There is a definite difference in the child rearing practices in France and America. In the present generation, American parents micro- manage many aspects of their children’s lives. French parents have a more relaxed and calm attitude toward rearing their offspring. Does this difference explain why French children, in general, are considered better behaved and adjusted? Here are some ways that American and French child rearing techniques differ, including a brief description of the possible effects these practices have on the children.
1. Learning to delay gratification:
French parents firmly believe that, with patience, children can learn to delay gratification of their wants by using a “wait time” when their children interrupt or demand something. They use eye contact and calmly ask them to wait for three minutes before they get attention. This technique helps control constant demands and emotional meltdowns. Children also learn to develop internal resources to deal with frustration.
American parents tend to ask their children to “wait a minute” over and over again when they interrupt or make demands. This leads to frustration and emotional outbursts. Clear boundaries are not set, and children have difficulty learning coping skills when their needs aren’t immediately met.
2. Coping with parental guilt:
All parents experience some feelings of guilt. Many French parents work full-time as do American parents. French parents feel stressed and overwhelmed at times, but they seem to be better equipped to accept the guilt. They realize that there are no perfect parents. They believe it’s better for parents and children to not spend excessive time together – a healthy balance is needed.
American parents tend to deal with guilt by compensating – giving their children more time and material things to assuage the guilt. Studies have shown that in the 1950s and 60s, American mothers spent less time with their children than they do today. Fifty years ago, most mothers didn’t work outside the home. The kids were out in the neighborhood creating their own activities and solving problems without the aid of parents. Today’s parents feel they’re not spending enough time with their children. Feeling guilty and engaging in arranging their child’s life is their response.
3. Showing respect:
French parents are more attentive to teaching manners and respect especially toward adults. A child interrupting adult conversations is not tolerated. When adults are carrying on a conversation and a child begins to talk, parents turn toward the child, make eye contact and say calmly, “wait three minutes and it will be your turn.” Parents then follow through on their promise.
Children in America are often allowed to control adult conversations by constant interruptions. Finally parents relent and the child is allowed to speak. Teaching the art of conversation isn’t given high priority.
4. Compliance with requests:
When a French parent asks a child to obey and the child doesn’t comply, parents give a short “wait time” and a show of respect before expecting compliance. Parents use facial expressions and a firm voice to let the child know they are serious. They briefly explain the behavior’s danger or importance. Parents try to develop reciprocal respect instead of over-reacting or using physical punishment to gain compliance.
American parents tend to use repetitive or circular methods to gain compliance to requests. They often use repeated words or statements like “don’t” and “what did I tell you.” It isn’t long before children tune out the parents. Other times parents enter into an endless negotiation session with a child – “if you do this, I’ll do that.” In the end nobody wins and feelings can become intense.