Friday, August 3, 2012

French Children Don't Talk Back!

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the behavior of French children compared to British. It's apparent when living here that French children are better behaved. They are more obedient, polite and respectful than the British youth. I’ve often marveled when seeing groups of young children out on a school trip. They all line up neatly, do as they’re told and often have far fewer adults supervising them than they would in the UK. I’ve been wondering why this is and examining my own parenting skills to see what we can learn from the French. There is no doubt you can always spot the British children in the supermarket (mine included). They’ll be the ones running about shouting and whining, while the French children hold onto the trolley and follow their mother around the shop like little ducklings. And if any of the ducklings stray, one stern look or sharp word from their mother and they stop what their doing immediately, eyes down and mouth shut.  There's none of that oh so familiar back chat "Oh but Muuummmm, why can't I have that....?"

So why are French Children better behaved? I've noticed that French parents are much stricter from an early age. Sit in any pediatricians’ waiting room (I've sat in many) and you will see toddlers being severely reprimanded for what seems to be very minor, normal toddler behavior (by British standards). I suppose it makes sense that if you nip any devient behviour in the bud, before it has time to develop, this will produce a better behaved child.

This form of strict, zero tolerance parenting makes for an easier life for the adults, but I wonder how good this is for the children in the long run.  The lives of French children are controlled, structured and organized. They’re told what to do and when to do it and generally they dutifully obey. Their holidays are filled with organized trips and educational ones. The school life is very structured too and lessons quite rigid without much opportunity to make decisions for themselves.  As a result, French students are not as adventurous or independent as their British equivalents. Gap years between School and Uni are unheard of. Maybe this is just because it’s not fashionable to do this in France, but I wonder if it is more down to a lack of independence of the students and an unwillingness to let go by the parents. We have many 16-18 year old French students come to stay with us to learn English. Whenever asked why they have chosen to stay in France to study English rather than go to England, it’s always because they (and their parents) are afraid of travelling abroad and prefer to stay in France.

French children seem to mature later than the British. Our ten year old tends to have more in common with children several years older than him. Our older sons have observed that many of their fellow students are immature and find it difficult to interact with adults.  I think that because French parents are stricter, the parent/child relationship is more pronounced. This makes it easier to control them when they are younger, but the parents and the children find it difficult to know when and how to move into a more adult/adult relationship.

Many French, when attending University or Higher Education are more likely to choose a University close to home, which is not the case in the UK. They seem less willing to branch out and seek new opportunities. Is this down to a restrictive upbringing resulting in lack of independence? My husband would argue that it’s because there is more of a community spirit here, young adults are happy where they live and so less likely to feel the need to escape and move away. Whereas in the UK, community spirit is largely dead, no one feels particularly tied or rooted to the place they grew up and therefore can’t wait to get away. I’m not sure which is true – perhaps it’s a bit of both!

Looking at some of the behavior of youths in Britain, I suppose you could say the British have a lot to learn from the French. Maybe we do let our children get away with too much when they're little, making a rod for our own backs as they get older. I sometimes feel like a terrible mother when my willful four year old makes a scene in the supermarket, but then my husband will point out how often we receive praise for what lovely children we have. Having such large age gaps between them, we have the rare advantage of seeing whether our parenting methods have worked (or not) as our eldest two sons have now reached adulthood. Our children may be challenging to control when they are young, but so far, they mature into independent thinking, confident, polite and respectful adults and that’s all that any parent can ask. I think we’ll stick with our own formula, as it seems to work well in the long run.

If you live or have lived abroad, what do you think about the differences in parenting between your home country and your new one and have you adopted any new parenting methods as a result?

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27 comments:

  1. A Flemish poppy married to a British lad and living in the USA, I am not going there...Oh no!
    But I totally agree with your post. It reflects much of our thoughts - Ex-RAF hubby and I - and we are happy to see we are not just odd for expecting our children to behave!
    A warm hello from the Paicific NW coast,

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    1. Yes that sounds some combination. Thanks for dropping by :)

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  2. Very interesting. As a mother of three in the U.S, I can only compare to U.S kids who seem for the most part to not have any manners. I'm very curious to see how other cultures bring their children up differently.

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  3. Very interesting. I did my gap year in Israel on a Kibbutz volunteer programme that had 18yos (all Jewish) from all over the world. At lunch today I was with two friends who'd done the same programme on different years. We all said how difficult we found the French (I'm beiong polite). The problem was that their idea of fun and humour involved practical jokes that made others suffer in some way. For example, a hose pipe through a bedroom window and turning on the water. Or throwing people's bags off the bus. It was immature and annoying. I know many french adults now who are fine, lovely poeple. I'm wondering if all that discipline when they are young stifles or stunts their sense of fun and humour so that 18yos away from home for the first time behave like much younger children.

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  4. Hi, yes I think you're right. It does seem that a strictly controlled childhood makes the transition between childhood and adulthood more difficult. I think the same applies in the UK (or anywhere else for that matter), but as parents are generally more relaxed in Britain, you don't notice it quite so much. My eldest said that when he started uni in Bristol there were some students in the halls he was in who were going absolutely mad - running up and down the corridors like children, getting paraletic and generally being immature and a total nuisance. He guessed it was the students who had sheltered lives and having escaped their parents control were experiencing their first taste of freedom and didn't know how to handle it. Much better to let them go gradually I think.
    You're also right that the French adults are fine,lovely people, so it obviously doesn't last forever!

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  5. This is very interesting, Nikki. I taught (well, provided English conversation classes) in France as part of my year abroad and taught at both a Collège and Lycée. I found the Collège pupils very unimaginative and, yes, regimented. They had a tendency to learn by rote and do huge amounts of copying from the board. At the Lycée, though, they really started to come out of themselves. My two favourite classes were Lit1 and STT3 (if I recall the codes correctly - it was almost 20 years now). The first were top of the range academic-minded students who would happily have an ethical, political or philosophical discussion about a text or issue. The second were bottom of the range technical students who were disengaged with school. They were the class I was warned about by all the teachers. But I loved teaching them. We had some brilliant conversations about totally random stuff - one class was predominantly one of them telling us all about her deep love and mourning for Kurt Cobain, another was a discussion about race and equality in France (they were predominantly of Algerian descent). I rarely used any texts to set the conversation off and it was just really a good conversation class - and their English was pretty brilliant, too!

    I was wondering about what education is like in France these days, as moving to France is something we have in a our heads as a possibility. The education ethos is probably my biggest concern and it sounds like it hasn't change so much. I really don't like the learning by rote and copying reams of text down - and the regimented handwriting! I can see the benefits, of course, and since France is such a heavily philosophical country they must learn to think at some point. But I think learning creativity and thinking skills and how to be an individual are very important and we get that here (for the moment - current government seems to be on a course to change it all again).

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    1. Thanks for your comments Tasha. Interesting you found it similar 20 years ago. There is still a lot of rote learning, certainly in this part of France and children aren't encouraged to use their imagination, but this is something you can develop with your children at home. Personally I think the education generally in the UK is better than France, but the whole life experience here in France is better. A wrote a blog about it last year, you might be interested in reading
      http://amotherinfrance.blogspot.fr/2011/07/expat-children-in-france-education-is.html

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    2. Excellent point that education is just one part of the equation. And we do already do a lot with our girls outside their school/nursery settings, so it might just be a case of doing different kinds of activities/learning. I imagine we'd want to do some specific English-language stuff anyway and probably British history and geography, too.

      I may come back and pick your brains some more at some point. I shall bookmark your blog, so I don't forget!

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    3. Thanks Tasha, glad you found it useful. We start our kids reading in English from about 8 and read to them in English all the time and have English TV, so they learn a lot from that. We're reading the Horrible Histories to them at the moment, which they love. Geography, I've found, is much better here than in the UK. My ten year old knows all the countries in the EU, their capitals and population and is generally more knowledgeable than his older brothers were at the same age (who were educated in English Primary schools). Feel free to pick my brain any time!

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  6. I've just got back from holiday in France at one of the Siblu sites. I don't think that us british have got childcare sorted in anyway, but I was shocked by a couple of things.

    Young children were up until 11pm or later every night, up early and no sign of naps, so they must have been shattered. (Yes, mine were up later than usual, but not that late). And they CRIED A LOT, FOR VERY LONG TIMES - which being in a mobile home next to them was a bit disconcerting.

    All that happened when the little babies or toddlers cried, was that they were told to shush. I was like 'pick the baby up for heaven's sake'! It was weird!

    I struggle with balancing discipline and being loving & respectful to my kids. But ignoring - I'm not sure what that is meant to teach them, apart from the fact that I can see it would make sure they eventually learnt to not whine/ask for what they wanted.

    heh ho - horses for courses!

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    1. That's interesting, I've never come across that in this part of France, but then I've never actually stayed in a campsite here. The French do put their kids to be later than us, but they eat later too, so I guess that's why - it's even later in Spain! Most parents I've come across are very strict with their childrens daytime naps and all children up to about 4 years old are put for a siesta at creche and school for a few hours in the afternoon. I've never seen a French mother ignore a screaming baby. Maybe you were just unlucky, maybe it's different in other parts of France or maybe it's just different behaviours when on holiday. Hope it didn't ruin your holiday or put you off visiting France. Maybe try renting a gite next time :)

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  7. Interesting post Nicki... Funny isn't it. I think it's about striking the right balance between fun and discipline.

    Our children go to a big International school, and I am involved behind the scenes. I have to say, compared to a few nations (won't mention which!), the English kids are far better behaved and respectful, which I found quite surprising! :D

    :D

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree it's largely to do with getting the balance right. It's also difficult when making generalisations - of course there are always exceptions. I've come across unruly French children and lots of very well behaved British, but I can't help noticing the differences generally between the two countries. I think we can learn a lot about ourselves and others by exploring these cultural differences.

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  8. As an expat American living in England, I think the grocery store behavior seems to be about the same in both countries - some brats but mostly well-behaved children. I do feel that the elderly population in the UK seems to have a great dislike for children here, so I do find myself shushing my kids more. Do you feel that way too?

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    1. Hi there, I'd forgotten about that, but yes you're right. Children are looked upon as nuisances to many older people in the UK, but it's completely the opposite here in France. Children are welcomed everywhere, the elderly always have time to smile and talk to them and they adore babies. It's the other mothers who throw you a disapproving stare if your child's misbehaving in the supermarket, the elderly are more likely to smile and pat them on the head.

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  9. When I first started reading this post I thought that Spanish kids were much like British kids, as in you get good ones and bad ones, but on further reflection there are some very noticeable differences.

    I shall attempt to write a post about it and link up.

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  10. Hi Nikki, Agree with everything you've said here. And with Gary! France is structured in every sense it seems. If things go how they're meant to, great, they're efficiency itself, but present them with something out of the ordinary and whoops! They usually can't handle it. I too believe it starts with the strict upbringing but have to say, it is such a relief not to be dominated by badly behaved kids when out and about. Interestingly, there are loads of young French people working in the UK, they must be the independent ones, so they do exist. I love the community spirit here but despair of the lack of imagination and reluctance to innovate. On the whole though, it's great and I certainly wouldn't want to go back to UK.

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    1. I agree Sue, whilst there are certain frustrations about living here, we're not swapping it for our old life in the UK.

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  11. Great post. I would quite like to know the French secret as although I think I am quite a strict parent my children still disgrace me on occasions and as for the answering back - ooo la la! What am I doing wrong?!

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    1. Hi RM, personally, I think it's because they are much stricter at a very early age. They don't let them get away with anything. Not all French parents are like this I hasten to add, but I've noticed many of them being much firmer with very young children than I would be. I think many of the children don't misbehave because they are either too scared to or have learnt not to question their parents authority. Whilst it must make life so much easier for the adults, I'm not sure that encouraging timid, unquestioning children is best for their development in the long run. Or maybe I'm just looking for ways to justify my own, more relaxed method of parenting, lol. Interesting any. I wouldn't worry about your childrens occasional bad behaviour, just tell yourself that you are nurturing independent, free thinking individuals - that's what I do!

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  12. A really interesting post, although I can't compare or relate in any way! The closest comparison I suppose would be my own parents' upbringing - my Dad is always telling us how strict his school and parents were and there was nothing like the amount of antisocial behaviour then that there is now.

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  13. Just thought i'd comment here to say, this is such a great blog! A friend who lives in France had mentioned it on her Facebook page and even though i don't live in France and don't have kids either i am enjoying reading it so much! Great writing. Caroline x

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  14. Really interesting. Especially interesting is the effect of early parenting on later behaviour. I can't compare to the States as easily, because I was living int he UK when I started having kids and being around other parents--and if I compare to my own childhood I am comparing diffeent times, which will always be different! But when I see young adult Americans in the UK, I always think they seem a bit less mature than the British young adults.

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  15. As a British Expat living in Germany I could almost have written your post..... It seeems to me too that the German children I see appear better 'trained' than their British counterparts.

    Then again, it may just be my unruly children... or my laid back parenting style - but often it seems I'm the only one yelling after errant children in the street, and getting frustrated by them in the supermarket and so on....

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    1. That's interesting Emma. One of my sons visited Germany a couple of times aged 14 and 15 as an exchange student living with 2 different german families. He said that he found that the German students were far more disrespectful in class than the French. They were very laid back, with students lounging around with feet up on the desks during lessons and they were more likely to argue and challenge the teachers than the French. I wonder are German children more respectful outside of the classroom or was this just not typical of schools in Germany?

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