French Children Don’t Have ADHD?!


Did you know that children in France rarely, if ever, are diagnosed with ADHD? About .05% of school-aged French children were diagnosed with ADHD, whereas 9% of school-aged children in the United States met criteria for ADHD.

What are the French parents and teachers doing differently that would account for this 8.5% difference?

Researchers started by asking the question: How do psychiatrists diagnose ADHD in France? Their studies indicated that the French psychiatrists focus more on the possible social causes of a child’s ADHD symptoms, as opposed to US psychiatrists who appear more interested in the biological causes of ADHD. This biological, or medical model, of diagnosing ADHD can unfortunately lead to an over-prescription of medication like Ritalin and Adderall.

By choosing to concentrate more on the existing social problems of a child’s life, French psychiatrists eliminate the need for drugs, and start to use psychotherapy, or family counseling as their first line of defense.

Psychotherapy helps an ADHD diagnosed child learn more about their moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, therefore taking control of their life without relying on medication to temporarily solve the problem. Family counseling, also used by French Psychiatrists, helps ADHD children identify existing issues within the family setting that could be nurturing their ADHD symptoms, as opposed to making them better.

French psychiatrists also take into consideration the possible nutritional causes for ADHD-like symptoms, especially since the behavior of some ADHD children worsen when eating foods with artificial coloring, certain preservatives, and allergens. By knowing about these possible nutritional causes, parents can help aid their child just by adjusting their diets. For example, children with ADHD should be getting adequate amounts of protein in their diet because it prevents rises and crashes in blood sugar, leading to an increase in ADHD symptoms.

Psychiatrists in the US seem to ignore these socially constructed factors, and treat ADHD children with prescription drugs that can have detrimental side effects.  This is not to say that medication is not helpful to children with ADHD, but we must recognize the problem of over-prescription in the US.

Another reason children in France rarely, if ever, get diagnosed with ADHD has to do with the French way of raising a children.

French children are taught “cadre” from an early age, which means “frame”, or “structure”. Their parents set four specific mealtimes for them to eat throughout the day, and they are not allowed to snack whenever they feel like it. The French believe that this disciplines their children and teaches them patience and the ability to wait. French parents will also allow their babies to “cry it out” for a few minutes to further instill this ability to be patient.

French Children Don’t Have ADHD?!

French parents seem to enforce consistent boundaries and limits with their children, which makes their children feel more safe and secure. Also, they feel telling their children “no” rescues them from making terrible choices, and that spanking them, with discretion of course, is not considered child abuse but a way of further disciplining their children for the better.

Could these simple parenting practices really be the reason why the French children don’t seem to have ADHD? The French seem to think so.

While all French parents are not the same, cultural norms do persist. The current trend in parenting in the US seems to be more permissive, offering children more choices, which can foster independence, but perhaps more impulsivity and hyperactivity—symptoms of ADHD.

The question remains – will the United States change the way it diagnoses ADHD? Or will this upward trend of 9% of diagnosed cases of ADHD turn into 20% in the near future? Only time will tell.