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The Wisdom Of French Parenting

Updated on November 17, 2015
Princessa profile image

Wendy is a Psychologist graduated in Scotland. She also studied Communication Sciences in Peru. Currently a Spanish teacher in France.

The Secret Behind France's Amazingly Well-behaved Children

French with your bébé!
French with your bébé! | Source

Are the French Better Parents Than Americans?

Is the French style of parenting superior to the American style of parenting? Could it be that the French not only have managed to be at the top in fashion and gastronomy but now they are also acknowledged to be better parents? According to American journalist Pamela Druckerman author of the book Bringing up Bebe, Americans have a lot to learn from the French style of parenting. From having their babies sleep the whole night before they are 3 months, to having young children eating well rounded meals properly and having lots of quality time as a mother to spend on your own –and with your partner- without feeling guilty.

The secret behind France's amazingly well-behaved children

Whenever we have friends visiting –American, British, etc- they always remark on how well behaved are children here. This is especially evident whenever we go eating out and they see French children sitting at a table for hours while the adults are talking and enjoying a never ending meal.

I don’t pretend that French children are perfect but it is very rare to see a child throwing a tantrum, children behaving wildly in restaurants or children being mean to each other. We could say that it is imprinted on older children to look after their younger siblings or any younger child indeed.

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

French children are better behaved and more in command of themselves, learn how do French Parents do it.


Could it be true that the French are better parents than the Americans?

I can only talk from my personal experience and although I am not American or French -I am a foreigner who arrived in France with a toddler and a young girl to be brought up French style- I have experienced the French style of parenting and I can give you a few insights to decide by yourself which parenting style is better or at least more suitable for you.

French mothers have the secret to parenting success?

The Secret Behind France's Amazingly Well-behaved Children

  • French parents are not afraid to show their authority
  • French parents do not spoil their children
  • French Mothers say NO
  • The French let their children be children
  • French mothers have FREE time
  • French Parents enforce rules that affect their own pleasure
  • French parents teach their children to eat well rounded meals

French Parents Are Not Afraid To Show Their Authority

Unlike other places where people would look weirdly at you if you shout or smack your child when he is misbehaving; in France you will get very disapproving looks if you don’t stop your child from misbehaving. Do not be surprised to see in France a mother talking very sharply (but still calm) to her child or to see a mother smacking her child in public because he is doing something bad. French mothers are not afraid to show their authority to their children. They can be very condescending with some things (like allowing the child to walk around with a “doudou” or soothing toy) but they will not allow their child to embarrass them with a tantrum in a public place.

French Parents Do Not Spoil Their Children

At least in the French countryside it is very rare to see children spoiled by getting everything they want. For example, I was surprised to see children getting so few presents at Christmas, and that is because parents do not feel obliged to spoil their little ones with material things. Christmas is more a family celebration where the extended family spends time together eating and drinking and of course, children spend time playing with their cousins and friends.

Instead of overloading their children with the latest toys or gadgets French parents like to spend a lot of quality time with their children, going cycling, camping, skate boarding, hiking, etc. They DO spoil their children with quality family time but very rarely with material things. I believe that this teaches children that they cannot have everything they want and also shows them that cohesion as a family is more important than material things.

French Parents Like To Spend Time With Their Children, there is an emphasis on family activities

Cycling with my boy.  Spending time toguether having fun, doing simple things  is more important than buying the latest gadget.
Cycling with my boy. Spending time toguether having fun, doing simple things is more important than buying the latest gadget. | Source

French Mothers say NO

From an early age, French children learn that they are not the centre of the world. If their mom is having a chat with her friends they know that they cannot interrupt for banalities. If they come to speak, the mother will simply tell them that she is busy and they need to wait. French moms are not slaves to their children, in saying NO to them they are showing them that life is full of this “petit frustrations” that are not really important, which according to French psychologists makes for more tolerant adults.

Children entertaining themselves, having a snack while the parents were enjoying a cocktail.  Notice how even though having a sort of picnic they still have proper cutlery!
Children entertaining themselves, having a snack while the parents were enjoying a cocktail. Notice how even though having a sort of picnic they still have proper cutlery! | Source

Raising children

The to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids
The to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids

26 short chapters on everything from pets to being a sports parent to healthy relationships to food to keeping your marriage as much fun as it was before the children arrived.


French Parents Let Their Children Be Children

While most American parents are teaching yoga, a foreign language or music to their child before he is in pre-school, most French parents just let their children discover the world at their own pace.

Here in France, most parents I know just leave their children to entertain themselves on their own, to discover the world by themselves. There is no rush in sending them to X, Y or Z classes (maybe because that would take too much of mom’s time driving from one place top another!) instead mothers with pre-school children just meet to have a coffee while their children play.

French Mothers Have FREE time

Adult time is not a privilege for French mothers, adult time is a need. It is amazing how most French mothers recover so quickly after their pregnancy going back to their previous shape and routine. This need for personal time starts at the hospital where mothers are kept for about a week to give them enough time to recover from the birth. The hospital stay might even include some luxuries like massages, manicure, gourmet menus, hairdressing visits, etc.

Even the government acknowledges a mother’s need for free time and the law gives a generous national paid maternity leave which increases according to the number of children you have. For example, a friend of mine who works at a local supermarket had 3 years of paid maternity leave (including Christmas bonuses) when she gave birth to her fourth child.

When a child is old enough mother’s can leave them at the Garderie and if need be mother’s might also get a subsidy from the government for a nanny. With all this government help, French mothers can effectively have more free time than American mothers.

French Parents Enforce Rules That Affect Their Own Pleasure

I believe that the main rules to be reinforced are those that enhance a parent’s pleasure, for example, the rules concerning nap time. Most parents who I know enforce a nap-time or what they call La Pause during the day. Do not get mistaken here, this is not a time for children to go to sleep, no, no no. This is a Pause time for the parents, which means that usually after a meal (mainly the weekends) parents disappear to their room for a Pause and children know not to interrupt during that time. I had heard many friends doing so and I have even seen them coming out of their Pause time once I arrived a bit too early to an afternoon drink invitation. Much to my surprise when I arrived at my friend’s house on a Sunday afternoon, their four children aged 3 to 17 were entertaining themselves and they refused to interrupt their parents to tell them that I had arrived. The older child invited me to have a sit and a drink while I waited another 10 minutes!

Other similar rules that I have seen enforced are table related so parents can enjoy their 3-course meals, bedtime schedules, shared household tasks, and very important, the fact that the older children will take care of the youngest ones while their parents are busy.

French Parents Teach Their Children To Eat Well Rounded Meals

It is a part of French culture to eat well-rounded meals which include a starter, a main course, cheese and a dessert.

I admit than when we arrived in France my children were fed mainly on fish fingers, pasta and chicken nuggets. It was at the Garderie and later at pre-school and school that they learnt to eat a 4-course meal which I would have never dreamt to give them.

An ordinary day menu at the school would be:

  • Starter: tomato salad
  • Main course: chicken stew with rice
  • Cheese
  • Dessert: chocolate mousse in a bed of raspberry pure
  • Bread and Water

This way of feeding children teaches them to eat well rounded nutritious meals, which makes for healthy adults who can more or less keep a healthy weight without too much trouble. In addition when a child is well fed without too many additives (I am a big NO NO for Coca-Cola and other carbonated drinks) with fresh fruits and vegetables you can see an impact on their behavior. A child who drinks Coca-Cola all day and eats nothing but pizza and hamburgers behaves very differently to a child who drinks plain water and is fed on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Children Eating At A Restaurant


Are the French better parents than the Americans?

From all the above reasons I believe that the fact that French mothers have more guilt-free leisure time and that parents enforce rules that affect their own pleasure makes for happier parents and happy parents means happy children.

Are the French better parents than the Americans?

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Bringing up children

Do you agree that the French have better parenting skills than the Americans?

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© 2012 Wendy Iturrizaga

Do you think that the French style of parenting is superior to the American style of parenting?

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    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      2 years ago from France

      Gloriousconfusion: Thank you for such an insightful comment. I think you are right, and a lot of problems would be solved if we share more time with our children teaching them not just the basic things but also kindness, politeness and respect to others and themselves.

      I am really happy that at least in the French countryside family values are respected and taught. I am happy I made the choice to bring up my children in France.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 

      2 years ago from United Kingdom

      I was very interested to learn the finer points of a French upbringing. The children next door to me (in London) are half French and brought up in a very strict and orderly way, and seem happy, polite and sociable. But then, so do the English children in the street where I live.

      However, my daughter, a teacher, also in London, whose specific job is to assist with troubled children, tells me of the most awful behaviour problems, with several children in a class so violent and unpleasant that the other children are afraid to sit near them, and at least 20 minutes of every lesson is spent trying to keep them under control, which is not right for their classmates. Many (but not all) of those children seem to be neglected (their parents are drug addicts, or subject to domestic violence, or single parents who are struggling themselves). A lot of these badly behaved children have no respect for authority and are rude to everyone.

      In the UK it has been against the law for several years to hit children, and there are strict rules about teachers even touching them - like cuddling them if they fall over and hurt themselves.

      I suspect that there is less family cohesion nowadays, and that fewer families expect to eat together round the table, and to sit there at the table chatting until the last person has finished eating. In my family that was always important, but now many people seem to communicate via technology rather than face-to-face. And, of course, children see a lot of bad and violent behaviour on television - most of the exciting action films have people getting their own way by physically fighting - surely that rubs off on their psyche? It doesn't affect all children, but I think it does affect some of the more impressionable ones.

      We can't put the clock back, but I think the best we can do as parents (I have 5 older grandchildren) is to set a good example, showing kindness, respect, fairness, and creativity and sharing prime time with them.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      5 years ago from France

      moonlake: Thanks for the vote up and for sharing your point of view on raising children.

    • moonlake profile image


      5 years ago from America

      Our children were well-behaved in public and at home. I think the biggest problem with American parents now days, if their children act up in public they do not remove them. They keep right on shopping and give them what they want. Children need to know they are children living under your roof and your are their parent and the boss. So many kids now days feel they are the boss in their homes and many of them are they control the house with their screaming nasty attitude.

      Voted up on your hub.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      5 years ago from France

      savvydating: congratulations, it is not easy to be a parent, we are always learning. I am glad to hear your method worked.

    • mecheshier profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you for a very insightful article. I must say, being French that I am a bit biased. :-)

    • savvydating profile image


      6 years ago

      Lovely hub. I am always fascinated by french culture. I raised my own son similarly to the french mothers you describe (not knowingly), but minus the smacking, and with very fine results if I do say so myself. At any rate, I enjoyed your hub very, very much.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      Bethaleg: That is a good point you make, these are very basic principles. At some point society has taken a detour and forgotten about these basic pilars to bring up children and gone instead for easier ways in the short term but which are being damaging in the long term.

      Discipline when correctly applied is also a form of love, one does not have to exclude the other.

    • Bethaleg profile image


      6 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you for a very interesting and useful hub. I only wish every mother could read this! If more of these basic principles were applied in America I do not think we would see so many behavioral issues.

      It is interesting that you point out that a French mother would receive disapproving looks for NOT disciplining her child. Sadly, that mother in America may be reported for child abuse. If societal views cannot be changed, I'm afraid that our childrens behavior will never improve.

      We need more people to read this and start raising their children with respect for authority!

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      kittythedreamer: I believe that meal times are one of the most important parts of the day, not only regarding the meal itself and trying to make it as healthy as possible, but also because it is the best time for the family to sit toguether without interruptions to talk about their day, their plans and things bothering them.

      It is also important for the children to have at least one family meal a day because it is an implicit way of teaching them about family values and good table manners.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      6 years ago from Summerland

      This is awesome, Princessa. Actually much if not all of what the French parents are doing is what I practice with my daughter here in the United States. I think there is a HUGE emphasis in the US to spoil the children with material things and not spend enough quality time with them. And you're right about the meals, too. Mothers tend to just give the kids a quick and easy meal rather than sit their family down to a dinner together...which should include some veggies and fruits. I am working on the meals getting more and more healthy (but it should be noted that we ALWAYS have a sit-down dinner together as a family). Love the french style of parenting...this should be everyone's style!

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      reneelynn hi, I think this style of parenting is very suitable for most children. There are exceptions, of course, but positive discipline is always a good bet.

    • reneelynn profile image


      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Nice, informative article! I do not have children myself yet, but I have heard about the book (Bringing Up Bebe) and this style of parenting from my sister who has a son. I find it interesting, and I do think the French way of parenting is better. My sister is trying this with her son.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      momaoak: Parenting styles are very different from country to country, I have seen the same behaviour being acceptable in some places and extremely bad in others. I think that the important thing is to find which parenting style is better for you and your children.

      Chandryclaire: I like that too. Having time for yourself as a woman means a lot for a mother and it can make a big difference to the daily routine.

      Sinea Pies: It is sad to see that tv programmes give such a bad image. My only solution to that is to limit and the time our children spend in front of the TV. I recently moved houses and we haven't yet installed the tv! Moving to a farm meant that my little ones are spending most of their day outside either playing or doing small garden jobs and after a few months here now, I am glad to say that they do not miss the Tv.

      rebekahELLE: thanks for sharing your experience of both worlds.

      bredandagnes: I completely agree with you. Regardless of what they might say at the start, children do prefer to spend quality fun time with their parents. One of my little ones favourite past times is our family cycling trips on the countryside!

    • momaoak profile image


      6 years ago from Greenwood, AR

      I had never thought about parenting differences around the world before I read this hub. It has opened my mind and I think I will continue to research parenting styles and see what works for my family. Thank you.

    • Chandryclaire profile image


      6 years ago

      I like that the French mothers have free time. That is a rarity in the American culture. Thanks for the article.

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 

      6 years ago from Northeastern United States

      American television promotes disrespect, sad to say. If you look at the "humor" used on made-for-kids shows, politeness and kindness are seldom modeled. It certainly is not the only reason, since training and discipline start at home, but I think it is a contributing factor. Voted up and interesting. This is a great hub.

    • writtenbylv profile image


      6 years ago from Atlanta, Ga.

      Princessa, I'm going to have to agree with you on this one. Very good article! I enjoyed reading it. Merci Beaucoup! :)

    • rebekahELLE profile image


      6 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Princessa, I do agree with you on many points. I saw this first hand when I visited Paris. It actually shocked me when I realized that the entire time I was there I didn't hear one child cry or see any tantrums or kids whining. I saw well behaved, happy children, sometimes entertaining themselves while a parent was talking (on Champs d'Elysses). The little girl was twirling around a lamp post. I also saw it with older children, teenagers. I was staying with a family with two teens. They were respectful, caring and there was much affection between the parent and teens. The father called his son darling, in French, of course. I was so impressed with the open communication between them.

      I know there are parts of America that still raise their children this way. France is quite small in comparison to the entire US. I think it is about twice the size of Colorado in comparison. There are so many cultural differences in America itself. But I also saw that in France also, at least in Paris. There were many cultures represented. I agree that having family nearby is an important factor.

      I'm very interested in reading the book. I think we can learn important values from the French. I love the section about meals and learning early how to eat well. If you don't mind, I'm going to link one of my Paris hubs to this one. I talk about the difference I saw with the children in my hub about an American in Paris. Thanks so much for writing and sharing the images also. I really enjoyed reading about French parenting.

    • bredandagnes profile image


      6 years ago from Ireland

      I couldn't agree in Ireland we have started to follow the American model of empty praise-"you're great at everything"afraid to discipline-in case it would affect their "self esteem" singing them up for all sorts of classes to give them a "head start" and instead of spending time with them -working like crazy to buy them things they didn't need or even want.I learned my lesson when, after returning from a very expensive trip to Disney world-where we had a great time-we went on a scouting trip to the local forest where they spent most days climbing trees and mucking about.They proclaimed that the "best time ever"

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 

      6 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Very interesting. It is pretty much how we do things around here also, I wasn't aware that in America it was different. Anyway, I think it is very important that both parents and children alike are happy and that can be done, parents can have some time on their own, children also and then time together. Children also learn to be more independent and that's great in the long run. All the best.

    • MarieAlice profile image

      Maria Alicia Cardenas 

      6 years ago from Spain

      I agree we have to let kids be kids and as pointed by princessa let them entertain themselves!!! I always remember when my kids where little, they will left the toys behind to start playing with the wrapping paper..that was really fun.....

    • Ivorwen profile image


      6 years ago from Hither and Yonder

      Many people think my parenting is strange, but what you described above is basically how we have chosen to raise our children. They eat well, they are expected to behave, and we take time to do what we as adults need to do.

      Sure, entertaining themselves meant they were swinging from ropes tied to the garage rafters the other day... but isn't that letting children be children?

    • SweetiePie profile image


      6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Our election cycle is going and people are more polarized than ever, and get really heated over things not worth throwing fits about. I mean not in more liberal states like California, but if you even mentioned subsidized child care or health care in certain parts of the country, you are called evil or socialist . Oh well, I just think there are certain models of education and health care that we as Americans could learn from.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      SweetiePie: Having a health care system that works for everyone can make a big difference. And there is no shame in paying very little or nothing towards it,

      the French health care system is based on a social insurance model and contributions to the scheme are based on income.

      I am shocked to think that in the USA that model could be categorized as "evil"

      The French healthcare system has been ranked as one of the best worldwide by the World Health Organization. Here health care is generally free and that can include "spa cures" homeopathy,home care, etc. A friend of mine got a home-helper after the birth of her 7th child and it didn't cost her anything! Yes, having a system that supports you can make a big difference in parenting styles.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      A lot of Americans will get mad at me for this, and my views are considered very left leaning here, but no wonder French mothers can do a good job. In France it is not considered "evil" or "socialistic" to get a reduced price for child care based on your income. In France people venerate eating healthy sit down meals, and socialized medicine is not considered some evil socialist taboo. There are just a lot of things the French are doing that give women the freedom to be themselves, and to be good mothers. There is a lot of talk about freedom here in the US, but the irony a lot of young mothers could not afford to put their children in a nice daycare facility, and forget when it comes to health care. You get something called IEHP here if you are a low income mother in SoCal, and it is not so good, from what I have heard.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      SweetiePie: I think they do, and the craziest thing is that it seems to come without any special effort. I am convinced that what drives them is simply the desire to enjoy life not only as mothers but also as girlfriends/wifes.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      It sounds like French mothers have a good mixture of parenting skills.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      Laura: You are right, I believe that child-rearing in France is greatly influenced by their concept of family life especially in the countryside. I live in a small town where almost everyone knows everyone, grandparents help a lot taking care of their grandchildren and there are lots of family gatherings, like I mentioned above, for Christmas. There is a big emphasis in family life and that includes extended fammily.

      SweetiePie: glad to see you here, as you say: just because you don't have any children (yet) it doesn't mean that you don't have an opinion or indeed experience on how to educate them. Discipline is very important from a very early age and being strict with your children doesn't have to mean to be less loving with them. As I say, I see it very often in here mothers being very strict with their children in important things like the NO tantrum policy, greeting other people and eating times. Yet, this same mothers are very patient letting their children go around until school age with their little cuddly toy (their "doudou"). Also they are very demonstrative when it comes to kisses and cuddles.

    • Princessa profile imageAUTHOR

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      6 years ago from France

      MarieAlice: Thanks for the comment, I am happy that you pointed out the fact that this is not about who is better parent than the other but about parenting styles and how they are influenced by different societies. It was refreshing to see that in France showing authority as a parent is an accepted and Expected behaviour.

      CreateHubpages: This is just a few of the main characteristics that make the French style of parenting so different to the American style of bringing up children.

      Ruchi Urvashi: I love the "Pause". My little ones have learnt to respect my Pause time and they know that Saturday and Sunday morning are MY time. They never interrupt it unless it is really urgent. It is very important for parents to be able to enjoy time off as a couple and children should learn to respect that time.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I do not been to be harsh on fellow Americans, but yes, I do think French children act with a bit more of a degree of decorum, especially in stores and restaurants. When I was a kid we were told not to touch anything when we were in stores our mom was looking at, and I never would have imagined running through a store or a restaurant - screaming like I hear many kids do. One man the other day told me in line at the store that the previous day he had been line at yet another store where a four year old had called his mom the f word because she would not buy him a candy bar. I know Americans think we should be closed off to other ways of thinking, but I think some American parents would benefit from being more open minded.

      I know once I was told I was telling someone how to raise their kids when I made a suggestion about something, and it was implied that single people without children could possibly know anything about what is best for kids. Well gee, I used to be a kid once, I have a niece and a nephew, and I am not as out of it as some parents might think. It is the stubborn attitude some Americans "You cannot tell me how to raise my kid!" that results in the tantrums and fit throwing. It just get worse as kids get older, so maybe some parents should become more open minded earlier on.

    • LauraGT profile image


      6 years ago from MA

      Great hub! I had heard about the book on NPR, but hadn't read it. There are so many factors, and you point out some really important differences in parenting. I wonder if proximity to relatives? It seems like people may stay closer to home in France (it's much smaller, so even going "far" away is still a car ride!). Does this contribute? Is there more communal child-rearing, even in a casual way? Very interesting. Thanks!

    • Ruchi Urvashi profile image

      Ruchi Urvashi 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Very interesting, I read each and every word. After reading this article, i think French parenting is better. I like the PAUSE time which I might think of adding in my personal life.

    • CreateHubpages profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice information about French Parenting.

    • MarieAlice profile image

      Maria Alicia Cardenas 

      6 years ago from Spain

      amazing hub!!! I totally agree with you.. I was raised the peruvian style (well, I was not a bad girl), that means in a really conservative way, no bad behaviors were allowed. Parents can show their authority wherever and whenever they need. When I moved to the USA I realized that if you show authority in public you are a bad parent!!!! I never get to like that... Here in Spain is almost the same, so to tell you the truth, I really don´t like the way my kids behave not because of what I try to teach them, but because of what they learn every day...

      This is not about who is better parent than the other, but thanks to my experience of living in different countries and for what I read, I do agree with you on many of the things you wrote!!!

      Thank you for this great hub!!!


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