An important topic for the health of a community.
If you don't have children of your own, you can still gain a lot of insights from this text, because the following connections are of great importance for all interpersonal relationships. Perhaps you know parents around you who might also be interested in this information. Today I want to write about happy children and how we can influence this circumstance as parents. In my opinion, dealing with this topic has the potential to make our lives happier, whether we are parents or not.
My childhood was not quite average in terms of being happy. Unfortunately, I passed on some of this "unhappiness" to my children from my first marriage. Only living together with the children from my second relationship and the training and practice in psychomotor therapy opened my eyes. I was very influenced by the statements and practical examples of Jesper Juul.
In a blog it can only be a matter of conveying some important facts and points to remember. I believe that Jesper Juul in particular can contribute to this with unusual and helpful knowledge. In the demanding task as a father, it could have helped me a lot a little earlier. Fortunately, it helps me now.
"To build fruitful and sustainable relationships between adults and children, adults must take the lead.''
(Jesper Juul, 2016)
The big question for parents nowadays is: "How do we want to lead our children, not educate them?''
In my eyes, the term education is no longer helpful today. It implies that we have to make the children to what we think is good for them. This approach as such is almost certainly doomed to fail. In order to lead successfully I must first build a relationship with the child. As a father, I must also be present on a regular basis. A Relationship can only be constructive if it is benevolent and loving. This is how leadership becomes successful.
Most parents do not want to act with veteran authority, but without leadership, problems arise. Many parents do not have the courage to act with a well-meaning "no". It is also a matter of parents first noticing and then communicating their own needs.
According to Juul, no child wants to test their parents' limits.
This is logical. A child always loves his parents and doesn't want to do anything bad to them. The natural development of a child drives it to want to have experiences. A child wants to discover its environment, and in doing so it must be challenged, touched, felt, so that it can learn and thereby grow physically as well as psychologically. In the process it always gets in the way of other people of course, especially the parents. It does this neither consciously nor intentionally. It interferes with the needs of other people, which leads to conflicts. Now it is up to us adults to resolve these conflicts peacefully. There should, if possible, be no quarrel. In a real quarrel, all parties lose because it becomes emotional, one side then exercises more power and hereby imposes his will. Exercising power and imposing one's will on the other does not leave a good feeling. Losing always feels bad. And as the winner you either have a guilty conscience or you strengthen your ego at the expense of your opponent. This has no dignity. If the child leaves the field as the winner because you give in, it simply learns that you give in and it can manipulate you. This does not feel good either. All of this creates feelings of guilt and shame.
This guilt and shame, which are associated with losing and winning by exercising power, are considered self-destructive feelings in psychology and are the cause of many psychological disorders. Exercising power occurs in many families and unfortunately generally speaking also very frequently.
We humans basically want to be satisfied and happy. We want to live self-determined, as fulfilled and dignified as possible.
We parents lay and nourish the seed for this ideally in the infant age and childhood years. Here I would like to draw your attention to Remo Largo, a well-known Swiss pediatrician, who is also a source of very helpful suggestions. By the way, him and Jesper Juul both also show what a really good and successful time in school could look for children.
How can we now exercise dignified,
Wouldn't it be desirable not to create a "battlefield"? So that all participants can act and be peacefully with a satisfied feeling.
I am pragmatically stating a few mnemonic sentences here. If you want to know more about connections, reasons and facts, I recommend the literature list at the end.
1. Children simply learn what we exemplify for them as parents.
They do NOT learn what we preach to them or how we would like them to learn. If they are allowed, they learn what they want.
2. All children want to learn unless they are prevented from doing so by manipulation.
3. When we manipulate children, they also learn to manipulate.
So they do not learn to express their needs. Often they then learn to simply assert their unconscious needs or they become shy and do not dare to stand up for their needs. Often they also learn to have hidden intentions and demands, to lie and to deceive.
4. Instructions, rewards, exaggerated and/or dishonest praise, setting conditions, reprimands, physical and emotional absences, withdrawal of love, threats, punishments and violence (physical and verbal) are all forms of manipulation.
5. Even "you HAVE to..." is inappropriate. When someone tells us that we have to do something, it already arouses resistance in us. Do you know this about yourself? More constructive is an invitation; "would you like...". Usually a wish connected with a need works; "I wish this because it is important to me that...".
6. The children's reactions are never random.
They are always related to the behavior of the parents or caregivers and are not planned. And there is neither a good, nor a bad intention behind them.
7. These reactions mentioned above are sometimes difficult to decipher.
Every child wants to cooperate and be of value to it's family.
8. Self-determination, satisfaction, dignity and happiness can ONLY come from dignified relationships, trust and enough freedom to discover!
9. As a father (mother, teacher:in) I must not place myself as a know-it-all over the children. The famous physicist and philosopher Heinz v. Förster said in 1998:
"My suggestion is that the teacher should refrain from the idea that he knows everything and the students know nothing, that they are people whose heads must be filled with his ideas. It would be good if he could give up his superior position and enter the class knowing that he too knows nothing.''
10. As a reference person I show myself as a person with strengths and weaknesses. I speak to children empathically, with dignity and love. I also say "No'' when necessary, talk about my needs and want them to be respected. I am willing to talk and understand, yet firm. In this way, I impersonate a natural authority. All of this builds relation and trust.
How do I manage to get into that space of relationship and trust?
I can only talk about myself here:
1. The first thing is my decision that I want to love my children and my wife. I want to live with them in dignity. Our life should bring us joy. Then I imagine this in beautiful inner images, connect with the wonderful feelings that arise and really indulge in these feelings.
2. As often as possible I try to look lovingly at my children and my wife. I try to use as many moments as possible in which I remember my love for them and my decision. Because love is not just always there, I sometimes have to
evoke it, nurture and care for it.
3. Children want us parents to see them.
In these moments they seek and need our attention. Then I show them with a smile that I see and appreciate them. Better than praise is that we mirror their actions in an appreciative way. Often, it is in such moments that I feel my love for them and I also tell them, "I love you!''
4. It is very important to have patience and to be able to wait until the child becomes active on its own. Often children need more time. Very often we ask a child to do something because we have an expectation or we repeat a request that has already been made. Children would be at least twice as active or cooperative on their own if we adults would let go of these expectant requests. Children usually observe very closely what is going on and if it is right for them, they decide to participate themselves. This intrinsically motivated self-determination is extremely important for a child to relate learning successes to itself.
This builds self-confidence and inner strength.
5. I try not to see myself as a know-it-all, but as a learner.
In many moments I can learn from my children.
I try to do that as often as possible and that will make me a better dad and person. This includes admitting if I have said or done something inappropriate.
6. I always show myself as a person with flaws and my own unique insecurities.
7. I do not form an alliance with my wife toward our children. It is important that they experience our differences. This way they learn that people are different, have different needs, desires and behaviors. Children may see that we parents also have conflicts. Certain conflicts they may witness and also how we deal with them.
8. If I decide to say "No", I try to do this in a loving and benevolent, but firm way. I do not argue with them then. I explain them my needs and desires, but no more.
Children need us to say no so that they can recognize what our needs are.
Only in this way can they learn what their own needs are and communicate them.
And only in this way can they learn to say no responsibly, not to do so out of defiance. And only in this way can they learn to deal with the frustration that a no triggers. But because the no is communicated lovingly and calmly, the child can deal with this frustration much more easily.
9. In those difficult moments when I want to overreact, exclaim, curse, scold, hit, order, lie, etc., I try to take a deep breath in order to get distance, let calmness return, remind myself of my appreciative and loving power.
10. After this I try to look at the other person with this loving power and let this power flow. In order for this to succeed,
I have to let go of teachings, my solutions, my truths, etc.
11. In this way, peaceful and meaningful things arise and as well solutions with which all parties can live.
Yes, of course I do not manage all this as often as I would like. Sometimes I fail miserably despite all my good intentions. We humans are naturally flawed. This brings me to the very important point.
12. When I have made a mess, it is always my responsibility to make it right. So I go to my children (or my wife) and apologize. I admit my inability and explain to them that it is my responsibility alone. If there are behaviors of my children that have fueled conflict, I can address that, but not in a blaming manner.
The cause of my behavior and what I say is my responsibility.
This last point helps a lot to build relationship and trust. And this helps the children to take responsibility for their own actions and ultimately to become capable of dealing with conflict.
Process of change
Jesper Juul speaks here of a process of change that is necessary to accomplish this personal and also societal change. A quote on this:
"The most important factor in this change process is called personal authority. It is the most durable substitute for traditional role-based authority. Personal authority is based on self-esteem, self-knowledge, self-respect, self-confidence, and our ability to take our personal values and boundaries seriously without succumbing to the temptation to puff ourselves up. Last but not least, it is also based on our ability to take other people seriously and to treat them with empathy and respect.'' (2016)
From my own experience, I can only say that it is more than worthwhile to take this path of change. For me as an old oddball, this process will certainly take me the rest of my life. But when more and more children grow up in this new understanding, a new behavior will emerge and a society of dignity, fairness and peace will start to spread.
Here is a thought-provoking question by Jesper Juul. Perhaps you would like to see what it inspires in you?
"As a parent, do you want your children to grow up to live their own independent being, or do you want to raise children who know how to behave?'' (2005)
Another reason to enter into this process of change is your relationship with your partner. This is because it is a wonderful way to effectively escape the trap of the "dying love relationship" between mothers and fathers, to which almost all parents are exposed.
However, the following risks interferes with the noble undertaking of this change process:
Environmental pollution & malnutrition.
To this I say only briefly and pragmatically the following:
• Like us adults, our children are also exposed to many toxic substances nowadays. This can affect their behavior or their ability to learn, in addition to health problems. For example, heavy metal exposures are partly responsible for learning disabilities, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism, etc. These exposures naturally sabotage our children's happiness.
• If the diet consists mainly of dairy products, eggs, gluten-containing cereals, sugar, a lot of fat, convenience products and sweet drinks, the happiness of a child is already hampered. This diet weakens the immune system and the performance (also of the brain) and promotes various diseases (such as diabetes, allergies, obesity, depression and more) or conspicuous behavior (such as nervousness, irritability, hyperactivity, ADHD, etc.).
• Prescription and coercion lead to rebellion or resignation. Food should taste good, be varied, and be enjoyable. Children also really like to be involved in the preparation of food.
• There are very many healthy foods that boost our children's immune systems and performance. Some of these foods also eliminate heavy metals and other toxic substances from the body. You can find more about this in various texts in my blog.
Wouldn't it be a great opportunity for us parents to start building trusting relationships with our children? That we learn to perceive and communicate our needs? That we stop manipulating? That we try to be dignified and loving to ourselves, to our children and to our life partners?
Seen globally, it is ultimately about a peaceful, dignified coexistence of people on this planet. In this regard, Heinz v. Förster wisely states:
"I want to emphasize again that I basically want to get out of the whole discussion about truth and lie, subjectivity and objectivity. These categories disturb the relationship of man to man, they create a climate in which others are persuaded, converted and forced. Hostility is created. One should simply stop using these terms because, I maintain, they are kept alive by the mere mention of them and also by their negation or rejection.'' (1998)
Yes of course, I too have failed at it many times and continue to do so. But the days I make it are just so wonderfully beautiful. They are balm for my soul and being with my wife and children.
Stay healthy and see you soon!
List of Literature:
Some English books of Juul:
Here I am! Who are you?
Your competent child
No - the art of saying no
Juul, J. (2005) Aus Erziehung wird Beziehung, Authentische Eltern - kompetente Kinder. Freiburg im Breisgau, Verlag Herder
Juul, J. (2016) Leitwölfe sein, Liebevolle Führung in der Familie. Weinheim Beltz
Juul, J. (2007) Nein aus Liebe, Klare Eltern – starke Kinder. Weinheim, Beltz
Largo,R. (2019) The Right Life: Human Individuality and Its Role in Our Development, Health and Happiness
Largo, R. Beglinger, M. (2009) Schülerjahre, Wie Kinder besser lernen. München, Piper Verlag
Largo, R. (2013) Wer bestimmt den Lernerfolg: Kind, Schule, Gesellschaft?. Weinheim Beltz
Understanding Systems: Conversations on Epistemology and Ethics, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2002
Förster v, H. Pörksen, B. (1998) Wahrheit ist die Erfindung eines Lügners, Gespräche für Skeptiker. Heidelberg, Carl-Auer Verlag
Hauser, B. (2021) Spiel in Kindheit und Jugend, Der natürliche Modus des Lernens. Bad Heilbrunn, Verlag Klinkhardt
Hartkemeyer, J. Hartkemeyer, M. Hartkemeyer, T. (2016) Dialogische Intelligenz, Aus dem Käfig des Gedachten in den Kosmos gemeinsamen Denkens. Frankfurt/Main, Brüll & Heisterkamp KG