‘Stuff Dutch People Like’ contributor Rebekah Lawler investigates the Dutch and their “free-range” children. Can an Irish mother ever get used to the laid-back ways of the Dutch? Read on…

Dutch schools have open playgrounds. There might be a gate, which may or may not be closed. The kids play in the designated area and are pretty good about not straying beyond the school boundaries. Why do the schools do this? Are they not concerned about kids wandering off?

In the time I’ve been living here, I’ve come to realise that the Dutch give their kids the type of freedom that English kids in the 1950s enjoyed. In the town I’m living in, I regularly see small kids cycling to school all by themselves. It is normal to see packs of small children roaming around, TOTALLY unsupervised, having an absolute blast and not coming to any harm. It would appear that the Dutch may be onto something. By offering children freedom at a young age and throughout their childhood, into adulthood, children become more responsible and capable of looking after themselves. They don’t leave that playground, because they know they can! Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that they have all had some sort of electronic, shock-collars fitted under their clothes that emit a charge if they stray.

When we registered my helicopter parented, non Dutch, 4 year old son at his school, I didn’t really think about the full implications of the ‘open playground’… till we had an incident last week.

He decided on Monday, that he would no longer be attending school. I had other ideas. When he shot out of the playground and down the fucking road to freedom, he was wearing his yellow hat and a bright blue coat. From the rapidly increasing distance between us, he looked like a sprinting minion.


He ran past the ‘mother’s meeting’ outside the school gate and dodged between the bakfiets, maneuvering their way out. He legged it through the car park and lept over a hedge, to liberty. Then he ran off down the road.

The Dutch moms stopped and watched him go. I think that they presumed he was going for a run and would be back. I knew better. He was going home. He’d told me that as he put his shoes on. He’d firmly declared, “Bye bye”, as he pulled his hat on his head. “I not going to school today mama”, was his parting greeting, as he expertly flipped his coat over his head and followed up with a shout of, ‘NO KRING’. Then he ran. (A ‘kring’, for all you English speakers, is ‘circle time’.)

I genuinely thought he was going to run out to the playground area outside the school and then stop. It wasn’t until I glanced out of the classroom window, that I realised with horror that he was simply doing what he stated he was going to do….and had gone….home. Across a carpark, an extremely busy road, bus lane, bike lane and intersection.

An American mom rugby tackled him in the street and took him down. “He was going home, wasn’t he?”, she asked, “He looked like a kid on a mission”. I held him as he sobbed. We went back to the school gates and I administered a stern lecture full of the dangers of his actions. My speech had sentences like, “You are only 4. You could have been killed.” All the things you’d say to a 4 year old who has taken himself off school property and down the road to home.

He looked confused. “What’s ‘killed’ mama?” Oh dear. It was going to be a long day and a lot more discussion ahead. If we are going to live here, and survive, I am going to have to “Dutch up” my kid. I may need to back off and let him experience more independence. I might also have to invest in a shock collar…..

Curious about Dutch parenting? Our new book Stuff Dutch Moms Like investigates why Dutch mothers are so darn happy and how they truly manage to have it all. Or read more12 reasons why Dutch moms are the happiest!