Advanced search

Please don't promote book giveaways here. If you'd like to discuss book giveaways on Mumsnet,

Q&A with Pamela Druckerman - author of French Children Don't Throw Food. Post your questions - ANSWERS BACK

(110 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-Jan-13 12:27:07

If you've ever sat in a restaurant and wondered why french children are so well behaved and seem to eat whatever is put in front of them then you may considered whether the french way of parenting is the way forward. Pamela Druckerman's latest book French Children Don't Throw Food is described by Amy (Tiger Mother) Chua as "Smart, funny, provocative, and genuinely eye-opening"

Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist who found herself living in Paris, with an English husband and three young children. As she struggled with sleepless nights, toddler tantrums and other demands of being a new parent, she couldn't help but notice that the French families around her seemed so much calmer and less harried than her own. Their children played quietly, they weren't picky about what they ate and, when the time came, they went to bed without fuss, leaving their parents to enjoy some all important adult time.

So Pamela set out to discover what it is that French mothers do differently and - it seems - so much better. She not only observed her French friends and neighbours at first hand, but also interviewed scores of French mothers, teachers and child experts.

If you're interested to read more, enter our draw before the 9am on Monday 21 January to win one of 50 copies. Pamela Druckerman is joining us for a Q&A, so please post your questions or comments to Pamela on this thread before the 31st January and we'll post up her answers on 8th February.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:32:45


*LeBFG*, CrackFox et al - The book is entirely about Parisians. It should actually have been entitled "Middle and Upper Class Parisian Children Don't Throw Food".

I did enjoy it, and I thought a couple of tips were good - 'Le Pause' when dealing with babies, and the staring thing, which also works quite well, but I think only if they respect you in the first place.

My major issue is this: Pamela, the thing is about these lovely polite French children is... they grow up to be Parisians. Famously rude, cold and snobby. Is this a good thing? (I'm only half joking I'm afraid)

Also, to my mind you slightly pedal back on how tough Parisians are with their kids, and how much they reward uniformity - or did you not find this?

I have the same problem with Parisians that you do. I don’t suggest in the book that we emulate everything they do – just that we can learn from some of their parenting techniques, for instance how to teach babies to sleep through the night, and how they teach kids to eat a wide variety of foods.

I do think the French are less allergic to uniformity certainly than I am, as an American. Even at an early age, there’s less of an emphasis on free expression in schools, and more of an emphasis on acquiring skills, and learning to work together. I’m told that, especially as children get older, there’s a lot of focus in school on what they do wrong, and not much positive encouragement. I hope I counterbalance this at home!

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:35:50


I've never seen children throwing food (other than babies!) in the UK or in France. Clearly though there will be parenting strategies we can learn from the French just as there are others they can learn from us. My question is about fussy eating in young children which the book blurb implies is less of a problem in France for whatever reason. How have you observed French parents tackle the problem of children refusing to try new foods? and have you seen a way of getting sauce-resisting children to try sauces? Thank you!

Regarding food, there are a few things that French parents do (or aim to do). They don’t allow snacking between meals, so kids come to the table hungry. (There’s one “official” snack time in the afternoon). Then they serve vegetables first, before the chicken or the pasta, when hungry children are more likely to eat them. They have a tasting rule: you don’t have to eat it all, just try a bite. And they don’t give up on foods just because a child says, for example, “I don’t like salmon.” They keep salmon in the rotation, perhaps preparing it differently the next week. They realize that, with some foods, it’s only by tasting them lots of times that kids come to like them. They see themselves as teaching their kids to enjoy flavors. The clincher is, they aim to do this without being at all militaristic about it. They try to present food, and new flavors, as something pleasurable and fun. That’s the tricky part for me – but I’ve gotten better at it!

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:36:29


I've dipped into this book since having my second child and have accordingly parented DD2 slightly differently, applying Le Pause and so on. I did enjoy the baby chapter... I will read on.

Question: proportionally do more mothers of young babies return to ft work in France than in the UK/US, and what is the link between that and their parenting styles?

It’s very common for French mothers of young children to go back to work full time, or four days a week. For the first child, maternity leave usually lasts three months. (There is also an option to stop working for about the first three years, until school starts). Several moms told me that their babies started sleeping through the night just they returned to work, because the babies understood that the moms needed to be rested in the morning. They called this “le feeling.” One reason French moms go back to work is because the French state either provides (via excellent public crèches) or subsidizes childcare. Another is because they believe it’s very important to have an identity as a woman, separate from who you are as a mom.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:37:27


Living in France at the mo and see plenty of tantrum throwing by French Kids.
Call me old fashioned but doesn't it come down us as their parents to just teaching our kids basic table manners, respect our elders & be grateful for what we have. I know that growing up I never misbehaved at the dinner table. We were taught by example by our parents & I wonder why in one generation so many of us seem to have let these basic principles fall by the wayside. Are we too busy these days? Are we now so used to instant gratification, living on credit, mobile phones, internet, etc that we expect our kids to get the lessons in one go & give up when they don't? My kids are by no means perfect and they have & do fall down along the way & drive me to distraction sometimes but it can only be to my benefit & theirs if they grow up with basic manners & respect. That takes time - it's a lifetime of learning. Just something to mull over.

I agree! A lot of what I describe as French parallels what used to be the norm in the US and the UK. But “Anglo” parenting has changed really radically in the last 20 years. We’re raising kids differently than we were raised ourselves. We’re more involved, we’re more worried, we’re more willing to sacrifice our sanity and our coupledom for the good of the kids. Two decades into all this, we’re starting to seriously question whether the costs are worth it, and whether the new intensive parenting is even good for kids.

The basic politeness you’re talking about is a big theme in France, starting when kids are little. Kids there aren’t just obliged to say please and thank-you. They also absolutely have to say hello and goodbye. The idea is that by greeting someone, you have to recognize that he exists. You have to gradually break out of your selfish bubble, and develop empathy.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:38:50


*"Girls with long swishy hair, skinny jeans tucked into Uggs, a navy Canada Goose jacket. The only sign of rebellion is the occasional red jacket or brown Uggs. And their bags are all the same too"* - you have just described my dd and her friends at the Lycee in South Ken - the bag in question is a Longchamp pliage! I have also read the book from start to finish - maybe it's just me, but I didn't see it as a hymn to the perfection of French parenting - in fact I thought some of it was slightly tongue in cheek. It is fascinating to see how the French, our nearest neighbours after all, do so many things so differently - whether they are entirely successful (or whether we are for that matter) is open to question. I just love the way Pamela has put her finger on so many of the differences - she has so many of the Parisian parents I know off to a tee. I loved the caca boudin chapter for instance - my dcs both went through this - it never occurred to me to try and analyse why this might be. In fact by way of a question I'd like to ask her if she really thinks French parenting techniques are better than ours - or is it just interesting to see another approach and try a bit of mix and match?

Thanks for mentioning caca boudin. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a curse word used by French preschoolers. It roughly translates as “poop sausage,” but really it’s an all-purpose bad word that can mean “no,” “I don’t care,” or “whatever.” Nobody actually teaches his child to say caca boudin. Kids just pick it up at school. But French parents tend to accept that kids need a bad word, because they need to transgress sometimes. Instead of banning the caca boudin, they try to teach children to wield it appropriately. For example, they’re allowed to say it in their rooms, but not at the dinner table, and certainly not in a restaurant.

Now to answer your question…the point of my book isn’t that French parents are perfect, or that we should emulate everything they do. It’s that they have some common-sense solutions to problems that parents everywhere face. And in this age where the tendency is to parent very intensively, the French are a reminder that sometimes doing less, being less involved, giving kids the freedom to say caca boudin sometimes – can have calming results for everyone.

Looking at what the French do, and what they take for granted and consider natural, is also a way to see what we do more clearly. I get a real thrill, personally, from realizing how many of my own habits are actually cultural.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:40:24


Hello Pamela

Thanks for doing this Q&A on Mumsnet - II read the book and loved it - could do with more tips tbh

Did I read somewhere you have another book coming out?

I like the idea that children are aware of adults in the house etc and are polite. (think manners take children a long way, DC1 for e.g. is PFB fussy eater blush but always thanks me for the meal.

My question is:

When we're not in France and don't have the set up, (e.g the nursery)
how can we be more French while here in "lowest common denominator for standards" UK?


Hi there. I’m so glad you liked the last book, and I very much hope you’ll like the new one too. I think there are some simple things that British parents can do. One of the “tips” in the new book is, “Don’t let children interrupt you.” When this happens in France (and of course it does), parents try to politely say, “I’m in the middle of speaking to someone, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Notably, this is followed by an equally important tip: Don’t interrupt your child (for instance, when he’s happily playing). In other words, the respect should be mutual. And French believe that being able to cope with boredom and to be absorbed in an activity is a valuable life skill, which strengthens with practice.

PamelaDruckerman Sat 09-Feb-13 00:40:41

Thanks very much for all the thought-provoking questions! And warm regards from across the Channel. Pamela

emilywq Sat 09-Feb-13 13:07:07

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

fromparistoberlin Mon 11-Feb-13 14:56:37

Middle and Upper Class Parisian Children Don't Throw Food".

exactement!!!! and agree with whoever said that they turn into Parisiens

Scientistmum Sat 04-May-13 09:25:07

My boys are great eaters and well-behaved at meal-times and in restaurants. Our youngest is five and we use things like 'eye-spy' or colouring books to prevent boredom waiting for food. They are normal boys with tons of energy but we have never had problems with them trying different food or bahaviour at mealtimes. I don't agree that there is one type of parenting that gets you to this point.

I breastfed both my children until around three, went back to work when the youngest was in pre-school and have never used childcare. My husband is in the military and it is often just me at home because my family are a few hours away. We have never hit our children. I allow (not demand) them to try every type of food and didn't use baby food but simply mashed up whatever the rest of us were eating from as early as four months old. They also do get snacks between meals. Most of the time we eat dinner as a family but it is not a strict rule as they eat in front of a film on TV as a treat once a week on average.

I agree that snacking too close to mealtimes will mean they are not hungry enough for meals (this is common sense). I don't agree they should denied snacks as proper hunger is not 'relaxed' or healthy. Their blood sugar levels would get too low and my boys would be grumpy and difficult to reason with. Instead of being contented with stir-fry chicken and veg, my youngest would be so hungry he would throw himself on the floor demanding chocolate now!!!! Healthy snacking (fruit, cheese, nuts etc etc) mean my kids don't get cravings for biscuits. They do, however, get treats after meals and inbetween too now and again. Anything goes if it is a treat.

They boys are slim by the way and very active.

I am Welsh and my husband is a New Zealander. I am a big fan of France and the French but no more than I am of any other culture. In this day and age I am amazed that such a title is allowed as it suggests one culture is better at childcare than another. 'French people are better parents' - as outrageous as any racist generalization.

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: