Oui maman! Discipline in France

Oui maman! Discipline in France.

If you have ever been lucky enough to visit France and go out to eat you might just notice how well-behaved the children are. Being a social worker, educator, and teacher I was fascinated by this. In Germany the children don’t act like this, in the States, the children don’t act like this. I wanted in on their secret, and I thought wow if I can tap in on this I could make moms and dads all over the world triumphal. You see, I figured it was something really special they did, like a trick, magic, a trance. It is none of the above as I was soon to find out. It all goes back to three simple factors, discipline, consequence, and the entire culture being your cheerleader.

Factor one is discipline, or you might say education. They give the children unyielding guidelines and a frame within which they should stay, and they actually teach the children what to do. Table manners are trained daily. Many families feed their children first, hovering over them and explaining to them how to hold a fork and a knife. They kindly demand a please and a thank you every time it is missing, and they never miss a beat.

Secondly, they do what they say. If they say you must stay here or else ….they follow through on what they have said. The children at the age of two have already noticed mom, dad, and all other adults are the bosses. Parents have control of their children and not the other way around!

This might sound so basic, and it really is. Read any parenting book and experts will tell you to be in control, to discipline, to follow through and lower your voice. I wondered why, even though I did this and I could see some of my friends in other countries doing this it didn’t work just quite the same. There are strict parents everywhere that follow these guidelines, and their kids are not like French children. Where was the magic? What was missing? I then moved back to Germany, and I figured out the third and crucial element.

One day I was being very strict with my eldest daughter Carli. We had only just moved to Germany after living in Bordeaux, France. She had made a new friend in the neighborhood and I was thrilled. The two girls decided they wanted to make a secret passageway through a chain link fence to visit each other. The fence did not belong to us so it is no surprise that I said no and I explained very clearly why. A few hours later I was happily nursing Maya (my youngest) and noticed it had gotten silent outside. As we all know, this means the kids are up to no good. I went down and to my shock, I saw the fence was cut open. I was furious. A lady on the street heard me scolding the girls. She actually walked over and scolded me for not letting the girls experiment and be free. I asked the other mother to come and showed her what they had done, and she thought it was creative and was not as upset as I was. I had my aha moment. In France I would have been supported, congratulated, cheered on by my friends and any stranger for being strict. I had said no, I had explained that no is no. The French cheer each other on, teach each other, the culture educates the children as well. You have mom cheerleaders and a mom fan club without even realizing it.

I love Pamela Druckerman’s book French Children Don’t Throw Food. Having lived there, it wasn’t new to me and just a delight to read about someone else’s experiences. It isn’t possible to make an American into French child in New York City, but it is possible to follow the guidelines of any parenting book and discipline your kids. I wish you could just transport any cultural trait you love back to your home country, but it doesn’t work that way. I’ve tried transporting mine here, and that doesn’t work either. Ahhhh the expat life.

— Allison Ochs