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When it comes to parenting in France, you don't need a translator to tell you 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 je ne sais quoi, but, as the author and French ex-pat, Florence Mars tells MyDomaine, it's because they were raised to be incredibly well-behaved. (Oh, and impeccably well-dressed, too.)
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"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—and doing things very much comme il faut, meaning, the way it should be."
Enthusiastic advocates swear by French parents' strict approach to every aspect of child-rearing while staunch opponents maintain the Parisian way does more harm than good. Really any parent can find a happy medium—and you can learn a lot by analyzing the differences between the two parenting styles, especially the ways in which the French teach their children discipline, etiquette, and yes, how to dress.
If you've ever wondered how your Parisian friends get their kids to enjoy their meals quietly and have them clearing their plates—all while using the right fork—it's because French parents abide by these rules.
Baby Talk Is Banned
"Goo-goo, ga-ga" doesn't exist in the world of French parenting. Starting while children are in their infancies, the French always communicate in normal voices and tones, says American mother Pamela Druckerman, the author of "Bringing Up Bébé," a book on the wisdom of French parenting. Even if a baby is too young to understand the conversation, French parents believe children are never too young to learn proper communication via whole words and phrases.
Interrupting Not Allowed
Although saying "please" and "thank you" is important in any culture, French moms and dads take the "children should be seen, not heard" concept very seriously. During mealtimes, kids are taught, "pretty much since day one, to be quiet during the meal, to sit still, and not to 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.
Always Show Respect
When it comes to addressing adults (and people of all ages, for that matter), Mars says, "Children must say hello and look people in the eyes." At age four or five, youngsters are taught to greet adults with "bonjour, madame" or "bonjour, monsieur" as a sign of respect. The same goes for addressing other kids, too: Laid-back greetings like "hey" or "yo" are strictly verboten, she adds.
Dress For The Occasion
"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."
Their approach to fashion goes back to respect, and it's something kids carry with them into adulthood, 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." And by "best," Mars means no short skirts with heels, no white socks with black shoes, and, "no Crocs—whatever the occasion." (Now that's something we can get behind.)
Contrary to the American habit of snacking often (and usually on unhealthy, processed foods), the French and their kids eat breakfast, lunch, maybe an afternoon snack, and then dinner—with no chips or juice boxes on the side. Mealtime is always a scheduled occurrence, which is probably also the reason that the French have the utmost self-control when it comes to what, and when, they eat.
Mealtime Is A Family Affair
Grabbing dinner to go and letting little ones scarf everything down on the drive home is not the French way. In France, mealtime is taken seriously—from the foods they eat to how they eat them. And, "above all," says Mars, "we all have to sit together for dinner."
Kids Eat Whatever Parents Eat
For many U.S. parents, when it comes to feeding their kids, convenience is a number-one priority. And although there are plenty of healthy, organic foods available in American grocery stores, the French view whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, as end-all, be-all diet staples.
Starting from the time babies are ready for solid foods, French parents swap veggies for rice cereals and kids typically eat whatever the adults are eating. You won't see a French parent feeding her kid pre-packaged PB&J sandwiches, animal-shaped cookies, or cartoon-themed junk foods. Such exposure to "adult foods" helps French kids develop objective palettes, too. In her book, "French Kids Eat Everything," the author Karen Le Billon maintains you'll always hear Parisian parents telling their children, "You don't need to eat it, you just need to taste it."