Friday, November 14, 2014

French Parenting

I've read several blog reviews of the book "Bringing Up Bebe". It sounds like an interesting book, but what really catches my attention is this notion of having firm expectations for your children to meet without flipping your lid to get them met. I tend to be a bit of a yeller with my kids. Most of this tendency to escalate comes from being naturally excitable when flustered and an attempt to tweak their understanding of the urgency of a situation when the schedule does not allow me to take a more gentle approach. Or that's what I tell myself anyway.

My parenting Waterloo, thus far, has been four year olds. I have now had three four year olds and each has driven me mad. Infant needs and crying has never bothered me. They get a little older and start walking and climbing which need more attention, but it doesn't make me angry with them. I've heard all about the terrible twos, but the tantrums don't bother me. They really can't help it. They aren't trying to be naughty. Three year olds can get into more trouble, but really they just want to be big. Then they turn four and all of a sudden they start disobeying because they can. Because they want to. And I flip my lid.

I would love to find a way to get the point across and get my current four year old to make good choices without the screaming and yelling and crying. After a few conversations in various Internet locations, my understanding about this French approach to parenting is that you set the standard, you don't get mad, and you make the right choice more socially appealing than the current choice. I decided to give it a try.

Last night before supper, Sam had a few of his train tracks out in the living room. The food was almost ready so he was told to put the tracks back in their bag. It was not an overwhelming request and it was a chore he has done before so it wasn't an unrealistic expectation. He refused. I told him he had to pick up before he came to supper. He refused. Supper was ready and on the table. He made a move towards the table. I reminded him he had to pick up his trains before he came to supper. He refused. We sat down, said the blessing, ate, and talked. Sam floated around the living room. Several times he tried to get some attention, but he was dutifully ignored. He tried to come to the table to eat and I reminded him he needed to pick up his trains first. We finished supper. We had some dessert and still Sam refused to comply. We finished everything and began to clean up. He was mildly upset when his plate was cleared away, but trains were still in the floor. Sam just didn't bother to eat. After the kitchen was picked up, I went to the living room and began picking up the trains because it had to be done and he reluctantly helped me. We went upstairs and that was the evening. Sam had no supper because he chose not to eat. There was no yelling, but there was no obedience either.

I have no greater lessons to draw here. I just did this thing and it didn't work the way I thought it might. I'll try again, but I have to wonder about this parenting magic trick where a little kid obeys without yelling.


bearing said...

My other commenter is writing about this here

bearing said...

I'm definitely more receptive to some of these ideas than I would have been when I had just one small child. Having authority is just so darn useful, and downright necessary when the kids outnumber the parents. But I don't buy the sleep stuff; I'm really sold on mothers sleeping with babies, at least when there are no sleep disorders.

Literacy-chic said...

Maybe it was the particular battle? Picking up vs. supper? Because really, you wanted him to do both--it wasn't supposed to be an either-or situation. On the other hand, perhaps that IS the point. I read somewhere (on FB, likely) about French children not quibbling over what they are given for supper. How does THAT work, exactly? I tend to take the opposite approach--I'm pretty lax with getting things done around the house.

Jenny said...

I don't buy the sleep stuff either. I think it is possible with some babies since I have one who did sleep early, but I don't believe that it could possibly be universally true that 3m olds sleep all night unassisted without there being some serious CIO going on.

Jenny said...

Yeah, I don't know. Maybe he wasn't hungry? Mine quibble over their suppers at times but that doesn't mean supper changes for them. We serve what we want and they have to take at least one bite of everything. They don't have to finish anything, but practice bites are required unless it is a food I know they really hate. We tell them that just because they do not like a food now doesn't mean they will always dislike it and they have to practice eating it to find out if they like this particular food yet. Sometimes they are cooperative and sometimes they whine, but I am generally pleased with their growing palates.

Anonymous said...

I would call this a win! This is pretty much the method I use now. But it doesn't work instantaneously or magically; it takes time. You can actually see a behavior worsen by about 10 days in (this is called a "pre-extinction burst") as the child pushes back to test limits of this new strategy. But over time it does work.

A couple of things you could try at intervals to break the resistance without giving a lot of attention: "hand over hand" in which you sit on the floor with him and put your hand over his to pick up the blocks. "Limited reasonable choice" in which giving him a choice gives him the control he needs to save face: "Which trains do you want to pick up first, the blue or the red?" Whenever he does capitulate, reward with lots of praise. Even if he didn't do it in time for dinner, he did help! (Can you tell I have spent the last year of my life immersed in this stuff? Over time, it does work!)


Jenny said...

Oh, ten days is a long time! It's good to know that it takes that long to sink in for the child. I'm just tired of the four-year-old yelling stage so if this really works, I'm willing to give it a go. Where I really struggle is tasks that have to be completed and have to be completed in a certain time frame. Like at bedtime, he has to go to the potty before bed and has to be in bed by a certain time, but I can't make him go if he doesn't want to. There have been times I have physically removed his pants and set him on the potty and held him there until he finally relented. I hate that! But he can roll on the floor for an hour beforehand and it gets to a point in the evening where it just has to happen. Like now! The number one lesson of motherhood: You can't make someone pee. :P

Jenny said...

Two randomish thoughts here:

1) I wonder if the reason Americans resort to so much yelling has to do with our time-crunched schedules. Many times there is no room in the schedule to allow for child shenanigans. Tasks have to be completed and any delay creates a cascade for the rest of the day. While yelling might be counterproductive in the long term, it does motivate in the instant it happens and many of us only have time for the current instant and can't be forward-thinking.

2) I read about a study years ago where American parents and maybe Japanese? parents had to observe their children completing various tasks from across the room and tell them to stop what they were doing when prompted. The study found that the other children stopped almost every time their parents told them, but American children only stopped when their task was actually dangerous. So in all our yelling and blather do we subliminally communicate that we aren't really serious that the children obey?

Anonymous said...

Yes, urgency makes all mamas twitchy! One thing you could do is set a timer for a minute or two. Offer positive attention whenever he can pee before the timer goes off. The trick is to do it a few times when it''s NOT bedtime. You're setting the stage with practice, like a game. When it comes to bedtime, he may want to show off his skills. Keep setting the timer for shorter amounts of time. Praise the big siblings for doing it if he is resistant.

Jenny said...

A little footnote to this episode: Tonight we had spaghetti for supper which is the same thing that we had the night Sam chose not to eat. When he was what we were eating, he said thank you for fixing it again since he didn't get to eat it last time because he wouldn't pick up his trains. So the lesson has not been forgotten.