'Focus on your relationships, not behaviour'

11th November 2011 at 00:00
Family therapist calls for shift of emphasis among adults who work with children

Adults working with children should focus on their relationship with the child, and not on behaviour, a leading international family therapist has urged.

Danish therapist, author and educator Jesper Juul said children's behaviour could be improved "when you stop preaching, when you stop teaching, when you stop moralising". Bringing up children was never about behaviour, but about relationships, he told the Children in Scotland annual conference in Edinburgh last week,

Past generations, including his parents, had used methods which made children feel "like actors", who would be taught the correct lines and behaviours to use at the right time, said Mr Juul.

Despite the fact this had not worked and many of those children had become adults with mental health, drug or alcohol abuse issues, the focus on behaviour remained.

Everybody knew there was no formula for the right way to bring up children, and even methods which were successful could be morally unacceptable. "The most effective answer is to beat them - regularly, consistently and with good conscience. But . the world has changed. By the time he was nine, (the child) would have Googled the charter of children's rights and he would know that is illegal.

"We are doing exactly what my parents were doing," Mr Juul said, "but we have been softening it. We have taken away some of the nasty things and we are being nicer about it."

If the desired outcome was a confident and skilful child, with a high degree of mental health and psycho-social competence, the focus should be on the adult-child relationship.

The best Christmas gift he ever received, he told his audience, had been when he had phoned his three-year-old grandson as the boy was unwrapping his presents and was given the message by the boy's mother that his grandson had to decline to speak to him as he was busy with his presents. The episode had shown the boy's confidence, mental health and ability to make up his own mind.

"I knew that he had lived with his family for three and a half years and had been in kindergarten for one and a half years, which is not so easy, and he was still healthy," he said.

The most beneficial relationship was a subject-to-subject relationship, as opposed to a subject-to-object relationship, as this was based on "equal dignity", Mr Juul explained.

Adults had a tendency to treat children like objects, talking about what to do "about" or "to" them. Adults were often afraid to make themselves vulnerable in front of children, but in his experience, dealing with them in a way that was based on equal dignity, responsibility, integrity and authenticity had often been crucial.

Aggressive behaviour or stealing should be seen as an invitation to get involved and support the child, he concluded.


Concern over guidelines `oversight'

The Scottish Government could be overlooking vital EU guidelines which require member states to provide good-quality, full-time childcare for at least 90 per cent of children aged between three and compulsory school age, Children in Scotland has claimed.

Concerns that the guidance had not been reviewed by the relevant parliamentary committees first emerged at the Scottish children's sector forum last week, part of the Children in Scotland annual conference.

"Neither the European and external relations committee nor the education and culture or equal opportunities committees has been asked to scrutinise guidance, including the EU's Communication on Early Childhood Education and Care, published in February, and guidelines on the social dimension of education and training, published in 2010," said Children in Scotland.

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