Why Every Parent Should Read Bringing Up Bébé: 10 Lessons I Learned from the French

Why Every Parent Should Read Bringing Up Bébé: 10 Lessons I Learned from the French

10 Parenting Secrets from Brining Up Bebe: How French Parents Teach Their Children to Sleep Well, Eat Well, and Have Self-Control

When my oldest daughter was just a couple of months old, a friend of mine read Bringing up Bébé.

At the time, my friend didn’t have children of her own, but she was so impressed with the book that she told all of us friends that it was how she wanted to raise her kids.

She was greeted with doubt by many people. After all, aren’t we at the mercy of whatever child we end up with? And doesn’t everyone change their parenting ideas once they have children?

But I was curious. I figured worst-case scenario, I wouldn’t agree with anything in the book, but I would learn how a friend is planning to raise her children.

In the best case scenario, I would find It helpful.

So I went to the library and grabbed the book. 

Let’s just say I was hooked.

Not only did the ideas presented in Bringing up Bébé seem practical, applicable, and attainable; but they were wrapped in a humorous story.

No matter how many times I read this book (I may have had to purchase it…) I always chuckle to myself as her self-reflective story unfolds.

My favorite thing about the book though is the practical advice on how to make your children pleasant to be around.

I whittled the advice in the book down to my 10 Favorite Tips from  Bringing up Bébé… and 5 things that I could have done without. 

I hope you find some of the tips as helpful as I did!

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10 Lessons I Learned from Bringing Up Bébé

1) French Babies Learn to Sleep

Gently and gradually over the first few months, French babies become expert little sleepers. 

French parents put learning to sleep in the same category as learning to eat a balanced diet, learning to ride a bike, learning to have good hygiene, and learning to be patient. 

They look at sleeping as a skill like any other skill that everyone can and must learn.  And they believe that it is their duty to teach them this skill. 

They believe that every healthy child can learn to sleep soundly through the nights and at nap times from a young age. French babies are usually “doing their nights” (sleeping all night) by about three months old.

French parents seem to understand basic sleep science intuitively. 

For example, babies make a lot of noise when they are learning to connect their sleep cycles. French parents keep this in mind and know that if they wait a few minutes before rushing in, a restless baby might just put themselves back to sleep.

The parents call this pausing. They stop and listen, and wait a minute (or five) before running into the room.

They fear that if they jump up right away, they might fully wake a baby that is simply learning to connect their cycles. 

If the child is hungry, he will continue to make noise and the parents will go in. But they don’t worry that the child will be permanently damaged by waiting a couple of extra minutes before eating.

One of the French doctors that Druckerman interviews states, “the parents who were less responsive to late-night fussing always had kids who were good sleepers, while the jumpy folks had kids who would wake up repeatedly at night until it became unbearable.”

French parents tend to pause anywhere from 5-15 minutes before responding if the child wakes early from a nap or at nighttime. 

Different parents choose different times in this range depending on what is comfortable for them.

The French believe that it is best for the child to learn to sleep well early on. Not only for the child’s health but also for the parents’ health and any siblings’ sanity.

If a baby doesn’t naturally ease into sleeping through the night on their own, they will let the baby cry a bit more at night after he is about 3 or 4 months old. But they don’t do this without first explaining to the baby why they are doing it and how he will enjoy himself more when he sleeps all night.

Druckerman says, “To believe in The Pause or in letting an older baby cry it out, you have to believe a baby is a person who’s capable of learning how to sleep.”

2) French Kids Eat Everything

As a whole, French children are not picky eaters. That doesn’t mean that every child in France is born loving broccoli and asparagus, but the parents make a concerted effort to teach the child to have a lasting, loving, and healthy relationship with food.

French babies’ first experience with food is not the bland rice cereals that seem to be the golden standard of baby food in the US. 

Instead, French Parents puree vegetables individually so their babies can learn to enjoy the individual flavors.

If a child doesn’t seem to enjoy a food the first or second time, the parent doesn’t take that to mean that the child “just doesn’t like” that food. They react neutrally, but they don’t offer substitutions. 

Over time they continue to introduce the food in different preparations until eventually, the child learns to like it.

I saw this principle work with my younger daughter. She was arguably the pickier eater out of my two girls. 

(My oldest would always declare “YUM!” When she saw a new food and eagerly try it. My youngest’s first reaction was a firm “NO!” headshake.)

She was especially wary of eggs. I tried everything, including hiding it behind bread (the girl loves her carbs!) on the fork. She would immediately grab the bite out of her mouth, sift through the bite to find the egg, pull it out, and plop it on the floor. Then she would stuff the bread back in her mouth.

It would have been easy to declare her an egg-hater. But I was determined not to have a picky eater. I kept introducing eggs in different ways and at different times. It was especially advantageous to start the meal with eggs as an appetizer when she was most hungry.

Eventually, after about 20 different tries, she decided she liked them… or at least would tolerate them. She still prefers fried or scrambled eggs to hard-boiled, but she will now eat them without a fuss.

For more comprehensive reading on how French children learn to eat all kinds of food, I highly recommend the aptly named book French Kids Eat Everything.

3) A Little Structure Goes a Long Way

Druckerman says, “French parents seem to vacillate between being extremely strict and shockingly permissive.”

WHy French Children Sleep Well, Eat Everything, and Have Self-Control

They can do this thanks to their “cadre” or frame. They often talk of the structure, frame, and rhythm of the family and in life. Having this framework means that French children, for the most part, go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, eat meals at the same time, and behave appropriately and predictably.

Inside this structure, however, the children have a lot of freedom. The parents don’t micromanage every dispute on the playground or schedule every moment of their day to be a cognitive development exercise. The children learn to play and entertain themselves and are very secure knowing that the structure is there.

Druckerman quotes a French actor that states “Education is a firm cadre, and inside is liberty.” Her friend says that the structure, “gives you confidence. You have confidence in your kid, and your kid feels it.”

Having a basic structure for the day has been very helpful with my girls. 

I’ve never had to argue with them about if they want to take a nap or not because they understand that after lunch is nap time.

They don’t complain about being hungry between meals because they know that when it is time to eat, they will get food.

Having structure in the day gives children the freedom to just be kids. They know that their parents or caregivers will let them know when it is time for meals, naps, and bedtime.

4) French Children Learn to Wait

Instead of always telling their children to “be quiet,” to “stop,” or “no.” The French often ask their children to simply “wait” or “attend.

The result is that eventually, the children learn to do exactly what their parents are asking of them. 

The French believe that waiting is an important skill to learn. Not only for the child’s well-being and enjoyment but also for everyone’s enjoyment who is around them.

French children aren’t innately born with this skill, but by practicing, having parents who pause, and not snacking between meals, waiting itself becomes a predictable part of the rhythm (cadre) of their day.

Their parents also believe that waiting is for the child’s particular benefit. They think that a child cannot enjoy being with himself if he doesn’t learn this basic point in self-control.

As Druckerman says, “…Even these small delays seem to make a big difference. I’m now convinced that the secret to why French kids don’t whine or collapse into tantrums… is that they’ve developed the internal resources to cope with frustration. They don’t expect to get what they want instantly…”

This practice of learning to deal with frustration in a constructive manner as a normal part of the day makes life more pleasant for everyone involved.  

As one French psychologist, Didier Pleux argues, “The best way to make a child happy is to frustrate him. This doesn’t mean that you prevent him from playing, or that you avoid hugging him. One must of course respect his tastes, his rhythms, and his individuality. It’s simply that the child must learn, from a very young age, that he’s not alone in the world, and there’s a time for everything.”

Druckerman also states that “French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them. On the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration. They also treat coping with frustration as a core life skill. Their kids simply have to learn it. The parents would be remiss if they didn’t teach it.”

The key paradigm that the French have is that having children who sleep well, eat well, and wait well is not because some parents just get lucky and others don’t. They believe that these skills can be learned by any human being, including a baby and toddler.

If you want more ideas on teaching your children self-control, check out 9 Practical Tips for Teaching Your Children Self-Control.

5) French Children Bake With Their Parents

In Bringing Up Bebe, Druckerman talks about how there seems to be a national baking party every Sunday.

Baking is a wonderful way to practice patience (they usually bake in the morning, but don’t taste their creations until their afternoon snack), it encourages the family to spend time talking together, and it can teach the child to have some autonomy.

As the child becomes more competent in the skills, the parents give them greater freedom and responsibilities while baking.

Check out my article on 10 Reasons You Should Bake Bread With Your Kiddos if you need more reasons to break out the flour this weekend!

6) They Learn to Play by Themselves

At the playground, the children are expected to entertain themselves while the parents enjoy a book or talk with a friend on a bench. 

The children are also expected to entertain themselves at home if their parents are busy.

This makes the child happier because he doesn’t need someone else to make him happy. He can easily be happy with himself.

The parents can also enjoy life more when they are able to have some downtime to read or talk on the phone without being interrupted every few seconds.

I love being able to read on a blanket on a sunny day at the park while the girls make friends and play. 

The best part about the girls entertaining themselves is when my husband or I do decide to run around and play tag with them, it isn’t because they were nagging us to do so. It is because we wanted to run around with them, and I think we all enjoy it a little more that way.

The main trend I find in the book is that living together needs to work for everyone and no one’s demands should override someone else’s needs.

Even if it is as simple as being able to enjoy a book for 20 minutes at the park, the parent has the right to some personal time as well and doesn’t just need to be at their child’s beck and call.

Since the parent’s quality of life also matters as much as the child’s does, the French work hard to find a balance that works for everyone.

My Favorite Parenting Tips and Tricks from Bringing Up Bebe

7) The Children Use Four Magic Words

“Please” and “Thank You” are important in France, but not nearly enough. 

French parents believe that a child should greet adults and other children because it avoids selfishness. They are to say “Hello” and “Goodbye,” or rather “Bonjour” and “Au revoir,” whenever politeness would require it.

I found it interesting that in France, it does not count for the parents to say it for the children, even if the children do not know the adults they are speaking to. 

Children are not covered by the parent’s greetings; they must have the words come out of their own mouths to be considered polite. 

Druckerman found it telling that in her own home, the children who weren’t required to acknowledge her when they entered her apartment were much more likely to jump on her couches or behave in a disrespectful way than the children who said a simple “hello” or “Bonjour.”

The Children in France are required to greet other people when they see them and say goodbye when they leave, even if they are shy. Shyness is not viewed in France as an excuse to be rude. 

Shy children are not required to have lengthy conversations with people they just met, but they are required to acknowledge them.

If you look up the words extroverted, outgoing, and morning person in the dictionary, you will probably find a picture of my oldest daughter. Teaching her to say, “hello” to strangers was a piece of cake. 

However, if you look up introverted, shy, and NOT a morning person, there will be my younger daughter’s picture. Teaching her to say, “hello” even to family was a struggle.

Around the time when she was learning to wave, I would take her hand and wave it anytime I wanted her to greet someone. She seldom did this on her own unless it was another baby she was interested in playing with. 

When it was clear that she could say, “hi,” meaning I had heard her mimic her sister on several occasions, I figured it was time for the next part of her “éducation,” as the French would say.

I decided the best way to teach her to say, “hi” was to require it as a key to getting out of her pack and play in the morning. The first morning took a lot of convincing.

We had to leave the room a couple of times before she got the hang of it. Each time I would ask if she was ready to say, “hi” and each time I was greeted with a firm “no” head shake. 

Eventually, she realized that this new annoying rule wasn’t going anywhere and decided to compromise by saying, “Hi, Daddy,” grumpily to me.

From that point on, I would ask her to either wave or say, “hi” to each member of the family in the morning. As she got into the habit of this, acknowledging extended family and even strangers became a natural next step.

She may not be as outgoing as her sister, but she can absolutely be as polite.

8) Children are Asked to be “Sage” not “Good”

Asking or reminding a child to be “sage” instead of telling them to be “good” is not just a translation difference. 

To be Sage means to be Wise in French. This implies not only that a child can and should be wise, but it is asking them to act appropriately.

Asking a child to be good implies that sometimes they are good, and other times they are bad. The French know that children will be children and need to get energy out and even misbehave from time to time, but they also believe there are times and places when that is not appropriate. The dinner table and other people’s houses for example.

Since the children practice being sage at the table four times a day, it is realistic that they can use that skill if they need to apply it to a different situation, like visiting a friend’s house.

They use a similar paradigm when the mothers are trying to lose the baby weight. The women say that they “pay attention” to what they eat instead of feeling as American mothers do that they are “being good” when they eat better.

9) Adult Time is Separate from Child Time

Parents in France seem to have a consensus that evening time is adult time. Once the kids are in their rooms, they aren’t to come out and interrupt.

They think it is good for the children to know that their parents have a life outside of them.

This principle extends beyond bedtime, however. Once a year, the children are typically taken to their grandparents for a vacation while the parents enjoy a separate vacation of their own.

My husband and I quickly adopted this principle when we heard of it. We take one vacation a year with the children, and one without. The wonderful thing in our scenario is that our kids look forward to going to Grandmommy and Grandpoppy’s house just as much as we look forward to our vacation!

An added benefit is that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. The girls are always quite happy to come back home afterward and we are equally happy to have them back. There is nothing like a little separation to increase appreciation.

I agree with the sentiment expressed in Bringing Up Bebe that “the couple needs time by themselves that isn’t just about work, or the house, but about them together.”

10) French Parents Don’t Over-Praise

While French parents love and value their children, they don’t think that praising them for everything they do will set them up for success.

For example, they don’t make a habit of praising their children every time they open their mouths, but they do praise them for speaking well.

Druckerman realized the wisdom in this new idea and states, “After a while, they’ll need someone else’s approval to feel good about themselves. And if kids are assured of praise for whatever they do, then they won’t need to try very hard. They’ll be praised anyway.”

New research is showing that “excessive praise… distorts children’s motivations; they begin doing things merely to hear the praise, losing sight of the intrinsic enjoyment,” as Bronson and Merryman discuss in their book NurtureShock.

5 Principles that Didn’t Work for Me

I love reading parenting books. I feel like I can always find something to gain from a good book, even if it’s just a fresh point of view.

For me, it is a really good book if I can implement at least 70% of it. I have never read a book that I’ve agreed with every single thing the author says. 

But that’s part of being a parent, right? Seeing what will work for your family and sifting out the rest.

Here were 5 things that didn’t work well for me in Bringing up Bébé:

Why Every Parent Should Add Bringing Up Bebe to their Reading List

1) The Thoughts on Natural Birth

The way that Druckerman talks about people who want to have natural birth didn’t work for me. 

I’m a bonafide hippy when it comes to this topic and loved having two home births with an amazing team of midwives.

I don’t think that everyone can or needs to give birth this way, but I don’t think we need to belittle each other if someone does want to have a natural birth experience.

Druckerman and the French tend to think that people who give birth naturally just want to see how much pain they can handle and use it for bragging rights at the playground. 

Maybe some people have these reasons, but neither of these things played into my choice and I don’t know of anyone else who had a natural birth that had either of these things in mind when they did.

2) The Feelings about Stay-at-Home Moms

The French people that Druckerman interviewed (except for the one who was herself a stay-at-home mom) felt very negatively about people who give up their careers for their children.

Again, I’m not saying that everyone can or should do this, but why be down on a mom who wants to raise her children full time?

I became a stay-at-home mom, not because I felt like I had to, but because I wanted to get everything out of being a mom that I could.

I do appreciate though that French moms don’t have guilt with leaving their children with a sitter to have some personal time or time alone with their husband. I think this is great for stay-at-home moms to do as well (I am taking advantage of this as I am writing this post!)

I also appreciate their confidence; even if sometimes they can be a little rude in that confidence. They don’t let guilt get them down if they choose to have a career. But the other side of that coin, in my humble opinion, is that I shouldn’t feel guilty if I choose to raise my kids as a career.

Ironically, the French have a huge amount of respect for the daycare providers who make a career out of raising other people’s children full time, but they have zero respect for mothers who decide to raise their own full time…

3) The Love of Daycare

The French think it is foolish for parents not to put their children in daycare at least a few days a week. They believe the child will be missing out on an important piece of life if they do not get this experience.

Granted, the daycare facilities in France are much better run than the ones in the US are, but I still have a hard time getting behind this concept. 

4) French Mothers Prefer to Bottle-Feed

French women don’t tend to breastfeed their babies. And if they do, they quickly abandon it. 

Not only do most of them choose not to, but they actually discourage other mothers from breastfeeding.

I think there is more than enough research about why it is best for babies to be breastfed; however, I do appreciate that they don’t let anyone make them feel like they need to do this either. 

I’m pro-breastfeeding even though I had a really tough go of it and needed to switch to formula with one of my girls. 

My thought is, why not give it a try and see if it works for you? It will save a lot of money and can be a bonding experience for mother and baby. Not to mention the health benefits for the baby.

Both of my girls had tongue ties that made breastfeeding painful for me and difficult for them. With one of them, the revision fixed most of the issues and we were able to push through to 9.5 months. With the other, we realized about 4 months in that she still wasn’t getting enough food.

I tried everything to see if I could get my supply back up, but nothing worked. Not only was this exhausting, but it was making me a stressed and edgy mom who wasn’t able to snuggle either of her children when they needed it.

I decided fed is best and a happy mom is best and started doing formula full time. 

What You Might Be Missing If You Haven't Read Bringing Up Bebe

It was a difficult decision to make because she enjoyed breastfeeding even though she wasn’t getting enough food. And that made weaning difficult. 

As I was struggling one day as to if I was doing the right thing, my friend reminded me “It’s very French!” Which made me feel a lot better.

I received so much support from my friend group by people offering me formula samples that they hadn’t needed, giving me every coupon they could find, and offering encouragement.

I realized that we need a more balanced approach to this in the US as well so moms don’t feel bad if they do need or want to formula feed. 

Maybe we can get together with the French and tell them not to shame moms who breastfeed, and we should support moms who can’t or don’t want to like my friends did for me.

Moms shouldn’t feel guilty for feeding her baby however she needs or wants to.

5) French Children Swear

The French have a swear word that is just for children: Caca Boudine. They don’t teach the children this word (the children usually pick it up from other kids at the playground or at school), but they don’t forbid it either. Instead, they teach the children to use it properly.

As an adult who doesn’t swear, I don’t see much need for having a swear word for children or in teaching them how to use it properly.

Although sometimes at the playground I wish other children would use more child-appropriate swear words… maybe this would solve the problem!

Overall Impressions

Since Bringing up Bébé is a book about another culture, there are bound to be things that don’t fit into a different culture’s ideals.

Overall, I think there is a lot that I can personally learn from the French, even if there are a couple of things that they could learn from our culture as well. 

Since I like to follow the 70/30 rule (70% of the content is something that I can get behind even if I disagree with 30%) when it comes to parenting books: this one definitely passed for me.

This is one of my favorite parenting books to recommend to new parents. If for nothing else than to give an alternative to the hyper-stressed, guilt-ridden style of parenting that is so prevalent around America. 

Grab a copy of Bringing up Bébé if you feel like reading more, and be prepared to be transported across the globe.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my friend now has a two-year-old who sleeps well, and eats well. Maybe some things in life can be predictable if you have the right tools!

You might also enjoy reading 9 Practical Ways to Teach Your Children Self Control, and 10 Reasons to Make Bread With Your Kiddos.

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