Would You Rather Have a Happy Baby or a Trophy Baby?

Americans tend to brag on their babies’ smarts more than parents in other Western countries, who are more interested in whether their babies are happy.

A recent study out of the University of Connecticut found that “Not only are Americans far more likely to focus on their children’s intelligence and cognitive skills, they are also far less likely to describe them as ‘happy’ or ‘easy’ children to parent,” according to The Atlantic,. One of the study’s authors, Sara Harkness, said that “The U.S.’s almost obsession with cognitive development in the early years overlooks so much else.”

That doesn’t put Americans in the best light, now does it? That is, unless we are smarter than the rest of the world. Considering the fact that our chosen leaders built a “fiscal cliff ” and then pushed us over it, I’m going to go ahead and rule that out.

So what do the different priorities mean? Do people in other countries (we’re talking about Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and Sweden) prize happiness over intelligence for themselves, or is that just what they want for their offspring? Or do they value intelligence as much as Americans but consider it unseemly to brag about it?

The parents do have one thing in common: the rose-colored glasses that are apparently sold in a bundle with the expectant parents’ bible, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Here, for example, is a mother offering “proof” that her baby is uncommonly bright:

I have this vivid memory when she was born of them taking her to clean her off … And she was looking all around … She was alert from the very first second … I took her out when she was six weeks old to a shopping mall to have her picture taken — people would stop me and say, “What an alert baby.” One guy stopped me and said, “Lady, you have an intelligent baby there.” … And it was just something about her. She was very engaging and very with the program, very observant. She’s still fabulously observant.

It is so important for this parent to show others her baby’s intelligence that she will stoop so far as to say that looking at stuff is a sign of superiority. And alertness? My cats have got it all over this Einstein of a baby when it comes to alertness. Everybody says so. Someone stopped me on the sidewalk yesterday to tell me my cat was awake.

Meanwhile other Western parents are just as effusive about their own offspring. In Spain “easy” is the most popular adjective. In Australia and Sweden “happy” wins by a mile. Italians consider their children “easy,” “well balanced,” and “even tempered.” American parents are most likely to say their children “ask a lot of questions” (I bet a good chunk of them are along the lines of “why? But why? Why?”)

So parents maybe aren’t the most reliable indicators of their babies’ actual strengths, but the characteristics they choose to brag about give a pretty good idea of what they value and what they think it takes to live a good life.

American parents’ focus on intelligence shows their continued belief that our country is a meritocracy, where brains get one up the ladder to success. People in European and other Western countries focus on happiness because they don’t think climbing a ladder, whether financial or professional, is the key to a good life.

It may be key to a good economy, though, if Greece’s financial meltdown is any indication.

Another possibility is thatparents of different countries are using different words to describe the same infant behavior. According to U. Conn.’s study,

American parents talked about their children as intelligent and even as cognitively advanced. (Also: rebellious.) Italian parents, though, very rarely praised their children for being intelligent. Instead, they were even-tempered and simpatico. So although both the Americans and the Italians noted that their children asked lots of questions, they meant very different things by it: For the Americans, it was a sign of intelligence; for the Italians, it was a sign of socio-emotional competence. The observation was the same; the interpretation was radically different.

This study raises some interesting questions for introspection. Why isn’t your baby more even tempered? Is it a good thing when your baby asks a lot of questions? And most cutting, would you rather be smart or happy?

Related Stories:

Can Helicopter Parenting Hurt Your Kid’s Chances of Getting a Job?

Teach Your Child Self-Discipline Without Tiger-Painting Her to Death

Are you MOM ENOUGH? Yes, You Probably Are


Photo credit: Photodisc


Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore4 years ago


Christine W.
Christine W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush4 years ago

Is this a serious question?
I take that back.

After watching some of these programs, concerning children put into 'beauty contests', it makes me ILL.
When idiot mothers try to tell you, 'This is my daughter wants', she is not convincing anyone but herself.
There is no _BEAUTY CONTEST_ gene.

If you choose to live a life through your daughter, please, admit it.
Of course, you won't.

I must repeat:

Rebeca S.
Rebeca S4 years ago

Please read this book (available as an ebook too): "Our babies, Ourselves" by Meredith Small. Soooo interesting

Marcel Elschot
Marcel E4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Antony Mcgowan
Antony Mcgowan4 years ago


Marianne Good
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank for sharing. Have children and grandchildren.

Colin K.
Colin K4 years ago

Americans after feeling the aftermath of ‘Big Bush’ and ‘Baby Bush’…and have reason to worry about neural development...

The truth is you can have it both ways: HAPPY and SMART babies.

The sad reality in North America is we birth babies who suffer tremendous iatrogenic and nosocomial harm. Harm no different than PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which obfuscates their healthy physiological and psychological development. Our high interventionist, high technology medical model of industrial birth creates a ton of fetal and neonate trauma. Our babies and children are born with a disadvantage which hampers health, happiness and intelligence quotients.

THE GOOD NEWS…. is more and more mothers and parents are realizing the harm of commodifying birth and medicalizing babies from birth. They are becoming aware of the sequelae of health issues that ensue. They have finally woke up to the fact that the two biggest profit centres of the globe: War and Pharmaceuticals are dependent on damaged people. The economy is fostered on this harm.

"A country who’s economy is dependent on making of 'life preservers' will never teach 'swimming'." It is time for us to take a bigger roll in our children’s education.

MORE PARENTS ARE MOVING AWAY FROM THIS MODEL OF BIRTH and resultant economics and harm of the SHOCK DOCTRINE* (Doctorin') and disaster capitalism....

They are taking back their nature. They are birthing with midwives at

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon4 years ago

Happy, hands down, no contest.

Fathima Fareen
Fathima Fareen4 years ago

An Islamic saying (children are the flowers of heaven )They are Happy Baby or a Trophy Baby they are a part of the world,