When it comes to parenting, I’m a big fan of the American principle of making good choices.
In my second year in the US, the principle of making the right choice disrupted my life.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, my everyday life is full of decisions. What should I wear? What should I do? What should I say? I’m not immune to making choices, but I had never raised my children using questions like “Are you sure that’s the right choice?” before living in the US.
My parents are French, and I grew up in France. My children were born in Germany and went to German schools until we moved to the US. In both countries, I was never asked if a certain choice was the “right thing.” I also do not remember my children’s teachers ever talking about making the “right choice” at their schools.
But, after a French friend of mine casually commented on the American daycare teachers’ habit of talking to our children about doing the right thing, I tried it at home with my son.
Opening discussions of “making good choices” with my family
At the time, Yann was only 5 years old and was frequently frustrated by everything (which made him difficult to handle). He would rant about food, the wrong TV program, his little sister, myself, my husband—anything that got on his nerves. Whenever something displeased him, he would become profoundly distressed. I realized he had a low tolerance for frustration and poor anger management skills.
So, I tried the daycare teachers’ strategy. “Yann,” I said in response to an impending tantrum, “I know you are frustrated because you’d rather play outside than tidy up your room, but do you think it’s right to be so angry at me for asking you to help?”
Well, my approach didn’t work immediately, but I kept trying. “You can eat your vegetables and have dessert, or you can choose to not eat your vegetables, but then you won’t get a dessert.” This parenting style does not come naturally to me, but since it has worked most of the time with my children, I try to use it whenever a situation escalates.
How do French and German parents raise their children?
Of course, not all French or German parents are the same. Not every German parent is strict, and not every French parent tries to feed toddlers frogs legs. With that said, I’ve observed that my parenting style tends to be more French and slightly different from German and American parents.
Journalist and author Pamela Druckerman dedicated entire books to parenting in France. In French Children Don’t Throw Food, I recognized aspects of myself and my family in many of her descriptions—especially babies sleeping all night soon after birth, and French women switching from mothers to wives after 8:00pm.
My husband and I think it’s essential to have time together in the evening, so we send all of our children to their rooms after 8:30 pm. Although every baby is different when it comes to sleep patterns, we’ve been lucky with ours. Jasmine slept through the night soon after birth, Yann snoozed peacefully after 3 weeks, and Pauline was around 5 weeks old when she managed to sleep for 10 hours during the night.
But, none of this prepared me for using the principle of doing the right thing while raising my children. Once I made this decision, I found that it really helped my children develop as responsible persons!
Children are not born perfect; they don’t always know how to behave in certain situations. I don’t want my children to be just well-behaved. I want them to take responsibility for themselves and for others when necessary. Letting them reflect on doing the right thing when they feel angry or upset has yielded amazing results. For example, my 5-year-old son could completely understand the idea of good vs. bad. He also acknowledged that making the right choice can be hard.
French parents living in the US may disagree
Americans are quick to praise their children, which bothers many French and German parents. I understand their concern. I don’t want my children to develop a super ego, thinking of themselves as perfect and always right. However, I’ve seen how teachers in my children’s school worked on improving the students’ self-confidence through consistent encouragement.
Generally speaking, French teachers (as I experienced during my childhood) and German teachers (as I saw from Jasmine’s German school) focus on improvement. If your child is not particularly smart or a fast learner, he or she can spend many frustrating years at school. For a child with low self-esteem, school can be destructive in term of personality and identity. In France and Germany, you have to be very strong to resist the constant reprimands at school without losing faith in your abilities. Praising has positive effects, and it’s an American practice that I’ve come to appreciate. Yes, I love the American principle of making good choices
I hope you’re enjoying these personal blogs. Next week, I’ll share some of my observations from American supermarkets.
Please do not hesitate to share your experience in the comments below.
Here is one more book from Pamela Druckerman. I haven’t read it yet, so please do not hesitate to share your experience in the comments below.
Photo credit: Gustavo Frazao