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They’re allowed to do difficult things themselves

They’re allowed to do difficult things themselves
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“Me do it!” is a favourite toddler phrase and for good reason – the early years are when children discover all the cool ways their new body works and how to use it. But a well-meaning parent can too-easily squelch this budding autonomy. How? By doing everything for the child. French parenting counteracts that philosophy by treating children more like adults-in-training than helpless babes.

“The French believe that kids feel confident when they’re able to do things for themselves, and do those things well,” writes Pamela Druckerman, an American mother who chronicled her experience raising children in France in her book Bringing Up Bébé and the follow-up Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting. “The de’clic (DEH-kleek) is an aha moment when a child figures out how to do something important on his own… It’s a welcome sign of maturity and autonomy.”

Sure, you can do (fill in the blank) better and faster than your kid – you have a lifetime of training, after all – but that won’t help them learn how to do it and feel the self-confidence that comes with doing something yourself. Plus, it teaches grit, and grit is one of the personality traits most associated with future success in life.

Learn 11 ways to make your kids more emotionally resilient.

They are praised sparingly

They are praised sparingly
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Many of us, fairly or not, have gotten a reputation for the “everyone gets a trophy” style of parenting. Fearful of hurting tender feelings, parents praise every child for everything. But while it might save tears in the short term, in the long run all that praise becomes diluted and meaningless. Instead, Druckerman notes, “After children have learned to talk, [French] adults don’t praise them for saying just anything. French parenting is about praising kids for saying interesting things, and for speaking well.”

When children truly earn your praise, they will feel a true sense of accomplishment and take pride in what they learn.

That being said, here are 10 compliments your kids really need to hear.

They understand adults-only time

They understand adults-only time
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Kids are kids and grown-ups are grown-ups, with all the differences in development and maturity that implies. So why do so many parents insist on having their kids with them all the time? Perhaps it’s guilt about being away from them at work or the misguided notion that parents have to be everything to their children, but it makes mums and dads feel burned out and often requires more of children than they are able. The solution, according to Druckerman, is to have dedicated adult time (and we don’t just mean sex).

“In French parenting, the parents have managed to be involved without becoming obsessive,” she writes. “They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there’s no need to feel guilty about this. ‘Evenings are for the parents,’ one Parisian mother tells me.”

Learn 17 secrets of the happiest families.

They are taught as infants to sleep early and well

They are taught as infants to sleep early and well
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The stereotypical bleary-eyed, exhausted new mother is rare in France, according to Druckerman. This isn’t because French babies instantly know how to sleep through the night but rather because French parents prioritise teaching babies to “do their nights” from the very beginning. What does this look like in practice? Simply pausing before you jump in to help, allowing the baby a chance to self-soothe. Many infants cycle through brief periods of wakefulness before falling back asleep, and if you allow them a minute to do so they will learn not to depend on rocking, feeding, dummies, or some other external sleep aid.

These are the two questions most asked by desperate and exhausted new parents.

Fruits and vegetables are their first foods

Fruits and vegetables are their first foods
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French children are notoriously unpicky eaters, as Druckerman recounts in her experience at her daughter’s school where even toddlers happily ate braised beets, snails, spinach and other “adult” foods – not a chicken nugget in sight. Their secret: repeatedly serving these foods and expecting them to eat it. There is no cooking of separate meals for adults and children, she writes, as kids are expected to eat the same meal as their parents. Even babies are started on pureed versions of the fruits and vegetables their parents eat rather than the “bland baby cereal” many infants start on. Training tiny taste buds from the beginning helps kids grow into unfussy eaters. And, she adds, they worry far less about allergies than their Western counterparts, allowing young children a wider variety of foods.

They are allowed to suffer sometimes

They are allowed to suffer sometimes
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Painful experiences are some of the best learning opportunities, and trying to shelter children from this fact of life will only delay or even blunt their emotional development. Druckerman quotes her French doctor, writing, “You don’t say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Getting injections and experiencing pain is part of life. There’s no reason to apologise for that. If you spare them every kind of discomfort, you are preparing great miseries for them.”

Letting your little one experience reasonable hurts can feel terribly painful for you too but instead of trying to prevent hurts, spend that precious time teaching them how to deal with them. They’ll grow up to be resilient and good problem solvers.

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They know saying “hello” and polite manners are non-negotiable

They know saying “hello” and polite manners are non-negotiable
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“In the United States, a 4-year-old American kid isn’t obliged to greet me when he walks into my house. He gets to skulk in under the umbrella of his parents’ greeting. And in an American context, that’s supposed to be fine with me. I don’t need the child’s acknowledgment because I don’t quite count him as a full person; he’s in a separate kids’ realm,” Druckerman writes, adding that this inability to hold a discussion with adults continues well into the teen years and young adulthood. “Part of what the French obsession with bonjour [greeting others] reveals is that, in France, kids don’t get to have this shadowy presence. The child greets, therefore he is. Just as any adult who walks into my house has to acknowledge me, any child who walks in must acknowledge me too.”

This expectation of eye contact, a polite hello, and good social manners starts from the minute the French child can say hello, teaching them social manners that will benefit them for a lifetime. This isn’t to say it will come easily, however, so be patient with little ones as they learn.

Here are 17 forgotten manners every parent should teach their child. 

Their mums maintain their personal style and independence

Their mums maintain their personal style and independence
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If it’s one thing the French are known for, it’s their dedication to fashion. In Paris, at least, Druckerman notes that new mums don’t get a pass on looking put-together. This isn’t meant as a punishment but as a way of keeping your own identity after childbirth. “If you act (and dress) as if you have a fascinating inner life, you may soon find that you actually do – and that you feel more balanced as a result,” she writes.

Ultimately it isn’t really about what you’re wearing but that it’s important to still take care of yourself. You don’t have to wear Chanel to playgroup, but you will feel better if you change out of your spit-up-stained leggings and throw on a nice top.

Treats are actually treats

Treats are actually treats
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Early on in her French experience, Druckerman explains how she watched the young daughter of a friend take an offered treat and then put it away for later instead of immediately diving in. She’d learned this because her French mother insisted on only eating treats with a meal and not allowing perpetual snacking. Unlike many kids who are often plied with crackers the second they express a desire to eat, French kids routinely go several hours without eating. This makes them hungry enough to eat their healthy meals (beets and snails, remember?) along with teaching them the critical skill of delayed gratification. Food is to be enjoyed and nothing is “bad” – but only within the boundaries parents set. And eating together as a family has immense health benefits too.

Their parents say “no” and mean it

Their parents say “no” and mean it
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How many times have you told your children “no” and then caved in later due to their whining or rationalisations? If you’re French, then the answer is likely close to zero. French parenting is about the belief in a firm “no” and that the parent’s answer is not up for debate. Druckerman quotes the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writing, “Give willingly, refuse unwillingly. But let your refusal be irrevocable. Let no entreaties move you; let your ‘no,’ once uttered, be a wall of brass, against which the child may exhaust his strength some five or six times, but in the end he will try no more to overthrow it. Thus you will make him patient, equable, calm and resigned, even when he does not get all he wants.”

This can feel a lot easier said than done, especially as an exhausted parent facing an incredibly persistent child. But it’s worth enduring a few tantrums now as it leads to much better behaviour overall, Druckerman explains.

Discover 11 bad parenting traits you have – without even knowing it.

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