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The Secret to Raising Happy Kids? Just Ask Dutch Parents

Photograph by Twenty20

If you've ever wondered if the American way of parenting is a little misguided, then you probably already believe that French moms do it better and obsess over parenting lessons from around the world. Well, get ready to get a brand-new lesson from European parents—this time, straight from the Netherlands.

The latest trend in how to raise happy kids: Do as the Dutch, says an opinion piece published in The Washington Post.

Following the success of 2012 bestseller "Bringing Up Bébé," which hailed the wisdom of French parenting, and "The Danish Way of Parenting," which showed us what the happiest people in the world know about raising confident, capable kids, the newest book touting European parenting wisdom over American "helicoptering sanctimommies blinded by flashcards and Pinterest projects" is "The Happiest Kids in the World."

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In a book stressing that it's possible to relax your parenting style and still help your kids "by doing less," two expat moms write about the Dutch parenting secrets they've discovered while living in the Netherlands.

While popular belief would have you thinking that Denmark is the happiest country in the world, co-authors Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison say that a UNICEF report rated Dutch children the happiest in the world.

Both married to Dutch men (though Acosta is American and Hutchison is British) and having embraced the Dutch lifestyle, the book hails how the culture and government policies have helped to create laid-back parents and self-assured children. With expert interviews and their own personal stories, the women promise to reveal what the Dutch know that their British and American counterparts have overlooked.

"Childhood over here consists of lots of freedom, plenty of play and little academic stress. As a result, Dutch kids are pleasant to be around," the co-authors say.

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One thing that they tackle early on in the book is setting a predictable routine for babies, one that limits outings to just once a day and prevents outside distractions like TV. A Dutch expression—"Rust, Regelmaat en Reinheid"—is introduced as a way to teach parents that babies need the three R's ("rest, regularity and cleanliness") and they get it with the help of a government agency that monitors kids' growth and development, and hands out a parenting instruction manual. (Yes, really.)

While it may sound boring to just stay home and do the exact same thing all the time, Acosta and Hutchinson explain that this is precisely the point.

But it's not just Dutch phrases that make parenting less stressful. In fact, it seems that what we can really learn from the Dutch is a work-life balance that is responsible for the country's happiness, and therefore the happiness of both parents and kids alike.

Save for packing your family's bags and heading across the Atlantic ocean, the co-authors do offer some amount of wisdom we can all learn from. While tip boxes throughout the book recommend things such as "set ground rules" and "praise good behavior," perhaps the most invaluable advice of all comes in a Dutch mantra.

Acosta and Hutchinson explain in plain English, "Just act normal, that's crazy enough."

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