Data backs up Acosta's impression. In the latest UNICEF study ranking 29 of the world's richest industrialized countries according to child well-being, Dutch children come out on top. America ranks 26th, just above Lithuania and Latvia.
Acosta and her British friend, Michele Hutchison (also an expat married to a Dutch man), decided to document the differences they saw between their own pressurized childhoods and the Dutch parenting style, and explain what it is about the Dutch approach that is producing such contented kids. The result is their book, "The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less."
“Scrap the idea of ‘quality time,’ as American and British parents know it,” says Hutchison. “That is too stressful and puts too much pressure on planning and finances.”
Instead, Dutch parents enjoy spending lots of relaxed time together at family meals, or having the children play nearby while the parent is attending to his or her own interests and projects.
Part of why Dutch parents are able to have that low-key family time is because they allow their children a high degree of independence, even allowing them to climb trees unsupervised and bike alone at a young age.
“It isn’t that the Dutch aren’t aware of risk,” Acosta says. “They just keep the risk in perspective.”
Dutch kids are not taught to read and write until about age 7 and don’t get regular homework until their early teenage years, yet they score at the top of educational achievement and participation in the same UNICEF study.
Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, says that low-stress start to schooling makes good sense.
“A huge number of studies show that children's motivation to do things — to be engaged, to learn about their world — goes up when they make choices about what to do,” she says.
Stressing less and relaxing more as the recipe for happy children? It might be time we all “go Dutch.”
Read more: Going Dutch? What Americans can learn from how children are raised in the Netherlands - TODAY.com