There have been several recent article about French parenting tips exclaiming French children are much better behaved when compared with American children. After reading this article by Froma Harrop I can see there is a reason for this belief. It is possible that today’s American children are out of control more often than they should be because American parents don’t have a plan for guiding their children to the understanding they are not the center of the universe.
Of course, if you begin letting your infant/toddler think this is the case, they will definitely take charge of your life. It is a matter of who should be in control and how to start that program early enough so your child grows up knowing that there are billions of citizens in the world so they most definitely can’t be the center of the universe.
One item in the annals of American exceptionalism is how exceptionally badly behaved American children are. We who hang around international airports often marvel at how European toddlers calmly wait while their American cohorts run down the halls or lie sprawled on the floor in a screaming tantrum.
This is a generality, of course, but you know it’s a solid one.
Journalist Pamela Druckerman has experienced the difference as an American mother of a toddler living in Paris. She discussed French parents’ seemingly miraculous ability to civilize their young children in her new book, “Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”
What makes the story appealing is the author’s own humble story of doing her best to discipline her toddler but obviously getting something very wrong. At a French seaport restaurant, Druckerman wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Bean would take a brief interest in the food, but within a few minutes she was spilling salt shakers and tearing apart sugar packets. Then, she demanded to be sprung from her high chair so she could dash around the restaurant and bolt dangerously toward the docks.”
Every meal became torture, as the pint-sized tyrant wrecked her parents’ vacation. Druckerman found it “weird” that the French families seemed to be having a good time. “French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables,” she wrote. “There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.”
Clearly, toddlers are not uncontrollable savages. Nor did French parents beat them into submission. But they knew the insanity of trying to “negotiate” with tiny ones. The secret sprung from a very different mindset about raising children. The objective wasn’t disciplining them but educating them. French parents established early on that they were not the children’s servants and that “no” meant “no.”
The last point is most interesting because American parents seem quite able to say “no.” The problem is they don’t use conviction. They shout “no, no, no, no” rather than saying “no” once at a normal volume but like they mean it.
French children learned early on that they are not the center of the universe. They must adjust to family mealtime schedules. Meanwhile, the parents feel entitled to adult time, during which the children are expected to play quietly — and do. I’m amazed to call friends who, when their children demand attention, put me on hold, not them. One mother lets her teenage offspring interrupt phone conversations. (I try to stifle my contempt.)
With much of American family life fallen into chaos, we would do well to look elsewhere for guidance on ways to do things. America is not the best at everything.
If I were parenting children today I would definitely buy the book of French parenting tips by journalist Pamela Druckerman called Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. She has first hand experience of how children used to behave and how to help them learn these new rules of good behavior early in their lives. Not only will this be a blessing with your newborn child but an enormous blessing when your child is a teenager.
You can order the book here: Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting