French savoir faire of raising well-behaved children
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.