For part of their research, the authors focused just on parents in the United States and the Netherlands. The differences are stark: American parents
emphasized setting aside "special time" with each of their children, while Dutch parents spent a few hours each day together with their kids as an entire
American parents said they struggled to manage the sleep schedules of their babies and young children, explaining that they try to entertain or distract
them when they wake up in the middle of the night. As one American dad says:
"We both have different strategies. She'll put him in the walker down here and I generally put him in the playpen and try to keep him somewhat
entertained, either by the TV or he loves the stereo."
Compare this to Dutch parents, who emphasized plenty of rest and regular schedules for their kids (and, by extension, themselves), and somehow end up
inducing their offspring to sleep more:
"Many parents stressed the importance of a regular schedule, including a set time for both meals and bed. As one mother of an 18-month-old explained:
'To bed on time, because they really need rest to grow, and regularity is very important when they are so little. If she gets too little rest, she is
very fussy.' A mother of a 6-month-old commented, 'We are very strict about going to bed - at 6:30, upstairs.'"
Apparently, it works. The authors noted that the children of Dutch parents were consistently more calm, existing more frequently in a state of "quiet
alert," while American babies were more often "actively alert."
"The higher state of arousal of the American babies corresponded to differences in their mothers' behavior: the American mothers touched and talked to
their babies more than the Dutch mothers did," the authors note.
But beyond sleep schedules, Americans also seem preoccupied with their children's smarts from an extremely young age.
The researchers compiled a list of the attributes that 60 families in six different countries used to describe their children, which you can see at the top
of the page.
American parents were the only ones to consistently mention their children's advanced intellect, while other countries focused on qualities like
"happiness," being "easy" to manage, or the even more zen-like "well-balanced," in Italy. (Italians also used the word simpatico, a group of
characteristics suggesting social and emotional competence).
The authors write that these terms might hint at local, cultural constructions as to what it means to be a child in each country. It's interesting that the
findings are in line with other deep dives into the contrasts between European and American parenting, such as with the book Bringing up Bebe, in
which an American mom living in Paris realizes that the secret to having your kid play quietly without bugging youis to simply schedule fewer activities and laissez-faire.