I found some great parenting advice the other day in the Wall Street Journal on a rare Sunday morning where I actually snuck in some reading time instead of the usual running around to activities with my kids. Pamela Druckerman, whose new book Bringing up Bebé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting came out last week, wrote an informative article comparing the different child-rearing approaches of French and American parents.
While living in France, Druckerman found that every time she and her husband took their new toddler out to a restaurant she became apprehensive and anxious. Within minutes of placing her 18-month-old daughter in the high chair, the carnage would start. Saltshakers would be spilled, sugar packets torn up; general chaos would reign. Druckerman’s main goal was to get in and out of there quickly and without causing any major trauma—to the wait staff or the patrons.
After many harried outings, she noticed that most of French children just sat contentedly in their seats—there was no shrieking, no foodstuffs flying, no carnage or chaos. She also realized that they weren’t just being good while sitting in the high chair at a restaurant. All around her, French kids were usually calm and perfectly fine to play alone or sit by themselves without raising a ruckus.
Though my husband and I are acutely aware of trying to avoid the trap of over-parenting, Druckerman’s observation that French children could play by themselves really made me think about my own daughter’s behavior. She is always, as she says, “bored.” She always needs one of us to do something with her. It became apparent that as our oldest child, she had the benefit of being our only child for a period of time—we were always all over her, giving attention to her demands and catering to her whims. Finally, we realized that she wasn’t capable of figuring out how to be happy by herself. We needed to remind ourselves that we didn’t have to be constantly servicing her and we needed to teach her the simple skill of waiting.
Druckerman reports that in France, babies aren’t picked up the minute they start crying in their crib, they are allowed to learn how to fall back asleep by themselves. When a child clamors for candy at the checkout line, they will buy them a piece but they don’t give it to them right away; they wait a few hours until a scheduled snack time each day and then let them eat it. If a child interrupts adults while they are talking, they will politely and firmly tell the child to wait until the adults’ conversation is over. French parents try to teach their kids to develop patience and the ability to amuse themselves.
With our daughter, we’ve started slowly. We encourage her to do more activities on her own a little at a time—drawing, puzzles, crafts, etc. She is becoming more capable of being independent and is more often happy with all that is around her. Eventually, with firmer pressure and more time, she will learn to sit and play and enjoy stories on her own—being “bored” will be something she reads about in a book.
Who knows, maybe I’ll start spending more Sunday mornings reading while my kids play nicely on their own.