Here's Why Dutch Babies Are Happier Than American Babies

Dr. Harvey Karp promises to help you raise the happiest kid on the block, but maybe all we really need to do is move to the Netherlands.

According to a slightly depressing new study from the Washington State University, Dutch babies giggle, snuggle, and smile way more during the second half of the first year of life than their American counterparts. They're also easier to calm down. Meanwhile, our babies lead the pack when it comes to being "more vocal" (naturally), and they also showed more fear, sadness, and frustration, USA Today reports

The reason, researchers propose, is us. (Enter mommy guilt here.) Where we spend the bulk of our time with baby reading books and using toys to promote cognitive development, Dutch parents keep it simple with a consistent, easygoing routine and dedicated sleep times.

"Two things that are very important to Dutch parents are reserving specific times for sleep and not over-stimulating their children," explains Maria Gartstein, a WSU associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study, which was published in European Journal of Developmental Psychology. "For example, when the parents take the baby home from the hospital, they often send out cards inviting friends to visit with the mom and baby at certain times so they won't interrupt the baby's sleep schedule. Also, I was struck by how little Dutch parents use toys when they play with their children, relative to U.S. parents."

But the point of the study wasn't to make us feel bad—it was to gauge parents' differing values and expectations to help keep infant temperament issues from snowballing into full-fledged behavioral problems later in life. To do that, researchers analyzed the behaviors of Dutch and American babies at six months and 12 months using the aptly named Infant Behavioral Questionnaire. For phase two, they plan on watching infants and moms interact in person.

I'll admit, when I first read about this study, I started questioning my whole approach to parenting. Sure, my kid seems happy, I thought, but is he Dutch happy? Then a few minutes later, I heard a little squeal come from his bedroom—he was pretending to fly to Jupiter in a cardboard box "rocket ship"—and realized we're doing OK. Maybe I didn't schedule visitors around his nap time when he came home from the hospital, and maybe his toy box is a little too full, but I'm following my gut, and that's good enough for me.

Tell us: Does this study make you rethink your baby's daily schedule or your parenting style?

Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up.Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+

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Image of serious baby courtesy of Shutterstock

1 Comment

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