What Can American Parents Learn From the French?

Everyone knows that the French are renowned for their wine and cuisine, among other things, but until recently little attention was paid to their parenting. A new book has shed light on just how superior parenting methods in France seem to be when compared to American child rearing. So what's the secret to French parenting? And can American moms and dads adopt these same methods?

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Je Ne Sais Quoi

So what exactly are the French doing when it comes to raising kids? According to French parents...nothing. Or at least, nothing special. Their parenting methods have been referred to as having a 'certain je ne sais quoi' (literally, 'I don't know what').

Then why do French children seem more well-behaved, eat better and even sleep better than their American counterparts? How do less-stressed parents in France assert their authority more calmly, yet seemingly more forcefully, than American parents? These are the questions explored and generally answered in Pamela Druckerman's new book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

What it may boil down to is possessing an entirely different view of children: what they are, how they should behave and what they should and shouldn't be allowed to do. That, combined with teaching patience and manners and having the authority to tell their kids 'no' seems to be the recipe that works well for many parents in France.

And it could likely work for American parents as well. But could the French philosophy of parenting ever be embraced in the United States?

Kids Will Be Kids

From all observations, it's probably safe to say that no one could accuse the French of being 'helicopter parents'. For the most part, French children are encouraged to be somewhat independent. Watch some French mothers enjoy tea together, for instance, and their children will usually be off playing happily without constant supervision.

This is not to say that French children are ignored, but French parents do not make their children the center of their universe. French moms and dads make time for each other even if the child is in the room with them. They allow their children to play on a playground while they themselves remain on the perimeter.

Perhaps best of all, they teach their children to wait. It's a virtue they believe (probably correctly) will serve the child well later in life. For example, there is no snacking during the day, certainly unlike the habit of snacking among American kids. At mealtimes the child sits patiently until a meal is served. They are also forced to wait for attention and not feel entitled to it.

If the French method seems a bit strict, that's because it is; some would say that it is overly so, resulting in children being too restricted and unable to express themselves. And yet by all indications, at least as far as Druckerman was able to observe, French children are still just as playful, creative and exuberant as children anywhere else.

Making Life Easy

The French seem to be all about making life easier, which might explain why they seem less frazzled than American parents.

One way they do this is by cutting back on a child's choices; for example, French children seem to eat healthier than American children. Why? Because there are no such things as kids' meals; kids basically eat whatever adults are eating.

And while French mothers might seem a bit less attentive than American mothers, that's because their goal is to more or less let the child sort things out for themselves. It is believed that French babies sleep through the night at an earlier age than American babies because French parents do not tend to rush in as soon as the baby cries.

The French believe that parents do not have to make their children their entire world. Perhaps the fast-paced American way of life has left parents feeling somewhat guilty; with more than 70% of American families seeing both mom and dad work, day care centers across the country are filled. Not always being there for their children might leave parents feeling somewhat guilty; to ease that guilt, they tend to focus too much on their children, giving in too easily to their demands and allowing them a greater range of choices.

The sad fact is that the current pace of life in America is not likely to change, which could make it very difficult for parents in the United States to do as the French do. Unfortunately, in America...c'est la vie.

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