Family therapist Marilyn Wedge has been causing a stir for the past several years over her article “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD.” She states that American kids have an ADHD rate of at least 9 percent, while only 0.5 percent of their French counterparts have the same diagnosis. She describes the labeling process for both countries, the U.S. using the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the French using the CFTMEA, as one of the cultural differences. Dr. Wedge states “the DSM specifically does not consider underlying causes.” In contrast, “French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child’s social context” leading to their lower rates of ADHD. Drawing from Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing up Bebe, Dr. Wedge cites the desire to look beyond the symptoms and find the root of the problem as the biggest reason for the difference in the statistics. In France, a child’s diet, the structure to his day, the family hierarchy, and discipline are the first lines of treatment; in America, medication is the first, and typically, the only option.
The stark differences between the American and French approaches to parenting are worth noting. The difference of 8.5 percent of children with ADHD is one that is hard to ignore. What can we learn from Dr. Wedge’s observations?
1. Consider Outside Contributors
Notice a behavioral problem that concerns you? Look beyond just what today’s issue is. Is your child going through stress at home, or are there unresolved family issues that may be impacting him? Is she concerned about her grades and/or having conflicts with friends at school? There could be bigger issues than you know, so consider if there are outside influences that are affecting the newest outbursts.
2. Consistency Is Key
While it would take more than one article to convince me that French parents are flawless in their discipline tactics, the overall philosophy of their society does stand out. Wedge describes their commitment to structuring a child’s day, setting limits, and using the word “no” as staples in French homes. “French parents have a different philosophy of discipline,” she says. “They believe that consistently enforced limits…make children feel safe and secure…. [that they] actually make a child feel happier and safer.” Spanking is used and not considered child abuse in their country.
I was a toddler terror back in my day. My parents have endless stories of my stubbornness and their attempts to harness my determination to do everything in the exact opposite way that I was instructed. My mom is a nurse and she frequently worked 50 or more hours each week, trying to sleep during the day to prepare for her next night shift at the hospital. If there was ever a person who could have made a good case for backing down, I believe she would have been a great candidate. But she never did back down, because she knew the end result—a child who knew how to have self-control and wouldn’t try to take over the world—was entirely worth the work. My parents’ consistency parallels what Dr. Wedge advises and I am grateful for their determination and hope to emulate it in my parenting.
3. Teach Your Kids More Than Behavior Modification
Dr. Wedge praises the approach of looking to root causes before labeling and medicating, and I believe American parents could learn from this approach to childrearing. My training in biblical counseling also encourages looking beyond the surface to truly deal with a behavioral problem. It is easy to get stuck on the surface level: “Stop hitting your brother,” or “Do not talk back to your mother,” but those instructions only solve the problem temporarily. Teach your kids why they should change their actions instead of just ending the conflict. “Do not talk back to you mother” becomes a conversation about respecting your parents. In my home that would lead directly to the biblical command to honor your father and your mother. “Don’t hit” becomes a charge to show kindness to those around you, and may even encourage your child to do the opposite of hitting and look for an opportunity to show kindness to his brother.
We all have some room for improvement because there is no such thing as a perfect parent. What lesson from the French can you apply today?