Do not ‘bring up’ children

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This article was written by Jesper Juul and translated by Hayes van der Meer – FamilyLab Australia/New Zealand –www.familylab.com.au

It was probably easier raising children centuries ago. Ideas and methods only changed slightly from one generation to the next. Parents simply raised their children the way they had been raised themselves. They knew what to do and how to do it.

…Until recently! Since 1990s a new major trend has been introduced every four years or so. In a highly chaotic fashion the media, mothers’ groups, friends and experts have developed and introduced new techniques with rapid speed. These fads, which many of them become, end up as must-do’s for new parents who desperately try to find a way to keep up – and adapt. One of these trends, which has been in vogue for a decade or so is the necessity for us to “bring up” children.

“Bringing up” children means that we try to achieve something. We want the children to do something or be a certain way – our way. It might be as mundane as wanting them to sit nicely at the table and eat up, or we might want them to speak properly and show good manners. Perhaps we also strive for more long-term goals, which tend to be combinations of our own norms, values and social ambitions.
It is worthwhile pondering “What kind of children do we want?”, “What kind of children does society want?” and “What kind of children do the children themselves want to be?”

When experts talk about “bringing up” they really mean “socialisation”. The need for children to learn to adapt to the norms and cultures of society. When parents talk about “bringing up” they really mean the need for children to learn to respect their parents and educational institutions. What everyone ends up doing is “conditioning”. Reward our children when they do the right things and punish them when they get it wrong.

“Osmosis” is most effective.

Lately we have seen two very unfortunate trends. As parents, we increasingly have unrealistic expectations to how soon our children are able to learn what we want them to learn. The second trend is that we are desperately looking for conditioning tricks. “What can I do to get the child I want?” These trends obviously stress our children unduly as they are under pressure to perform. They know that it is up to them to make us happy. They see it as their responsibility that we are happy.

“Is that fair on the children?” one might ask. Not really, but that is not the main concern. More importantly, it is heart-rending for us as parents. We can become stressed and loose the ability to enjoy our children. Happiness is replaced by worry. We neglect ourselves and each other and thereby deprive our children from something fundamentally important.

During the first three to four years of a child’s life there really is no reason to bring them up. All they need is friendly and empathetic guidance.

Well…, maybe that is not all. The truth is that most of the important stuff happens “between the lines.” This is difficult to control and it certainly does not happen when we step into the role of parenting and focus on bringing them up.

Children learn to sit nicely at the table when we do. They learn to express themselves and speak properly if that is what we do. And when we are able to co-operate with each other our children will also learn to do that. But they obviously pick up our bad habits as well.

Children are a bit like frogs who soak water by the process of osmosis. Frogs just sit in the water and automatically soak it up. Our children are like that, without noticing they soak up everything around them – everything we do.

The problem is that we are not prepared to wait the four or five years it takes for our children to be able to integrate all the things we want them to. A few generations ago the command was: “Behave properly!” These days the demand and expectation is: “Hurry up!”

There is no doubt that what happens between the lines is crucial. But it goes deeper than that. It is more than just about what we do. The really important aspect is how and why we do it. Do I do what I do because I genuinely feel that this has long term benefits for my child? Am I doing this to achieve something right here and now? Might I do it to support my own image status? Am I trying to avoid conflict? Do I just want to do the right thing? – or even worse, am I trying to be perfect?

The “see-vitamin” must be taken at home. Something magic happens when a genuine interaction between us and our children occurs. It is ideal when we are able to combine our children’s abilities to co-operate, adjust and test their limits with our abilities to guide them and ultimately adjust our own behaviour.
Reality is, that most children spend a substantial amount of their important years in care. This is not necessarily detrimental to them but unfortunately some of the vitamins they need are only available at home. One of the most important ones is the “see-vitamin”. Our ability and willingness to “see” our children as they are instead of focussing on their ability to adjust and fit in with the systems and the world around them.

When children are exposed to ambitious and focussed upbringing things will inevitably go wrong. Try to pull at the grass in an effort to make it grow faster. Every child knows that the opposite will happen when they are being pulled. The roots become weak and they slowly loose their ability to absorb nutrition from their surroundings. The impatient gardener can purchase ready made turf neatly delivered in rolls. As parents we are better off showing patience and letting our children set the pace.

“From couple to family” © FamilyLab 2012.

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