As you know, Andrea and I moved to France when she was eight. After her French baccalaureate she went to university in the United States, so in many ways she is as much French as she is American, which brings me to today’s conversation: Children.
In her job as the executive director of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, she spends a considerable amount of time with French friends and business associates. Recently a French friend in Chicago who has three children mentioned to Drea that she was mystified by the way American parents praise their children for “absolutely everything.”
“How can you tell your child she is brilliant for putting on her socks or placing a dish in the dishwasher or brushing his teeth?” she wondered. “I tell my children to ‘please put on your socks,’ and that’s it. Why would you praise a child over two-years-old for accomplishing that act?
“I expect my children to put their dishes in the dishwasher, I expect my children to put their clothes in the laundry basket and so on. I do not tell them they’re wonderful for doing so any more than anyone tells me I’m wonderful for putting my dishes in the dishwasher or putting soap in the machine,” she said.
Recently I’ve been reading articles about how we as parents and grandparents are turning our little ones into — let’s be frank — entitled brats who ultimately become obnoxious adults. This article is interesting.
It’s tempting to lavish praise, but praise, like discipline, must be measured and merited. I remember when Andrea was in pre-school in Chicago. The director of the school gave me a valuable piece of advice: “Do not overly compliment a piece of ‘artwork’ from your toddler,” she said, “she knows it’s not museum worthy and instinctively senses insincerity. Find something positive to say, like the colors used for example. With an honest observation, a child will understand and appreciate the praise.”
French children are held to certain standards of behavior and are not praised for every normal chore or activity they are expected to perform. They are expected to try new foods, they are expected to be polite.
Another behavior I have never seen here is “child as center of attention performer” while parents glow with pride and observers cringe. I’ve also seen children speak to their parents and grandparents with shocking disrespect. I’m sure these instances occur in France, but the only place I’ve ever seen them on full display is in the States.
Two of Drea’s best French friends, whom she sees when she comes home, are raising independent, responsible children. They would never dream of speaking disrespectfully to their parents or grandparents. Consequences would swiftly ensue.
Believe me, I don’t think it’s easy to repeat and repeat and repeat the same mantras to teach children to be polite, responsible, independent and kind, but what better gift can we give them?
On my return flight to France last year, I was sitting with a woman who is an executive with a large insurance company. We began talking and our conversation turned to the young men and women working for her. She said they had a sense of entitlement and inflated estimation of their abilities that she found astounding. “They expect non-stop praise,” she said, “and they believe they deserve immediate gratification through promotions and compensation long before they have proved they merit such consideration.”
I realize I’m generalizing and I am not trying to make a them-versus-us argument. I’m only telling you what I have read or have seen.
What have you observed?