Category Archives: discipline

Vive les French Parents!

For me, there are few things not to love about the French. And I’m not talking solely about food or wine. So, I was psyched to read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the joys of French parenting. The headline says it all: Why French Parents Are Superior.

If you’re not a francophile like myself, an article head like that seems so, well, French. After all, the French are known for their high estimation of their cultural worth and an annoyingly condescending nature. (Part of why I love them, I have to admit.) But having spent a significant amount of time in France, I can say this article is pretty much spot on.

My first real experience as an adult observer of French parenting came when I was living in Paris in my early 20s. I was invited for dinner at a 30-something couple’s apartment. They had a preschooler and an infant. Around 7pm, the mother announced that it was time for the children to eat. The preschooler quietly and politely ate her meal. However, the baby was completely uncooperative. Screaming, fussing, and totally refusing a bottle. After about 15 minutes of futile attempts to quiet and feed the infant, the mother said very matter of factly that she was going to put the baby to bed for the night. I remember thinking, “Without dinner?” And then the French logic kicked in. The mother said, “This is the time we eat. If the baby doesn’t want to eat, fine. She can go to bed. But this is the time we eat.” (Only it was in French.)

At the time, there were so many things that were foreign about that whole scene. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t imagine having kids. In fact, I was ridiculously weirded out by especially tiny babies. And then there was the whole French-ness about it. I mean, I had never heard of an American mother doing such a thing. In fact, all I ever heard about was how new moms were always up at all hours of the night, breastfeeding or fetching bottles.

But there is a simplicity in the French parenting ethic that somehow completely escapes us as American parents. Maybe we just try too hard. The French have that sort of breeziness about them that allows them to do things like wear totally mismatched clothing and still look chic. Maybe it’s the same with parenting.

Unlike the article’s author, I have not spent the last three years studying French parenting principles and techniques. But I do agree with a number of the points that the writer makes about what makes French parenting effective:

  1. Family is about the parents first then the children.
  2. Independence is a virtue in a child.
  3. Structure and routine are paramount.

But I’m not fully subscribed to a couple of the writer’s other theories. First, I whole heartedly believe that discipline is alive and well in French parenting–and I dare say it is dealt much more swiftly and severely than most American parents can imagine. I’m not talking corporal punishment; rather, I’m saying that it seems like most French parents have a much lower tolerance for misbehavior than American parents. Maybe the word I should use is strict. I use a wonderful woman from my French mommy class as an example. At around a year old, she was sending her son to stand in the corner every time he did something she didn’t like. (She was inspiration for starting timeouts at around 16 months with my son.) There’s something that sounds a little horrible to me when I write that, but her kid is a fantastic, super well behaved kid. Obviously no permanent damage done.

I think the writer was also onto something when she talked about the French concept of educating a child. However, I still think she missed the mark a bit. For as much as the French are about education, they are arguably even more obsessed about the idea of formation. Formation is really about a curriculum or training. It’s about mastering a certain topic area or skill. And that’s really the ethic that permeates French parenting. It’s not just about teaching their kid stuff; it’s about training them to behave appropriately in any given situation.

With all that said, I wonder what the real French moms in my French mommy group say about us wanna-be French mamans.

 

 

 

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When Children Attack

I witnessed one mom’s complete mortification today. It was painful to watch.

I was in the daycare bathroom at the gym, changing baby’s underoos, when I heard the two nursery monitors telling a child to sit down and take a time out. Normally when that happens, thingsĀ  quiet down as the kid sulks off to the naughty chair. But the two women kept talking very sternly and repeating no-no-no. A diaper change and hand washing later, I could still hear the scolding that was happening on the other side of the door. Something was up.

When I opened the door, I saw a little girl, probably around 4 years old, sitting in a chair. At that moment, her mother walked in with one of the nursery monitors. The one monitor started to explain that the little girl had hurled part of a toy at the wall, so hard in fact it left a dimple and a small streak on the wall. Then the other monitor jumped in and said while that was obviously a big problem, the other problem was that when the little girl was told to go to time-out, she repeatedly told the monitors to shut up.

I was feeling so uncomfortable being in the middle of all this, so I was just trying to pack my kid’s stuff up and strap him into the stroller as fast as possible. But I wasn’t out of there before I heard the second monitor giving the mom a serious talking-to about how that type of behavior is unacceptable, the nursery often has babies as guests and the chucked toy could’ve hurt one, and if it happens again her child will no longer be welcome at the gym daycare.

All of that was spot on, but I still wanted to die for that mom. How completely embarrassing. And not in the getting-yanked-out-of-exercise-class-to-change-your-kid’s-diaper-because-his-drawers-are-stinking-up-the-place kind of embarrassing, which actually has happened to me. That’s a strike-you-to-the-core, make-you-doubt-yourself-as-a-competent-parent kind of incident.

I didn’t know that mother. I had never seen her or her children at the gym before. But I couldn’t help but thinking, “That could be me.”

I am paranoid that my kid is going to be a hitter. He’s already smashed one kid on the head in the Stride Rite store over the summer and then more recently whacked another kid in our French group with a toy. Of course, on both accounts, I apologized profusely to the parents and children and scolded baby quite seriously.

But sometimes when I’m course correcting his behavior, he looks at me and cracks a smile. Other times, he’ll give me a little smack on my arm or leg. I’ve read that it’s a phase and that all children go through that. I also understand that my kid at this age is not really being intentionally defiant and more just reacting to my knee-jerk emotional reaction to whatever he did that was bad. But how can I be sure that I won’t end up with the violent four year old who gets kicked out of the gym daycare?

As parents, there are limitations to our control over what our kids pick up and what they don’t. We can model excellent behavior 99% of the time, but it’s always possible that what our kids retain is that 1% of our not-so-good behavior. My best friend, for example, recently learned that she needed to figure out a way to deal with the inevitable rush-hour road rage after she figured out her three year old was saying a**hole instead of something in Spanish. Whoops.

For me, I know I need to think more about my interaction with my dog. There are just those days where his chewing the corner of a couch pillow, stealing baby gear out of the stroller, or digging up my freshly mulched garden sends me over the edge. And the next thing I know, I’m yelling at the dog and swatting at him. Not really model behavior for someone who is hyper paranoid about having a kid who hits.

For now, my kid laughs when all this dog drama goes down. Usually it’s because, at some point, the dog gives chase and there I am, trying to discipline the dog while running up stairs and around furniture. No doubt I absolutely look like a stark raving idiot, so I guess I’ll give my kid props for appreciating the ridiculousness of my losing it. Now if I only can get a similar sense of humor.

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