An interesting comparison…
In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%.
In the United States ADHD is treated as a biological-neurological disorder and is often treated with prescription drugs. The French, however, believe it is a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes.
From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months….
Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.
I know some children’s biology is the cause of their ADHD and symptoms can be so severe they need that medication. It is a blessing for parents that have tried very hard to deal with the problems associated with ADHD. What is alarming to me is the disparity in diagnosis rates between the two countries. It seems like a good idea to try good structure, behavior and boundary methods before medication. This might not be the easiest route, but, it is important to not throw a pill at every childhood problem, especially those that are just slightly deviant from the norm, you know, kids acting like a kids.
10 thoughts on “Why French children do not have ADHD….”
I believe that many biological conditions, and psychological conditions are biological, have their roots in nutrition. I think the French eat better and that leads to them having better psychological health. I think Americans eat too much food manufactured for them by corporations and that leads to bad physical and mental health.
It’s believed that ADD has a strong genetic component, and that the reason the U.S. has such a high rate of diagnoses is that people who emigrate tend to be risk takers. Since so many Americans are the descendants of those risk takers, they would have the same gene.
It is an issue like many in American medicine. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to evaluate given Big Pharma’s commercial grip on medical research. Is the higher US diagnosis rate (not to mention the exponential growth in American ADHD diagnosis in recent years) real or a function of pharmaceutical marketing?
But it is possible that the US food stream, with so much of it coming from big manufacturers who add all sorts of things to it to increase profits and shelf life, could also be affecting children, from their time in utero to the growing years when so many cells are doing so many things, growing so very fast. And often times nurtured by junk food and chemicals?
Do young French girls begin puberty as early as American girls do, for example?
“From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it.”
That is utter garbage. Think of this way:
“American children are taught to go outside and exercise through play. That’s why backyards and playgrounds are so common in the US….”
Do I know some families that fit that description? Of course. Do I know some that don’t? Of course.
France is a nation of 65 million people with an increasingly large immigrant population. Claiming “French children” are raised in some monolithic manner is absurd.
The United States is a nation of 310 million people from all over the glove. Claiming “American children” are raised in some monolithic manner is absurd.
I don’t know, Bob. Isn’t a disproportionate number of the kids medicated for ADHD middle class and Caucasian? (Somehow, I see a black kid from the projects labeled a juvenile delinquent, not ADHD, but I’m just guessing.) So ADHD US kids may share more similarities of upbringing than you think.
One thing that’s struck me in my personal experience is the extent to which US parents want to be friends and equals with their children. They negotiate, they discuss, they reason, and when a kid doesn’t behave they often seem to hope the kid’ll grow out of it. The European family I grew up in wasn’t remotely like that. I had a “frame” and the whole nine yards, just as described. (We weren’t French. In my experience Europeans generally are like that.) The parents aren’t trying to be friends. They’re trying to be effective benevolent dictators, and for the most part it works.
I suspect that the approx 9% difference in diagnosis constitutes those kids who aren’t neurochemically ADHD. They just watch too much TV or eat too much sugar, or are just plain spoiled little darlings. If the ADHD is caused by unusual brain chemistry, no amount of dictatorship will change that.
(Hey Susie, I just bumped into the “404 Page Not Found” for your web site. It’s nice and friendly. But it has this line: “Don’t loose your hope just yet.” Maybe your web maven can fix that. 🙂 )
I am Filipina and my fiance is French; we have a two-year old boy. From experience, I tend to think that diet may have something to do with it. From the very beginning, we have fed our son home-cooked meals with very little sugar. He rarely gets a taste of processed food or anything that i high in sugar. I have just recently stopped breastfeeding, and the milk he now drinks has no corn syrup or fructose/sucrose added. My fiance is very strict about not giving junk, and I support him, as we believe that what our son eats has an effect on his mood and overall well-being, and not just on his growth.
There is a discipline factor, too, of course. I tend to agree with the idea of providing a “cadre.” While we did co-sleep for some time, during his waking hours, our son is gently but firmly disciplined. We did not child-proof the house extensively (aside from putting a barrier for the stairs). Instead, our son has been trained not to touch anything that is “not a toy.” Of course, like any other toddler he whines, sometimes yells, tries to hit, etc., but he has also learned, just with one word or look from myself or my fiance, to stop, say “pardon, papa/maman,” and occupy himself with something else. No yelling parents, no meltdowns. Just unwavering firmness.
All I know is, I raised my kids according to a strict schedule and one of them had ADD. The other didn’t have ADD until he was a teen, and got hit in the head with a rock. Then he had it, too.
I think the notion of a genetic factor based on immigration is hard to believe. That would mean ADHD rates (occurrence versus diagnosis), would be fairly constant, and that is something that could be researched. Much of my elementary school were the children of immigrants, I went to an inner city elementary school, and behavior problems were MUCH less prevalent than they are now. The kids who acted out could be controlled without meds.
I think we have a problem with over-diagnosis and another with nutrition.
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