Parenting: Are French Parents Better?

Friday, March 02, 2012

Are the French better at parenting then Americans?

A recently published book by Pamela Druckerman, "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting," says yes! Druckerman recounts a harrowing meal while vacationing in France in which her 18-month-old was acting up and dashing around the restaurant. She then writes, "After a few more harrowing restaurant visits, I started noticing that the French families around us didn't look like they were sharing our mealtime agony. Weirdly, they looked like they were on vacation. French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables."

Drunkerman says, while living in France, she never saw a French child throw a tantrum or demand something. They didn't throw food, and their parents didn't shout at them. She launched a several year investigation and came to the conclusion that the French, while not perfect, have some parenting secrets that work.

1. Teach children patience and delayed gratification. "It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and just one snack around 4 p.m.)" One effect of not eating between meals is that, when it is mealtime, your children are hungry. And, then they will be more apt to eat more "adult food." Drunkerman noted that most French parents don't make a meal for the adults, and chicken nuggets for the children. The entire family eats the same thing.

2. Say "no" with authority. "Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting - and perhaps the toughest one to master. Many French parents I meet have an easy, calm authority with their children that I can only envy. Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren't constantly dashing off, talking back, or engaging in prolonged negotiations," says Drunkerman.

3. Realize that teaching your child right from wrong is not punishment. Drunkerman writes, "When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. "Ah, you mean how do we educate them?" they asked. "Discipline," I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas "educating" (which has nothing to do with school) is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time."

"Bringing Up Bébé" has drawn comparison to Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," last year's provocative memoir of Eastern-style parenting.

Truth is, it very unlikely that any one culture is "best" at raising children however learning from another culture can help us as parents. Instructing your children not to interrupt, to be polite, and to behave at the dinner table isn't "French", it's teaching them good manners.
Happy parenting!

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