The French parents that Druckerman consults during her sleep-training all claim that they are flexible yet are able to train their children to sleep on a regulated schedule that fits into their household schedule. They do so by observing the natural rhythm of the child. In fact, much of French parenting seems to consist of watching the child, observing its natural rhythms, and shifting them to fit into a society where children eat three meals a day, one snack, and go to bed at 8 PM without a fight.
Druckerman naturally does more research into parenting techniques, and discovers Dr. Francoise Dolto (who has never been translated into English). Dolto was the French Dr. Spock of the 1960's through the 1980's and even had a radio show. Dolto believed that babies could understand their parents, beginning in the womb (p.91), and were rational thinkers. Unfortunately for the babies, they lacked language skills and were not able to freely communicated with their parents and caregivers. Dolto felt that adults needed to observe babies in order to discover what the babies wanted to communicate. According to a former Dolto student:
"All of her senses on alert, totally receptive to the emotions that the baby aroused in her.It was not to console [the baby], but to understand what the baby was telling her. Or more precisely, what the baby saw" (p.90).
Once Dolto realized what the baby wanted, she would talk to the baby and explain to it in a rational manner what was going on or the desired behavior. The baby, also a rational being, would understand and calm down or do what was requested of it.
Since babies cannot verbally communicate in a clearly understandable fashion, it is responsibility of the parents to observe these little rational beings, all different from one another, and understand their desires. Once the parent understands what the baby is saying, the parent can speak his/her commands to the baby, who will understand them. At the same time, the parent can understand why the child refuses to do something; the child has a rational reason for this refusal and it is up to the parent to discover it and to respect or alter its natural rhythm as needed. Although babies have rhythms, so do their households, and life flows better if the two are in sinc.
Much of French parenting can therefore be seen as a mixture of observation, intuition about the child's feelings and behavior, and rational discourse. While it may seem irrational to American parents, it actually makes sense to me. As a multiple pet owner, I cannot talk to my pet to find out why it is upset. I've got to use observation and intuition to figure out if this is a temporary upset or something requiring a vet. I also explain to an animal why I am doing something; the animal may not understand but it calms me down, and the animal picks up on the calm. Since babies pick up on their parent's emotions, parents who calmly explain a situation to a baby may transfer that same calm to the infant so that the parent gets the desired result.