French savoir faire of raising well-behaved children

The French introduce lots of different foods at an early age and favour a variety of tasty vegetables.
The French introduce lots of different foods at an early age and favour a variety of tasty vegetables. Vadim Ponomarenko

FASHION, food, cafe culture, the Eiffel Tower and a big bike race - the French are admired for many things, and author Pamela Druckerman has added one more to the list: their parenting style.

While living in Paris with her young family, the American-born journalist began asking herself how the French managed to raise such well-behaved children.

She turned her insights into a book, French Children Don't Throw Food.

Her new book, French Parents Don't Give In, boils child-rearing down to 100 tips of what she describes as "the smartest and most salient principles about parenting" that she has learned from French parents and childcare experts.

The book is a handbook on how to get away from the sort of kid-centred "intensive" outcome-focused parenting that has found favour during the past 20 years with parents who want kids who can read by the age of six and score the best university places.

Instead, the French focus is on how to raise a human being who is polite, respectful, independent, can have fun, can work out their own problems and disputes - and eat all their vegetables.

Druckerman's take on French parenting will bring relief to parents who feel guilty because they haven't read all the books on a parenting or secured every cupboard in the house with childproof locks.

The French tips provided by Druckerman are very much common sense "things that French parents do by intuition, tradition or trial-and-error" but which she notes are now backed up by research.

And the message against over-intellectualising and micro-managing the parenthood gig is evident from the first tip: Pregnancy is not a research project.

"French mothers-to-be might read a baby book or two but they don't baby proof their homes beyond recognition, or select a stroller as if they were choosing a husband," Druckerman writes.

"Making a baby is more mysterious and meaningful than anything you've ever done. You can dwell on the enormity of that without trying to micromanage your pregnancy and without anointing a personal guru. The most important voice to have in your head is your own."


Take a tip from the French


Be polite to your baby

French parents tend not to speak down to their infants in song-song baby talk but they do pay them the courtesy of saying "bonjour", "please" and "thank you".

If you believe that your baby understands you, it's never too early to start modelling good manners.

Vegetables are a French child's first food

If your baby's first food is bland rice cereal, she'll probably take to it. But why not start with something more exciting.

French parents usually feed their babies flavour-packed pureed spinach, carrots, courgettes and other vegetables.

By introducing lots of different foods at an early age, they are trying to launch their children on a lifelong relationship with these flavours and introduce them to the pleasures of eating.

Serve food in courses, vegetables first

Your family meals don't need to be fancy. Just bring out some vegetables before anything else.

If your kids haven't been snacking all day, they will be hungry and more likely to eat what's put in front of them first.

A vegetable starter doesn't have to be elaborate.

It can be a bowl of sugar-snap peas, some cut up cherry tomatoes with a dash of olive oil and some balsamic vinegar, or some sauteed broccoli.

Just put a serving on each child's plate and wait. Then follow with a main course and dessert.

Leave time for play

A few music or dance classes are fine. But the French believe in giving little children lots of free time.

"When the child plays, he constructs himself," one of my daughter's Parisian nursery teachers explained.

Extra-curricular activities are for pleasure, not competitive advantage

You're not building a bionic child. Choose activities that you child enjoys, then let him do them at his own pace.

Don't be the referee

French parents try to avoid becoming the arbiters of all disputes - whether between siblings, playmates, or new acquaintances at the playground.

They try to empower their children with the authority and know-how to work things out on their own.

Birthday parties are for children

In Paris, from about the age of three, birthday parties and play dates are usually drop-offs.

French mothers don't feel they must supervise another adult supervising their child.

It's a practical way of coping with the fact that all parents are extremely busy and that - while we're delighted that our kids get along - we're not all actually friends.

Pretend to agree

No matter how misguided your partner's proclamations about the household rules are, never contradict him in front of the children. Wait and speak to him in private.

He should do the same for you. That way, you'll build up complicity between you.

And since the rules aren't up for discussion, they'll have more force.

Explain the reason behind the rule

When you say "no", you should always explain why. You're not trying to scare your child into obeying you.

Rather, you want to create a world that's coherent and predictable to her, and to show that you respect their autonomy and intelligence.

You're not disciplining, you're educating

The next time your child speaks with a mouth full of pasta, remember that you're teaching her table manners gradually, in the same way that you would teach her maths.

In other words, the learning doesn't happen all at once.

Don't jump on your child for every offence. Save your punishments for the felonies.

It will help her learn what is important. 

SOURCE: French Parents Don't Give In, Doubleday, $27.95.


>> To read more lifestyle stories

Topics:  children france lifestyle parenting

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Weekend remembering the forever young

Weekend to Remember our loved ones killed on the roads.

Paul Capsis set to bring the music to Tropical Fruits

HIT: Paul Capsis accepts his award for Best Performance in an Australian Contemporary Concert at the 6th Annual Helpmann Awards in Sydney, Monday, July, 31, 2006.

With a show called Addicted to the Nightlife

Daughters break down in nursing home murder trial

Outside Sydney Supreme Court for the trial of accused murderer Megan Jean Haines are (from left) Shannon Parkinson (granddaughter of suspected murder victim and St Andrew's aged care centre resident Marie Darragh) and Janet Parkinson and Charli Darragh (daughters).

Account of mother's autopsy drives daughters to tears

Local Partners

Exterminate! Exterminate! The Daleks are coming

THE Power of the Daleks is one of the most celebrated Doctor Who adventures, revived in a brand new animartion 50 years after it was broadcast in the UK

November will be a big month for NORPA

ARTS: NORPA has added new shows to the Dreamland season from November 23 to December 10.

Peter Garrett, Dreamland and the 2017 Season Launch, among others

Barry Gibb is coming to Bluesfest 2017

FANS: Barry Gibb talks to a fan next to a cardboard cutout of his young self.

Aged 70, Gibb has re-launched his solo music career with a new album

Declan Kelly and the Rising Sun to shine bright at festival

Declan Kelly & The Rising Sun is one of the headlining acts at this year's festival.

Main stage set to pump with radiant reggae and dub vibes

RECAP: The Bachelorette S2E12 - the finale

Georgia Love pictured in a scene from The Bachelorette finale.

GEORGIA chooses Lee and leaves Matty J heartbroken.

The Bachelorette finale: Georgia declares her love for Lee

Georgia Love with The Bachelorette winner Lee Elliott.

MATTY J left heartbroken in emotional grand final.

Exterminate! Exterminate! The Daleks are coming

BCC Lismore will be screening a limited-run theatrical special presentation event of Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks animated series from Saturday, November 12.

This is one of the most celebrated Doctor Who stories

Tom Cruise credits success to Scientology

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise credits his success to Scientology

Hacksaw Ridge leads AACTA Awards nominations

Andrew Garfield and Teresa Palmer in a scene from the movie Hacksaw Ridge.

MEL Gibson's wartime drama opens in cinemas next week.

Top 5 events at Tropical Fruits 2016

IT'S ON: Tropical Fruits Festival over New Years.

Festival guide hits the streets this weekend

Tough times in CBD: Woolies says goodbye Ipswich

Woolworths in the Ipswich Mall.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times

The last day of trading will be January 1

Look at me! Kath and Kim home up for sale

Kath and Kim from the iconic Aussie TV series.

'Crack open the Baileys and grab a box of BBQ Shapes'

How to fit 100,000 new homes on the Coast

Property, real estate, housing, suburb,  August 2016

Fitting 2m extra people in south-east Qld in 25 years a balance

Hinterland horse stud passed in for $8.25 million

UNREAL: This Maleny estate is incredible.

12-bedroom hinterland horse stud still available

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?

Kiwi siblings snap up Dotcom mansion for $32.5m

The new toy company owners of the Coatesville mansion want replace any controversy with positivity and fun. Photo / Barfoot and Thompson

The trio paid $32.5 million for the property in June