Discipline: Setting Boundaries

Following in the tradition of “why chinese mothers are superior“, a new parenting book has hit the market with “why french parents are superior“. The book is called “Bringing Up Bebe” and it is written by Pamela Druckerman.

Here’s the synopsis of the book:

“The secret behind France’s astonishingly well-behaved children. When American journalist Pamela Druckerman has a baby in Paris, she doesn’t aspire to become a “French parent.” French parenting isn’t a known thing, like French fashion or French cheese. Even French parents themselves insist they aren’t doing anything special.Yet, the French children Druckerman knows sleep through the night at two or three months old while those of her American friends take a year or more. French kids eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. And while her American friends spend their visits resolving spats between their kids, her French friends sip coffee while the kids play.Motherhood itself is a whole different experience in France. There’s no role model, as there is in America, for the harried new mom with no life of her own. French mothers assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children and that there’s no need to feel guilty about this. They have an easy, calm authority with their kids that Druckerman can only envy. Of course, French parenting wouldn’t be worth talking about if it produced robotic, joyless children. In fact, French kids are just as boisterous, curious, and creative as Americans. They’re just far better behaved and more in command of themselves. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are- by design-toddling around and discovering the world at their own pace.With a notebook stashed in her diaper bag, Druckerman-a former reporter for “The Wall Street Journal”-sets out to learn the secrets to raising a society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents. She discovers that French parents are extremely strict about some things and strikingly permissive about others. And she realizes that to be a different kind of parent, you don’t just need a different parenting philosophy. You need a very different view of what a child actually is.While finding her own firm “non,” Druckerman discovers that children-including her own-are capable of feats she’d never imagined.”

When it comes to discipline, if you want well-behaved children, according to Druckerman, you should “do like the French do”. What’s the French secret to well-behaved kids? In a nutshell, it’s essentially teaching children “delayed gratification”.

Hang on. Isn’t that what I already do? Well, apparently, most parents don’t take it quite as seriously as the French do. In France, the “family’s daily rituals are an ongoing apprenticeship in how to delay gratification”. In all honesty, I cannot say that our family’s daily rituals are so. Just as I could not adopt Amy Chuah’s parenting style but I could see merits in some of the things she did, I’m not sure I could adopt the French style of parenting but I can also see the merits in some of the things they do.

One clear thing that they do is set boundaries for their children. In the book “The Complete Secrets of Happy Children“, Steve Biddulph also emphasises the importance of setting boundaries for children. As children grow up, their task is to push these boundaries to see how far they can. As parents, our job is to keep these boundaries firmly in place. Now the irony is that although children are hard-wired to keep testing these boundaries such that it appears they would rather not have them there, when parents are lax and do not maintain these boundaries, it creates a frightening environment for a child because they can often feel “out of control”. “Save me from myself” is what a child needs and expects from their parents.

Biddulph pointed out that when children first enter a new foster family, they act out. If the foster parents are firm with their boundaries, the child eventually settles into the family well. If the foster parents aren’t, the child will continue to act out. What the child is doing is testing to see if the new family is strong enough to look after them. Children need to feel secure – it stems from the biological instinct dating back to the times when children who were not protected would get eaten by predators. In modern society, the danger no longer exists, but the instinct remains.

As much as I hate the feeling of being hard on Aristotle when he’s testing the boundaries, and as much as I like being the cool parent who gets to say the magic “yes”, I know that sometimes I have to be the villain for his own good. It’s like something I once heard, “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother.” And because of that, we can’t always give our children what they want.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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