David R. Henderson  

French versus American Parenting

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That's my summary of an article by Pamela Druckerman in today's Wall Street Journal by an American woman who noticed that French kids tend not to be brats to the same degree that American kids are. It's more grist for Bryan Caplan's mill.

One excerpt:

After a few more harrowing restaurant visits, I started noticing that the French families around us didn't look like they were sharing our mealtime agony. Weirdly, they looked like they were on vacation. French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.

Though by that time I'd lived in France for a few years, I couldn't explain this. And once I started thinking about French parenting, I realized it wasn't just mealtime that was different. I suddenly had lots of questions. Why was it, for example, that in the hundreds of hours I'd clocked at French playgrounds, I'd never seen a child (except my own) throw a temper tantrum? Why didn't my French friends ever need to rush off the phone because their kids were demanding something? Why hadn't their living rooms been taken over by teepees and toy kitchens, the way ours had?

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Waldo writes:

Check out a skit on You Tube by George Carlin called, "Child Worship." It pretty much sums up American parenting.

shecky writes:
Rest assured, I certainly don't suffer from a pro-France bias. Au contraire, I'm not even sure that I like living here. I certainly don't want my kids growing up to become sniffy Parisians.

So, if outcomes matter, the French are actually doing it all wrong?

I get a feeling this article is worth about as much as the paper it's printed on. Maybe.

Curmudgeon writes:

Could Pamela Druckerman teach me (a French father) how to convince my son and my daughter to please do their homework in time, which they have postponed since Friday?

Seriously, although I think PD's depiction of the French parenting system is slightly idealized, it is very true that throwing food everywhere is unthinkable in my part of the world. When I read American books on child care, I was horrified to discover that I was supposed to lay newpapers on the ground around the high chair so that Baby should be free to drop as much food as His Majesty liked (and we were supposed to smile on His Majesty). But surely this strange custom is a pathological development in the American tradition?

nzgsw writes:

This could also be titled: "Parenting, by the Dog Whisperer" as he uses similar techniques. I do agree that how (attitude, eye contact, assertiveness) you talk to your children is a completely underrated parenting technique.

Mark V Anderson writes:

It is true that Americans are terrible parents, but it never occurred to me that they could do better in other countries.

It really isn't that hard to be a good parent with decent kids. You don't need to terrorize the kids, simply decide what is unacceptable and be consistent. I think it is the consistency that is the problem with most parents. If the limits always change, the kids will never internalize them.

In the article, the French mother said that it was just the tone that made the difference. I don't believe that does the trick. If my kid made my life miserable by constantly walking away from the playground, I would bring him home. It doesn't take long for kids to get the message that they only get to play if they follow the rules. Also my kids only had a few tantrums before they realized that it wouldn't get them what they wanted, and then they stopped. Most parents don't seem to get this, or they think it is somehow unfair to the kid. It is actually better for the kid to understand the rules and to be treated consistently.

Guislaine Declert writes:

I believe a society as a whole impacts child rearing....what is acceptable behavior in American culture often shocks the French counterpart....even in basic manners and respect. So a child raised in America, even by French parents, often due to simple associations with other American children over time, pick up poor behaviors. Also, so many American families simply find it easier to let their children be distracted/entertained by games, TV, outside sources rather than taking the time/effort to set the boundaries on self discipline and educating their children on how to enjoy their own company and solitude and /or behaving around others when they are not the center of attention. It is easier not to have family dinners - eat in front of the TV or graze when hungry - giving the child what s/he wants to avoid the conflict - just keep the child busy and distracted. For me, the most important difference between cultures is that when the French state a person is not 'educated' - they mean s/he has poor behavior and lacks manners. Americans simply do not think in those terms.

Ken B writes:

I would relax but I read this article telling me that the French are even better at relaxing than we are.

Robert P writes:

The article reminded me of the book, 3-2-1 magic. I have a 2 year old, and it is sometimes difficult to know the boundries or understand how much my daughter understands, but I do believe that teaching self-disciple is important. It also takes a lot of self-disciple on the parent's part.

Culturally, it is very difficult to give other parent's advice. My wife and I have tried to give advice to friend's and neighbors. You need to be very careful because people get offended very quickly and are very touchy.

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