Raising your kids the French way
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French Lessons1 of 11
By Jessica Baumgardner
Like most American mothers, I worry about my parenting skills. I worry when I have to resort to bribery to compel my kids to do simple tasks—like getting dressed. I worry when I let them watch too much TV or eat too many Goldfish before dinner. So it was with real interest that I read the new book from American in Paris Pamela Druckerman, Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting. The French do everything better, from cheese plates to wearing the perfect casual sneaker. Could they also have the secret to raising kids?
No Interrupting2 of 11
French parents believe that when your child rudely interrupts you, you should calmly say, "I'm in the middle of speaking to someone. Please wait and I'll be with you in a moment." Et voila!
Obviously, no one likes being interrupted. But here's the thing: We've all tried this line. I've said it calmly and firmly and you know what happens? The kid pauses for about two seconds and interrupts me again, "But MAHMMM! I need to tell you something!"
Relax About Reading3 of 11
French schools don't push academics on preschoolers, instead focusing on teaching social skills and self-control.
If I've learned anything since becoming a mother, it's that the adults are not in control of the timeline. Want your daughter to read at four because that's what your mother-in-law claims your husband did? Nope. She will learn to read (miraculously, seemingly without help from you) when she is ready at six. Want your son to be out of his Pull-Ups by three? Think again, sister—he has other potty plans.
One Snack a Day4 of 11
French kids eat one substantial afternoon snack, called the gouter.
I'd love to live in a culture where I wasn't expected to carry saddlebags filled with crackers and apple slices. My kids whine if I don't have a buffet spread in the back of the Subaru for them to idly munch on during school pickups. But I don't think this technique would work here, unless all mothers agreed to ban on-the-go snacking; when left sans snacks, my four-year-old son Ezra begs for food from strange children and mothers, while I look like the negligent parent.
Hand Kids Over5 of 11
French kids start going on overnight school trips at the age of five, and many spend a week or two alone with relatives during school holidays.
In my daughter's kindergarten, a troop of parents "chaperoned" every field trip, even if it was just a walk down the street. While we Americans may be a bit overzealous about safety, this tip brushes over how kids feel when they are left at a young age. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger—true, but that's a tricky aphorism to parent by.
No Kid Food6 of 11
French moms don't cook their children separate meals of chicken nuggets or hot dogs.
Of course, the French are right about mealtime protocol—this is their area of expertise! According to picky eater pro Ellyn Satter, children need to be served a new food 15 to 20 times before they like it. While I do break out a box of mac and cheese on occasion, I try to follow this rule, too. I can proudly say my 6-year-old daughter ate all of her rainbow chard tonight. (Maybe because it has the word "rainbow" in it, but whatever.)
Back Off at the Playground7 of 11
French parents believe that once a child can walk on his own and safely climb up the slide, their job is to watch from the sidelines as he plays.
This might just be my inherent laziness talking, but I wholeheartedly agree. Every time I try to be a "fun" mom and play on the playground alongside my kids, my womanly hips get wedged on some intestinal curve of the spiral slide and I have to awkwardly dislodge myself.
One Curse Word's OK8 of 11
Parents allow French kiddies to say a special naughty word: caca boudin, or "poop sausage."
Everyone needs to say poop sausage from time to time. My 4-year-old runs into preschool every morning to exchange greetings with his best girlfriend, Coco: "Hi, Poop Face!" he screams, and she gleefully returns the greeting. Her parents and I shrug and move on because any attention given to the naughty nature of their language would likely lead to its increase. Now if only I could get him to stop saying the F word...
No Teepee in the Living Room9 of 11
The French don't let children's toys and games reside in common living areas.
First of all, some of those teepees on Etsy are totally chic, but I understand the motivation behind this one. If you're not vigilant, the colorful plastic detritus of childhood can overwhelm a space. I try to relegate toys to kids' rooms, but kids want to play where the people are, not alone in their rooms. That is, until they're teenagers and we cant get them to leave their rooms.
Your Bedroom Is Sacred10 of 11
A child doesn't have the right to barge into your bedroom whenever he wants.
When I was growing up, my sisters and I were terrified of going into our parents' bedroom. We knocked timidly on the closed door and waited for permission to enter, afraid we would see something adult. But, seeing as our bedroom door is made of glass and doesn't lock, my husband and I have zero privacy.
Treat Men Differently11 of 11
Frenchwomen think of their partners as "adorably hapless creatures" who are "biologically incapable" of keeping track of childcare details or doing the laundry.
Excusez moi, but this is a pile of caca boudin. If Simone de Beauvoir taught us anything, it's that France may be a bastion of style and culture, but its gender politics suck. Giving your husband a pass from being an equal partner in domestic duties because you think men are incompetent is insulting to both genders. And this is exactly what men want us to think when they accidentally-on-purpose incorrectly load the dishwasher.