“My father taught me many tricks …”

The family as a place of emotional security

by Dr Eliane Perret, curative teacher and psychologist

Recently, I read a report in the newspaper about a family whose two small children, aged three and five, made more than a thousand drawings since the pandemic began. They decorated the flat with them, but at some point, there was simply no more free space on the walls. This put their parents in a tight spot. They thought about it and found a wonderful solution. Without further ado, they developed a clever picture frame that simply collected the drawings thus facilitating a changing exhibition. The report exemplified a positive interaction between parents and children in times of the pandemic. It made me reflect and think about how important and relevant the family is to children.

Components of development

Children come up with a lot of ideas throughout the day that often relate to the adult which serves to provoke a reaction. This makes daily parenting exciting and sometimes exhausting.
  It is easy to understand that with their creative activities, the two children found a positive echo and a lot of interest from their parents. This encouraged their joy of creative work and motivated them to continue. This type of experience forms the mental foundation on which children shape their personality. Today, these components of psychological development are supported by carefully thought-out and well-validated studies of modern developmental psychology, especially by relationship research. The results are aligned with the personal view of the human being and of cultural anthropology, which see the child as a being that develops individually in social relations.

In a sensitive, mutual interaction

The key to a successful development process lies in the relationship between parents and child. All participants have the necessary prerequisites for this. Thus, from the very first day of life, the infant's entire physical and sensory-physiological equipment is geared towards establishing contact with the human being. They prefer interpersonal experiences to all other impressions, as corresponding studies and observations impressively prove. In this way, the baby makes an active contribution to building a trusting relationship, first naturally mostly with the mother. If she succeeds in satisfying the infant’s need for human security in a sensitive, reciprocal interaction, the infant can build up primal or basic trust, because he experience their mother as a haven of security and warmth.
  The mother is not alone in the task of giving the child the security to face the world with confidence. Increasingly, the emotional anchoring in the whole family, with the father, the siblings and the wider social environment becomes important. Even though the following is primarily about the parents, siblings are all important in their own way and, as resilience research shows, can be important supporters when one parent is missing. Older siblings, grandparents or also teachers can become important caregivers for children who encourage, challenge and support them, make them aware of their strengths and remain by their side as reliable fellow human beings.

“A trustworthy, strong and wise companion”

Naturally, mothers and fathers form their relationship with the child differently and in this way also meet the different needs of the child. For a long time, research focused predominantly on the bonding issue and thus on the importance of the mother for the development of the child. Today's research results show, however, that fathers are just as important reference persons as mothers. However, they differ in their task, because in addition to the natural desire for closeness and protection, the need to discover the environment is also an innate human need. This is where the father plays an important role by helping the child discover their environment and by supporting them to venture into new challenges. Who has not watched fathers enthusiastically playing football with their children, showing them how to find their balance on a bicycle or balancing on a tree trunk? In this way, the father becomes the child's playmate, so to speak, or, as John Bowlby, one of the pioneers of the relationships research, called it, a trusting, strong and wise companion who supports and protects the child in its explorations.
  Both parents therefore have important, mutually complementary tasks and together lay the foundation for the child’s intellectual activity, their motivation, their joy of learning and his bond with fellow human beings.

Boredom as a motor for creativity

The family therefore holds the first and most important position in the development of a child as a maturing human being. During the children's development and growth, parenting tasks are always new and often challenging. The three- and five-years old artists, certainly did not always just sit quietly and happily at the table and drew in a concentrated way. There were certainly also conflicts in which they tested their strength. However, with their creative activity in the “boring” time during the lockdown last spring, they found a meaningful way to be to pass time and thereby found inner peace and contentment. For them, boredom triggered creativity. This will develop into a complex process which today is one of the “key skills” required in the professional world. This ability is built on many previous experiences.
  Through active testing and playing, even young children gain sensory experiences that stimulate their thinking: they try out how many blocks they can stack on top of each other until the tower collapses.
  The child eagerly observes what happens when they mix red watercolour with yellow, and how it sounds when they strike two sticks together. They play with sounds and noises and try out the possibilities of their voices. If a balloon simply floats up into the air – without being asked – the child is either delighted or sad, depending on the situation. When looking at a picture book together, the child not only picks up new words and sentence structures and intuitively learns a language, but also forms pictures in his mind, combined with warm memories of cosy cuddling. In this way, their gain experience and begin to grasp their environment more and more precisely. They develop their own ideas, which then must be tried out – not always to the delight of the adults.
  The interpersonal actions encourages a child to continue, as in the case of the two little artists. In interpersonal interaction, they creatively and curiously acquires knowledge about the world. In this way, they begin to comprehend connections and build up thought structures that become increasingly complex and are oriented towards the realities of the world. Such maturation processes become the basis for creative processes in which networked thinking and creative ideas combine and make it possible to think through tasks in a wide variety of areas.

Giving structure to the child’s world

In these first relationships, children form their attitudes toward other people, their values and conscience. For us adults, this requires an awareness of which values are important to us in life. Because, whether we like it or not, our thoughts, feelings, speech and actions always have an effect on children. They need well-considered rules and values with which they can engage with in an age-appropriate way. In this way, we structure the child's world, which holds many unforeseen events in store, and give the children security and reliability. This enables them to develop trust in themselves and their environment. Especially in today’s world, which is characterised by diversity and arbitrariness of possible value orientations, it is more important for the growing generation to experience clear standards and boundaries. As adults, we ourselves must exemplify the values that we want to transmit to our children. Therefore: If we “help” them to gain access to a social media platform by lying about their age, this is not a trivial offense, but legitimises lying and fraud.
  It is also double-edged to expect children to resolve conflicts without verbal and physical violence if we ourselves do not settle our disagreements with mutual respect. Thus, not only are the children challenged, but we are also challenged. It is worthwhile to take a close look at our own behaviour. In this way, the family becomes the framework in which cultural values and norms are passed on from generation to generation. The child begins to feel that he or she is part of the human community and, if successful, develops independence, a sense of relating to others and an inner readiness to assume responsibility as a prerequisite for an active, self-determined life and a mature ability to cooperate in interpersonal relationships.

What is valuable to me

In the family of the two children, creative activity is apparently a value that is appreciated. As the newspaper report goes on to say, the parents also enjoy drawing and designing. Thus, one can assume and hope that the little ones will further develop their drawing skills. They can draw confidence from the associated experience, which they will transfer to learning processes in other areas.
  So, it’s not the big undertakings and projects, as the leisure industry suggests to parents, that determine whether a child feels protected and valued in his or her family. I also noticed this in a lesson in which my ten- to twelve-year-old students reflected on what are or were valuable moments for them in the family. Their reflections are thought-provoking: “My mother and I always go to the lake in the summer and bath our feet in the water”. – “I’ve watched my dad cook and we've talked about all kinds of things”. – “Last week I baked a cake with my mother, and I was very proud”. – “My father and I played soccer in front of the house, and he taught me many tricks”. – “My father, mother and I once had a snowball fight”. – “I went to the city with my father, and we looked at the big churches together” ... What made these situations valuable to the children? It was the inner home they experienced at that moment, the closeness to their parents and the feeling of being taken seriously. Even with older children, therefore, the family is a place of emotional security - not always through emotional harmony, sometimes also through friction that generates warmth.
  Later, in the transition to adulthood, these experiences protect them against the aggressive seductions of the leisure and consumer industries and help them to follow their own, self-determined path, in which they preserve their own dignity and the desire to defend the dignity of others.

Natural fundamental group unit of society

It is therefore no coincidence that in 1948 the drafters of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights accorded the family outstanding importance for the coexistence of people in peace and freedom. In Article 16, they recognise the family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”. This is our responsibility as educators. If we understand what makes a healthy childlike emotional development possible, we will be mindful in our daily family life (incidentally also in school) and discover ways to strengthen our children’s self-esteem and give them a child-appropriate and age-appropriate sense of the social interrelationships of human life. Knowing that our actions are a mosaic piece of a larger whole. Like the drawings of the two little ones.  •

Important thoughts and facts were taken from following sources:

  • Buchholz-Kaiser, Annemarie. “Die Bedeutung der Wertevermittlung in der Familie für die Würde und den Wert des menschlichen Lebens” (The importance of the teaching of values in the family for the dignity and value of human life). In: Current Concerns, December-January 1999/2000
  • Bowlby, John. Attachment and Loss. New York, Basic, 1969/1982).
  • Eicher, Laurin. “Schaulager für Werke kleiner Künstler” (Display warehouse for works by small artists). In: Zürcher Oberländer of 10 March 2021, p. 7
  • Gautschi, Eliane; Scheibler, Ursula. Die trojanische Maus. Lernen für die Zukunft (The Trojan Mouse. Learning for the future). Zürich: Komitee für eine Demokratische Volksschule (Committee for a Democratic Primary School), 2002
  • Hobson, Peter. Die Wiege des Denkens. Soziale und emotionale Ursprünge des Denkens (The cradle of thinking. Social and emotional origins of thinking). Psychosozial-Verlag, Giessen 2004
  • Stöcklin-Meier, Susanne. Was im Leben wirklich zählt. Mit Kindern Werte entdecken (What really counts in life. Discovering values with children). Goldmann Verlag München 2009
  • UN General Assembly. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations. Retrieved on 11 April 2021
  • www.jamu-kids.ch Website with information about the picture frame mentioned. The parents are in the process of implementing their idea with a start-up. Retrieved on 22 March 2021

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