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What French Children Do That Americans Don't

In Bringing Up Bebe, author Pamela Druckerman investigates the difference between raising a child in France vs. The United States. According to Druckerman, these are the Top 5 differences between French kids and American kids.
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In Bringing Up Bebe, author Pamela Druckerman investigates the difference between raising a child in France vs. The United States. According to Druckerman, these are the Top 5 differences between French kids and American kids.

1. French children sleep through the night

Druckerman noticed that babies in France sleep through the night, whereas in America, newborns wake up in the middle of the night. Druckerman wondered, "Why is there a difference?"

She discovered that French parents practice something that she refers to as "The Pause." If parents do the pause in the baby's first two months the baby can learn to fall back to sleep on his own.

She explains,

"Give your baby a chance to self-soothe, don't automatically respond, even from birth." [p. 47]

"Adults wake up between their sleep cycles too, but typically don't remember this because they've learned to plunge right into the next one. [p. 48] You needn't pause for very long. Some French parents wait five minutes or so. Otherwise wait a bit more, or less. They're not letting the baby cry it out. If after these few minutes he's still crying, they reason that he must need something." [p. 293]

2. French children have a wider culinary palate

They say that if a baby rejects a food, parents should wait a few days and then offer the same food again. Druckerman writes,

"The conversation about food should go beyond 'I like it' or 'I don't like it.' [The French] suggest showing kids a vegetable and asking, 'Do you think this is crunch, and that it'll make a sound when you bit it? What does this flavor remind you of? What do you feel in your mouth? [p. 205] In France there's no such thing as 'kids food.'" [p. 206]

3. French children must use the "four magic words"

In America there are two magic words: please and thank you. "It turns out that in French there are four magic words: s'il vous plaît (please), merci (thank you), bonjour (hello), and au revoir (good-bye). Please and thank you are necessary, but not nearly sufficient. I hadn't realized that learning to say bonjour is a central part of becoming French." [p. 156]

"I think tourists are often treated gruffly in Parisian cafes and shops partly because they aren't beginning interactions with bonjour, even if they switch to English afterward. It's crucial to say bonjour upon climbing into a taxi, when a waitress first approaches your table in a restaurant or before asking a salesperson if the pants come in your size. Saying bonjour acknowledges the other person's humanity. [p. 157]

4. French children maintain an identity separate from their parents

"If your child is your only goal in life, it's not good for the child." [p. 149]

American has a culture of putting children at the center of the family. In speaking about a French mother's experience living in America, Druckerman writes, "At a big Thanksgiving with her husband's family, she was astonished to see that when a three-year-old girl arrived, all twenty adults at the table stopped talking and focused on the child. 'I thought, oh, this is incredible, this culture. It's like the kid is a God.'"

5. French children are given more freedom

French parents strive to be very strict about a few key things (this is referred to as the "cadre" or frame), but inside this frame, they give kids as much freedom as they can handle. For example:

  • At bedtime you have to stay in your room, but inside your room you can do whatever you want
  • You can watch only two hours of television this weekend, but you choose when to use these two hours and you choose the DVD or the show you want to watch
  • You have to taste a bit of everything at a meal, but you don't have to eat it all. [p. 330]

For a more in depth summary, listen to Episode #24 of the On Books Podcast, and buy the book Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.