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The Wisdom Of French Parenting

Updated on November 17, 2015
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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

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

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© 2012 Wendy Iturrizaga


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