My Executive


    Oct 31, 2013

    French parents go to class for better kids


    CLASSES teaching parents how to be better mums and dads, which have long flourished in English-speaking countries, have begun taking France by storm.

    French parents today want a new kind of authority that does not crush children, but does not allow them to run wild either, said Ms Beatrice Sabate, a clinical psychologist who adapted a method devised in California - called positive discipline - for France.

    "There are rules, but the child helps to define them," said Ms Sabate. "Children are growing up in a different world than that of their parents, when teachers were more severe and adults always knew best."

    Today, parents are looking to have relationships that are based more on cooperation, she added.

    In one class, nine mothers and three fathers meet in central Paris one evening a week, sitting in a circle with two trainers to learn positive discipline, which combines firmness with an emphasis on the positive.

    Slogans on the wall intone: "Encouragement is to the child as water is to a plant" and "Mistakes are excellent learning opportunities".

    This session is devoted to inappropriate behaviour, with participants role-playing some of the most common sources of conflict: homework, computer and television time, and going out.

    "OK, it's your turn. You're a child again," said trainer Alix de Salaberry to a participant playing the role of a teenage girl who wants to sleep over with a friend.

    The "mother" says no and the "daughter" stamps her foot, shouting, "I hate you!"

    The "mother" tells the trainer her "daughter" scares her, and that she is not going to be able to manage.

    The role play starts again, but this time the "mother" has to give an "appropriate response".

    So she offered: "I'm really glad you have such good friends. Like you, when my mother said no, I was very disappointed. But it's not possible tonight, your grandmother is coming for dinner. Let's find another date."

    At the end of the session, the students are given homework: Role play with your child. You be the child and your child can be the adult.

    Positive-discipline workshops, originally developed by American family counsellor and educator Jane Nelsen, are growing not just in Paris but elsewhere in France as well.

    Demand has been so great that Ms Sabate no longer teaches classes herself, but devotes her time to training parenting teachers, including students from Belgium, Switzerland and Morocco, who train in France before returning home to teach positive discipline in their own countries.

    In France, "views have changed of authority and making mistakes", Ms Sabate said. "Before, children were subordinate to their parents, students to the teacher, the wife to the husband, the worker to the boss."

    Among the tools suggested to ensure a balanced life for the child is to draw up a schedule that lists activities down to the half hour: homework, and football and violin practice, without forgetting time to read, dawdle or be with friends.

    "The bond with the child has become the most precious in life, because the love bond is fragile, ephemeral," said psychologist Beatrice Copper-Royer.

    "You expect a lot of it, and many parents are afraid of approaching it badly, of not being up to raising the ideal child that they want."

    She added: "The boom in the coaching market reflects the disarray we see in parents. It's very revealing of our society's performance cult. You have to train yourself as much as possible to have the best possible child."