Positive parenting: the new ‘revolution’ is here

Samantha David discovers the latest parenting buzzword in France

POSITIVE parenting (la parentalité positive), where head-on conflict is replaced with dialogue and play, is the new buzzword in French childcare.

It contrasts sharply with traditional child-rearing methods, which often concentrate on reprimands and smacking to enforce obedience and avoid the results of laxité (over-lax parenting) ie. l’enfant-roi (dominating child) who is pourri gâté (spoilt rotten).

It is an issue which parents struggle with everywhere; how to stop children running wild without turning the house into a battleground. Positive parenting aims to resolve the issue by showing parents new ways to get collaboration from their children without resorting to punishments or smacking.

The term “positive parenting” was coined five years ago by the European Commission in order to create an EU framework for professionals developing new non-violent ways of bringing up children, and reflects a pan-EU exploration of child-rearing methods.

One of the leading proponents in France, Isabelle Filliozat, a family psychotherapist, has developed what she calls 'integrative empathy' which aims to help children develop emotional intelligence. (She has written many books on the subject, one of which Understanding Children’s Emotions is available in English. She has also recorded various videos in English, available here: www.childreneducationsolutions.com)

“It’s a total revolution in France,” she told Connexion.

“It’s completely opposite to traditional child-rearing because it’s not about how parents dish out an upbringing, it’s about considering what tools children need to achieve objectives.”

For example, rather than punish a child for not taking turns in a game, she advises parents to suggest things children can do while someone else takes a turn: relax, sing songs, run round the playground.

“There’s no point in ordering them to share, ordering them to wait their turn. A child needs something more positive to do.”

In the same way, she says telling a two-year-old not to stick their fingers in the electrical sockets is useless. “All they hear is ‘fingers’ and ‘electrical socket’ and they immediately do it. It’s pointless even telling them ‘no’. You have to watch toddlers and put childproof safety covers on the sockets.”

Rules, as opposed to limits are useful, she says. “A limit is ‘no running round the pool’, but a rule is ‘on the grass you run, by the pool you walk’.

For parents addicted to giving orders, seeing how eagerly children comply with positive rules is spectacular

Children love rules and are eager to obey them. If you say ‘put your boots on’, a child will refuse, but if you say ‘when it rains we put our boots on’ they will put them on willingly.”

Ms Filliozat’s approach is concrete and very clear about what to do. “That’s why my books are successful, because my guidelines work completely, so parents don’t have to fight with their children all the time.

“For parents who are addicted to giving orders, seeing how eager children are to comply with positive rules is spectacular.”

She says we need a new approach to bringing up children as life has changed so much in the last 20 years. “We’ve lost our connection with children. In France children start kindergarten, crèche and maternelle very young. They leave the house early in the day after barely an hour rushing around with their parents, organising the day.

“And in the evenings, people used to watch television together but now they just watch separate screens, often in separate rooms. Families rarely go out together, rarely play together.

“So there’s no connection, and re-establishing it is vital: when you have a connection with someone, you want to co-operate with them. Positive parenting can make that happen.”

Ms Filliozat has studied in the UK and the US as well as in France. “The UK is paradise for children. I love to see them running around having fun; everything is set up for them in the UK; playgrounds, facilities in museums, children’s theatres, places for them in restaurants, it’s wonderful.”

The French in contrast she says, simply do not want to be bothered with children. “It’s classic to make children eat at a separate table,” she says, “because French people don’t see why children should interrupt adult life.

“The UN condemned France in February, yet again, for its appalling record on access to education for disabled children, and for its refusal to ban smacking.

“I find it shocking that 86% of French parents hit their children. In France the rights of the parents to work, enjoy their life and leave others to bring up their children have gone too far, and children have too few rights.

“But nothing will change because 86% of the parents in government also hit their children, so naturally they won’t change the law that effectively says they have been wrong.

“So my mission is to teach parents better ways of connecting with their children and living with them without conflict, and once enough people have understood, then the law will change.”

Her website www.filliozat.net has a list of practitioners of her method, parenting coaches, plus a diary of up and coming conferences and workshops.

What’s your view? What differences do you see in parenting in France?
Email news@connexionfrance.com

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