Catherine Crawford, Author of French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian Parenting Gives Great Discipline Tips

From what I understand, French kids eat spinach, don’t talk back, and aren’t enrolled in an outrageous amount of extra-curricular activities. I need these children. I am down with French parenting if it means I don’t need to worry about kindergarten math tutoring. (I did this with my 4-year-old until I got a life.) I can’t stop reading about French parenting, so I’m happy that mom and author Catherine Crawford just wrote French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian ParentingThis is one of my book picks for 2013.

What’s wrong with American parenting? According to Crawford, it all bowls down to the following three words: “baby yoga pants.” But it’s not too late for us, even if we are American. Tired of your kids fighting, jumping on the couch and leaving their chewing gum wrappers all over the house? Here are five French-inspired parenting and discipline tips written by Crawford herself.

“I’m a sucker for books about cultural parenting and have read what feels like a Kindle-full about different international approaches. Still, it wasn’t until I had some specimens (that is, a real live French family) under my own Brooklyn roof that I was really able to imagine a possible connection to our chaotic home-life. Referred to as “the experiment,” my husband and I made a pact to research and then practice the French techniques with our young daughters to see if we could improve certain unwelcome behaviors.  

One of the things we learned is that it’s just not possible to raise kids in the United States entirely like they do in France—and I don’t really want to. Some lessons were golden, though. Take, for example, the Franco approach to discipline. Ol’ Fyodor Dostoevsky probably wasn’t thinking much about French childrearing when he set out to write Crime and Punishment, but the shared spirit of his book and Franco parenting style can’t be denied. For most French parents, if a kid breaks a rule, they are bestowed with an appropriate punishment. How refreshingly simple.

The first time I really realized that my kids weren’t getting their just desserts ever (but were still getting way too much dessert) was when my French friend helped me out with a penance for my Daphne, then a toddler, who’d decorated our hallway with marker. My pathetic solution was to explain–to this 2-year old–what she’d done wrong. Mon amie, on the other hand, suggested that in addition to an explanation, I put Daphne to work getting the scribbles off with a sponge and some soapy water. My daughter was zero help with the cleanup–in fact eventually we had to repaint–but she did understand the consequences of red ink on Benjamin Moore Acadia White paint (matte).

It takes a little more effort than the half-hearted threats I’d grown accustomed to or a conversation on the nature of wrongdoing, but once my kids realized that bad behavior would generate a true consequence, delinquency in my house dwindled markedly.

To get started, here’s my French approach to dealing with a few particularly grating violations:

Climbing on Furniture: A couple of years ago, if someone had given me a quarter every time I had to say “stop jumping the couch,” I’d have had enough scratch to replace a beaten sofa as needed.  Sadly, I had no magic keeper of the cushions–just a busted couch. The good news is that these days I almost never have use for that irksome phrase because my girls know that if I catch them jumping on the couch, the price is that they must sit still on it for a good long time to think about what a sofa is meant for. If there’s one thing most kids absolutely detest it’s having to sit and think. Really, mini-Rodins, they are not. So give it a try. If you find your kid on top of the dining room table, make him set it for the next family meal (regardless of what time it is).

Fighting: I’ve got two girls. I swear on all that is sacred and domestically blissful that ever since I’ve counterbalanced my inner pushover, Franco-style, my daughters have become better playmates.  Maybe they are banding together as “the kid team” because I’ve made it clear that, in many household matters, we are not equals. Whatever their reasoning, I love it. I love it so much that it’s now become particularly difficult for me to tolerate fighting, which is still not quite extinct. I’ve now got a real response, though.

When your kids fight, don’t immediately jump in and start talking it out. Chez moi, that usually just ends up with everyone shouting. Sequester your kids together in their room (or one of their rooms if they don’t share), and tell them they can only come out when they’ve buried the hatchet. It’s like a kid version of Dante’s Inferno, except it’s temporary and there’s an exit.

Leaving trash around the house: I’m the kind of mom that hands out gum pretty freely. What can I say, I like gum. What I don’t like is when my kids–lucky enough to get gum–leave the papers all over the house. For years I’d tell them that if I found errant wrappers, they would no longer be allowed to chew gum. And yet I never took the gum away (see reference to former pushover above).  However, I finally figured it out. Now, instead of taking away a future, phantom stick of Orbit, when I find a gum wrapper on the floor I’ve also found myself a garbage collector or two. Little girls, at least mine, are not huge fans of emptying wastebaskets. Who is, really?”

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