Your competent child #6

I’m still thinking about what Jesper Juul writes in Your Competent Child. I’ve realized that in the conflict between want and need (remember: the child only knows what it wants, not what it needs), it’s important to not give the child the impression that you don’t care about what she wants, while still giving her (or doing for her) what she needs.

In the case of going to sleep, I think the method I mentioned earlier (where you put the child to bed and leave the room; and if she cries, you return after a few minutes to very briefly comfort her, then leave again) won’t do if the child feels that you don’t respect her desires. If you manage to convey to her that you indeed care about her feelings, but that she needs to sleep, I feel that she will cooperate, and that this method can be used.

It would be interesting to know at what age children generally mature to communicate in this way. My feeling is that my daughter has matured in the past few weeks. It’s hard to describe, but I sense this and I think it’s difficult to go against this hunch. I’m more inclined to take her out of bed for a moment, as an attempt to say to her that I know that she doesn’t want to sleep, but that she needs it. A few weeks ago, I felt that this would have only confused her.

As I have thought about this, I have realized that many of Juul’s examples are of situations where the child wants something, while the parent knows that this desire goes against the childs needs, and therefore clearly communicates this to the child. Juul is definitely of the opinion that children will “cooperate” (in the traditional usage of the word) as long as they feel they are fairly treated – or after having been “abused” so long that they simply give up.

Juul frequently asks us what we would have done in a conflict with another adult, and suggests we use that as a guide (with the distinction that you wouldn’t say that you better know what the other needs). This is probably a good rule, but for me, I would better have grasped this if it would have been formulated as: Never do contrary to the child’s desires without clearly communicating that you both sense them and respect them, but that you as a parent generally know better. (Or something like that.)

Also, it’s so apparent to me that I would never have had the chance to get into this intimate a relationship with my daughter if I hadn’t been able to go on paternity leave. For those of you who don’t know: in Sweden both parents have eight months paid parental leave from the government. You don’t get your full salary, though; I get 70 percent or something like that, I think. I know that in some countries, you only get a few weeks without pay – which I think is very harmful to the children, to the parents, and to society.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on November 30, 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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