m sure you want to know ways to make your child happy. The answer is really quite simple. It’s actually one simple secret, but let me set the stage for you. Recently, I came back from holidays in Europe, where I went to Holland to see and be with all my husband’s family, and I noticed something interesting. We had a great time, but what I can’t get over is that while there, I didn’t see one child in meltdown mode. I lurked around all the usual places—shopping malls and other public areas—and my highly tuned antenna didn’t find one screaming bundle of arms and legs anywhere.
So what’s their secret?
So why is that, I wonder? I have to say I’ve given it some considerable thought since dragging my jet-lagged body back through the airport. I noticed the difference as soon as I returned. Even as I emerged from the gate, I noticed a couple of meltdowns in progress, which is pretty much normal for anything you might experience in any public area in any large North American city or town frequented by children. Still, it was an airport, so I’m perfectly prepared to accept that there might have been extenuating circumstances and that maybe those little ones had been waiting a long time for some family member held up by our overly enthusiastic airport customs officials.
What are they doing differently in Holland?
But, as I lay in bed in the early morning hours following my arrival, I couldn’t help but wonder why there were fewer unhappy little people back in Holland.
So what is it that our Dutch friends are getting right and we’re getting so obviously wrong? Well, after discussing it with several Dutch friends and family members, the first thing I noticed is that in Holland it’s quite normal to do things with your children. By doing things with them, I don’t mean doing things for them, like play dates and trips to the zoo. No, I mean doing adult things with them. Things like recycling and cycling to the grocery store for the week’s groceries Hmm, interesting because that mimics what I’ve been trying to tell people since starting my “Annie the Nanny” business some twenty years ago: that it is critical that parents make children part of their activity but not the focus of it.
Stop entertaining, start doing.
So there are all the Dutch mommies and daddies taking their kids along for the ride and doing everything they have to do with them in tow. No one is having a meltdown. No one is shouting “no” and kicking their legs in the air. By doing things of which their children can be part and actively including them, Dutch parents are obviously taking into account what I think is one of the most important aspects of parenting: focusing on the family as a whole most of the time instead of the child themselves.
What does that mean in practical terms?
You know it’s hard to put your finger on the differences. The kids strapped to the front and back of bicycles were loved and involved but clearly not the focus of their parents’ activity. But there was a mentality present, a relaxed way of being, that was very subtly different from how most parents react here. What I can tell you is that Dutch parents would think it was absurd to worry about whether the kids might be bored by an adult activity or worry about whether by doing housework, shopping, or cleaning the car, their kids might be missing out on the possibilities of more stimulating activities like soccer, ballet, or karate. They believe activity is activity, and family time can be just as easily generated by taking in the recycling as anything else.
Ask yourself where your focus is?
So if you want to prevent behaviour problems in your children and take advantage of the secret to raising happy children, ask yourself where your focus is. Do you spend your summer days or other vacations scrambling to find exciting entertainment or activities to fill your days? Do you find yourself constantly asking your kids what they want to do next? When you’re making dinner or doing the laundry, does your child induce a guilt attack when she says, “Mommy, I want you to play Barbies with me again, please?”
If it does, well, you know what to do. Open the door to the wonderful play area outside, and then take my advice and do what they do in Holland.
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For more strategic and helpful parenting advice, visit her parenting services page to find out what Annie the Nanny can do for you.
Annie the Nanny talks about the power of choice on Calgary’s CTV.