When it comes to French parenting, you don't need a translator to explain that there are clear differences between the ways Americans and Europeans raise their children. Kids from France may seem as if they were simply born with that je ne sais quoi, but as author and French expat Florence Mars told MyDomaine earlier this year, it's because they were raised to be incredibly well behaved and impeccably well dressed.
"The American upbringing is more child-centric … [and] definitely about making sure your kids are comfortable, something that we really do not care so much about in Paris," explains Mars. "The French way is all about respecting rules, tons of rules, doing things very much comme il faut (the way it should be)."
Enthusiastic advocates swear by French parents' strict approach to every aspect of child-rearing while staunch opponents maintain that the Parisian way does more harm than good. That being said, it's generally a good idea to find a happy medium between any two worlds—which is why we've decoded exactly how French and American parents differ in the way they teach discipline, etiquette, mealtime, and style.
Ever wonder how your European friends make it look so easy to get their kids to eat so quietly at dinner? Here are the top French parenting tips that Americans should know.
Respect the Rules
It's safe to say that saying "please" and "thank you" is important in both American and French parenting, but mothers and fathers in France take the idea of "children should be seen and not heard" much more seriously than their stateside counterparts.
At mealtime, kids are taught "pretty much since day one, to be quiet during the meal, to sit still, and to not interrupt the adults," says Mars. And silence isn't the only rule at the dining table: Children are also expected to chew with their mouths closed, sit up straight, keep their elbows off the table, and never put their shoes on the chair.
When it comes to addressing adults (and people of all ages, for that matter), Mars says, "There is an international agreement here: Children need to say hello and look people in the eyes." At 4 or 5, kids are taught to greet adults with "bonjour, madame" or "bonjour, monsieur" as a sign of respect. The same goes for addressing other kids. Laid-back greetings like "hey" or "yo" are strictly banned from the books, says Mars.
No Multitasking During Meals
As tempting as it is to grab dinner to go and scarf everything down during the drive home (think of the time you'll save!), that's simply not the French way. In France, mealtime is taken seriously, from the foods that they eat to how they eat it.
Contrary to the American habit of snacking often (and usually on not-so-healthy packaged foods), the French eat breakfast, lunch, maybe an afternoon snack, and dinner—with no chips or juice boxes on the side. "Above all, we all have to sit together for dinner," stresses Mars.
Speaking of eating, read on to find out what's on the menu during French meals. (Hint: It's not always escargot.)
Ditch the Kids-Food Aisle
Judging from the myriad grab-and-go options in the refrigerated grocery aisles, convenience is clearly the top concern with U.S. parents when it comes to eating. While there are plenty of organic and healthy snack alternatives available in American stores, nothing can replace fruits and veggies. That's the thinking behind French parents' approach to eating, as Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Woman Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, explains.
In France, kids eat whatever their parents eat and on their family's schedule. That's right: no pre-packaged PB&J sandwiches, no animal-shaped cookies, and no cartoon-themed junk food. Starting from the time babies are ready for solid foods, French parents swap out veggies for rice cereals and typically feed kids the same things that adults eat.
All of this also explains why French kids appear to have a more open-minded palette: as French Kids Eat Everything author Karen Le Billon says, Parisian parents tell their children that "you don't need to eat it, you just need to taste it."
There's also no on-demand eating in France (i.e., no midmorning snacking, as mentioned above), which is why French people always seem to exhibit the utmost self-control when it comes to food.
Always Dress for the Occasion
No wonder Americans are enchanted by French style: From the time they're born, their parents make sure that they're always dressed appropriately for the occasion, and that habit tends to carry on into adulthood.
"Kids do not choose their outfits until a little later in life," explains Mars. "It is very important to us to have well-dressed children, and most of my French friends would rather die than let their children go out in sweatpants if they don't have P.E."
This approach to style all comes back to respect, says Mars. "You go to school, so you need to be dressed properly even if there is no uniform. You go to a birthday party, you need to be at your best." This means no short skirts with heels, no white socks with black shoes, and "no Crocs—whatever the occasion is," Mars explains.
Forget the Baby Talk
"Goo-goo, ga-ga" doesn't exist in the world of French parenting. Starting in their children's infancy, the French always talk in a normal voice, says Druckerman. Even if their baby is too young to understand the conversation, French parents believe that children are never too young to learn how to communicate in a mature way.
Do you agree with the French approach to parenting? Share your thoughts in the comments.