Your competent child #5

Now I’m finished with Jesper Juul’s Your Competent Child. I found it to be very good, but it was difficult to read for me; perhaps it’s the Swedish translation, or it needs to be more skillfully edited, I don’t know. It was rather hard to follow and I had to go back and re-read portions quite often. But it was worth it!

Juul turns commonly accepted ideas around in a very convincing way, based on his long experience as a family therapist. For instance, he writes that children aren’t egoistic by nature, but cooperative – although they might not always cooperate in ways you’d expect, but in ways that might mislead you to think they are being disobedient. He also writes that children prefers to cooperate to the extent that they risk their own integrity and self-esteem, unless its parents are aware of this and therefore strive to protect their integrity and build healthy self-esteem.

Juul writes that integrity, self-esteem and responsibility go hand in hand. As for the latter, he writes that there’s been much effort in child rearing to make children into socially responsible beings, but that helping a child into able being responsible for itself also results in it being socially responsible. The way to do this is to be a good role model: to work on your own self-responsibility; to find out what your own values are and communicate them to your child using a personal language rather than conveying it as if they were absolute truths.

This is as much a book about improving your interactions with people in general, not just your interactions with your children. I want to quote a passage that I liked (and this is my poor translation from Swedish):

I’m one of those who say that social responsibility is an important factor in human coexistence. I guess it began as a cultural heritage and developed to a political and humanistic standpoint, only to end in an insight based on work experience: we are all connected all the time, for better or worse, and every notion that we can avoid affecting other people’s lives, and be affected by theirs, is an illusion. Society and family alike: there is no such thing as your problem and my problem. Everything is our problem or our success.

(The inter-connectedness of all things. “So-called separate things are not really separate: they are joined by space.” You are “a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin.”)

As for the sleep troubles I wrote about, I’m not sure which way is the best. Should I be persistent when I know that my daughter is tired or should I respect her telling me that she doesn’t want to sleep? It’s that wants versus needs situation, coupled with my not being sure that she’s competent to decide this for herself yet. And: if I don’t respect her signals, will she have difficulties to go to sleep when she’s older?

Oh well, it’s a very thought provoking book anyway.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on November 28, 2002. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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