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The most popular article of the year in the Wall Street Journal was an excerpt of a book by Pamela Druckerman called “Bringing Up Bebe.“The excerpt describes the moment in which Druckerman realised that French kids are much better behaved than American kids and then set out to discover why that is the case.
Not surprisingly, American parents went nuts about the story.
Some, presumably, read it as a “how to” manual. Others, presumably, read it as criticism.
Either way, the story struck a nerve.
And what were Druckerman’s conclusions?
Why are French parents better than American parents at raising well-behaved children?
Here are two key points:
- First, French parents aren’t as obsessed with making sure their kids are in training to become CEOs, world-famous composers, professional athletes, and Senators from the moment they emerge from the womb. French parents do make sure their kids do some “activities,” but they don’t schedule every moment as training for some specific future achievement. Rather they give the kids some time to learn how to amuse themselves.
- Second, and more importantly, French parents teach their kids to wait. Specifically, they teach them to defer gratification–to wait until later to eat candy, to sleep through the night, to wait a few moments until their parents have stopped speaking before interrupting them, and so on. American, parents, meanwhile, want to encourage every blurt or impulse as an example of self-expression and are too wimpy to teach their kids how to be patient.
This latter point is critical. And, ironically, it may do more to help make kids successful than any of the “training” America’s over-scheduled toddlers and kids get in all of their various disciplines.
For decades, psychologists have demonstrated that the ability to defer gratification is one of the best predictors of future success. In the 1960s, the famous “marshmallow test” at Stanford showed that kids who were able to not eat a marshmallow for 15 minutes in order to be rewarded with 2 marshmallows went on to be much more successful in life than the kids who just grabbed the marshmallow immediately. Since then, this experiment has been refined and repeated, but the bottom line has always been the same.
(A colleague of billionaire Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg attributes his success, in part, to this ability to defer gratification–and he jokes that, if Zuckerberg had been given the marshmallow test, he’d still be sitting in the laboratory not eating the marshmallows.)
But teaching their kids to wait, and calmly and confidently teaching them what they can and can’t do–instead of worrying that they don’t really have the right to do this–French parents produce kids that can, for example, sit at restaurants without destroying the table and driving their parents crazy.
And, more importantly, they produce kids who can amuse themselves, wait patiently until a parent has stopped speaking before asking for something, and sleep through the night.
(Yes, French parents apparently practice the controversial parenting tactic called “Ferberizing,” in which babies are left to scream themselves to sleep rather than picked up the moment the start crying–and, thus, are taught to put themselves back to sleep. In America, in some households, this tactic is viewed as a form of child abuse. This wimpy American parent with impatient children, for one, certainly viewed it that way).