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Do French Toddlers Have Tantrums?

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Hi,

I just read your article, and I am having quite a difficult time with my 2-year-old son. I know he may be going through the "terrible twos," but I need to get a handle on things before it gets out of hand. I also just watched Nickmom and saw an episode of a lady interviewing French moms, that's what made me research it only to find your article. Are there certain steps? Where do I begin? From basic rules and manners to how to handle his tantrums. ... HELP PLEASE!!!!

Thank you,

Katie

Dear Katie,

Two-year-olds are thugs. They're totally unreasonable with jackass tendencies. But damn, if they aren't really stinking cute. The toddler phase has been, hands down, the most bewildering for me (so far) as a parent. It doesn't surprise me that the majority of the questions I receive are about these adorable little tyrants. Four years ago it would have been me writing an overwrought letter like yours to my future self, if that makes any sense.

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The turning point was hanging out with my French friend—and her kids. My Frenchie pal's life as a parent didn't seem nearly as perplexing as mine, nor was she likely to get publicly berated by her toddler, have her hair pulled or be tagged in the face by him.

Why? I had to know.

So, I spent a long time studying French parents and doing my best to act like one with the hope that my two daughters would start behaving a little cooler. The results, while not always faultless, were undeniably positive. I transformed my maniacal toddler into ... well, a far less maniacal toddler. BUT then she morphed into a rather delightful kindergartner, and 1st grade has been a breeze.

The key to a more French situation, I'm convinced, is in adopting the right attitude. Children are not little adults. They are children who need to learn from their parents how to behave, and you aren't going to ruin them if you tell them that. Once I made the decision to go for it, I explained to my kids that I was now in charge. I insisted that my job was to make the good decisions and their job was to do what I say. I'm not even sure how much of it sunk into that capricious brain of my toddler at the time (assuredly, my 6-year-old was not thrilled), but it was the message stamped on my brain that really made a difference.

I just did my job. And I didn't show weakness.

No longer did I constantly ask my kids' opinions, or worry that I wasn't doing what they wanted. I just did my job. And I didn't show weakness. I found myself saying things like, "You may stay in the living room with us if you can behave. If not, go to your room. Nobody wants to hear you scream in here." It didn't always work, and sometimes the screaming from her room was almost as excruciating as it had been when she was in the living room—but there was certainly a correlation between my resolve and her behavior; the fewer times I backed down, the fewer times she got sent to her room.

I still slip up, and just today in the supermarket I made the mistake of asking my girls, now ages 6 and 9, what kind of jelly I should buy. What was I thinking—that they were going to blurt out the exact same flavor? One wanted grape and the other mint (gross). I just looked at them and said, "Well, then we are getting cherry," and tossed it in the cart. Not a word of displeasure from either of them. Score!

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You are in charge—don't forget it!

And don't worry too much. Although the French don't even have a term for "the terrible twos" and insist they don't exist, I think it's a stage. If you start to draw the lines now, you will have a dreamy kid soon enough.

In Chiefdom,

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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