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Forget the Chinese Tiger mom. French moms are the ones we're supposed to watch when it comes to parenting, according to the newest literary guilt trip, Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman, an American raising her three children in Paris. Druckerman penned the book after observing French kids' alarmingly consistent good behavior in comparison to her own substandard American specimens. Here, 10 things we should learn from French moms, according to Druckerman's book.
1. Relax. From the moment American mothers get the positive pregnancy test, there’s a pressure to be perfect. The French apparently believe it’ll all be fine so they don’t stress about the soft cheese they downed while pregnant and don't try to teach their eight-month-old Mandarin.
2. Practice “La Pause.” French mamans and papas don't walk through the early weeks and months of life in a sleep-induced haze, according to Druckerman, because they practice “La Pause” when their babies are as young as a few weeks old. If their enfant wails at night, French parents wait five minutes before rushing to the bassinet so that infants learn to self-soothe, which helps them learn to sleep through the night. Science backs this up, according to the book: In an American Academy of Sleep Medicine report, one study gave some mothers instructions about concepts like “la pause,” while others were given no sleep instructions. At eight weeks old, all of the babies whose parents received instructions slept through the night, while only 23 percent of the other babies did.
3. Chuck the Cheerios. French kids are great at sitting for long stretches at mealtime. Why? Druckerman claims that the French don’t stuff their kids full of Cheerios or Goldfish every time they whine. Endless snacking doesn’t happen there and mealtimes are on a regular schedule, so kids sit still during dinner because they're actually hungry.
4. Embrace frustration. There's a a premium on the concept of waiting in France, says Druckerman. French moms and dads avoid instant gratification and try to teach kids to deal with frustration. To back this up, she interviewed Walter Mischel, the man behind the infamous 1960s "marshmallow test," which examined how long children could delay gratification when a marshmallow was put in front of them. The kids who were able to resist as four-year-olds scored higher in skills like concentration and reading as teenagers.
5. Bake a cake. The French are known for their cuisine, but when it comes to child-rearing, Druckerman argues that "baking doesn’t just yield a lot of treats, it teaches kids how to control themselves." Measuring ingredients and waiting while the treat cooks teaches even very young children how to be patient for a reward.
6. Skip your daycare guilt. Americans often expend a lot of guilt when it comes to sending their children to daycare. In contrast, the French typically think that state-run daycare, called the crèche, is the best option for their child.
7. Focus on yourself. French moms don’t spend every waking moment in service of their children, says Druckerman. They don’t beat themselves up if they quit nursing after three months and getting their bodies back into pre-baby shape is considered a priority, not an indulgence. Most college-educated women return to the workforce.
8. Stand back. American parents often push their kids to excel -- and compete -- from an early age. Instead, the French head to the playground and let their kids play on their own while they sit on a bench. Their weekends are conspicuously activity-free and kids are forced to use their imaginations in free play.
9. Offer new foods at least twenty times. French parents don’t give up if their child rejects a food once or twice, but continue to serve up the same food 20 times or more (and try preparing it different ways) without offering another food as a replacement. As a result, "kids menus" at French restaurants rarely exist. This approach cuts down on childhood obesity rates, Druckerman says, pointing to studies that show 3.1 percent of French five- and six-year-olds are obese, versus 10.4 percent of American kids between ages 2 and 5.
10. Be the boss. It's okay to instill a bit of fear in your children, according to French moms -- it gets them to behave. Issue your ‘no’ commandingly, and don’t back down. Presenting yourself as a non-negotiating authority figure early on will get your kids to behave -- vite!
Hear moms weigh in on the French approach to parenting.