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Shaping education consciously and strengthening children

by Dieter Sprock

“Children grow and stretch until they can reach the doorhandle and open the door alone.” (picture Evelyn Richter5)

Asking ourselves how to strengthen our children, means to ask the question of education. Here, I assume that parents only want the best for their children; they are willing to give their heart and soul. I have already seen fathers who, after talking to their already adult children, cried bitterly because they had the impression that they had done everything wrong in education.
It is in the social nature of man that parents love their children and wish them a good life.
There are, of course, also tragic cases of neglect and serious depravity, often associated with alcohol and drug use, and most recently with parents becoming lost in the artificial world of the Internet and about that “forget” their children.
In addition, a kind of “affluent neglect” has developed, where expensive care and support facilities take up the place of the family. But neither ambitious support programs nor material pampering are able to replace the loving human backing of the family that children need to grow into adults who are able to cope with life with a sense for the needs of social coexistence.

Good will alone is often not enough

In everyday life it becomes apparent, that good will alone is often not enough, because in real life everyone who has to deal with children is repeatedly faced with challenges, which, in addition to goodwill, can only be mastered with a certain degree of psychological knowledge. This can help parents to better understand themselves and their children, and prevent certain, often unfavorable developments for both sides, or dissolve already existing entanglements.
Here is a small example: A father overhears me giving his eleven-year-old son a compliment for the correctly solved calculations. The class had calculated together some tasks the day before, but it was only him who had noticed that an error had crept in, and who had written down all the results correctly. When I added benevolently: “You could have told us,” the father interrupted, and angrily said, “You see! Earlier we already talked about the fact that one should talk to each other.”
Here we have the whole problem of education: On the one hand the father, who is not pleased with his son and who is annoyed because the son does not meet his expectations, and on the other hand a very nervous boy who is driven and who has to be the best one everywhere, but who can never meet the father’s high demands.
I am sure the father would not have made the remark if he had been aware of the fact that his anger had really little to do with his son, but more with his own unconscious demands on himself. He did certainly not want to harm his son.

Alfred Adler and Individual Psychology

The discoveries of Siegmund Freud and Alfred Adler have laid the foundations for the understanding of the human inner life and given decisive impulses to the idea of education. Today, after more than a hundred years of in-depth psychological research around the globe, we know for certain that the groundwork for the later development of character, intelligence and life-style is laid in the first years of life. Here, it is worth highlighting that we owe the knowledge about the importance of childhood experiences, and especially of education, first and foremost to the findings of Alfred Adler and his Individual Psychology.
Among the pioneers of depth psychology Viennese physician and psychologist Alfred Adler (1870–1937) was undoubtedly the one who gave the greatest attention to education and the consequences of educational errors. After having recognized already as a young doctor that physical illnesses of his patients often had psychological causes, which could often be traced back to early childhood, he expanded his medical activity to the study and treatment of mental illnesses and to his commitment to teacher training and educational counselling. He was convicted that without improving education there is no effective prophylaxis and, in addition, no cultural development. Adler even went so far as to pit the value of psychology against its benefit for child education.1
In contrast to the psychoanalysis of Siegmund Freud, Adler called his theory individual psychology, thus emphasizing the “indivisibility” and “uniqueness” of the individual. At the same time he combined the demand to understand and appreciate every human being as unrepeatable and unique. The focus is on the “Gemeinschaftsgefühl” (feeling of community, social interest, social feeling or social sense).
For Adler, man was a free being determined mainly by his culture and not by impulses and instincts. He opposed the determination of man by believing in a fateful determinacy of human life.
Adler drew attention to the final goal of human acting, thus adding an aspect to the consideration of human manifestations which must also be observed when raising children; thinking, feeling, wanting and acting are targeted to a final goal. “Where do you roll, apple?”
In the period between the First and the Second World War, Adler, with his staff and pupils in Vienna, founded numerous educational counseling centres, which were actively used by parents, teachers and interested persons. Adler himself gave numerous lectures throughout Europe until the emerging ideological and political dictatorship no longer tolerated the spread of his liberal ideas. His disciples were persecuted by the authoritarian rulers and had to flee. Adler continued his work in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but dictatorship, war and the subsequent political and cultural developments prevented psychological knowledge of the human being from becoming a commonplace, a deficiency under which the education and the culture of living together still suffer.2

Children act independently and goal-oriented

All life urges to light. Children also are born with the urge to develop themselves. We do not have to tell them to walk. They grow and stretch until they can reach the doorhandle and open the door alone.
Children are independent individuals, equipped with their own sensitivities, both physically and mentally. They depend on parents’ care for a long time, and develop their own distinctive “style of life”, their very own way of reacting to the challenges of life, only when they are dealing with their living conditions.
Children – and not just children – act on their own initiative, they have their own will and pursue their own goals. Human behavior is goal-driven, even if the goal is not always as apparent as in the following small example: At the beginning of a two-week representation activity in a fourth primary class, a boy attracts attention on the first morning because of his great nervousness. At twelve o’clock in the morning, when I’m saying good-bye to the students at the door being able to call him by name, he beams with joy and says: “You have memorised my name, haven’t you.” He had reached his goal and was hardly striking any more.
The development of the child’s personality does not follow any compelling causality: a child which is overprotected and kept small and whose parents constantly have little confidence in it can become both passive and lacking in motivation when subject to overprotection, but also oppositional or hyperactive, when it rebels against it; each child handles the external influences in its very personal subjective way.
Insecure parents tend to feel responsible for the mood of their child and to look for mistakes in their own persons when the child is not satisfied. They are constantly trying to make their child happy, which usually only leads to the fact that their child will make them and subsequently all the world responsible for its bad mood.

Instead of spoiling, …

If parents want to strengthen their children, they should avoid spoiling them. To prevent misunderstandings, this is no appeal for less love and more detachment. Without love and security a child cannot develop confidence, neither in himself nor in other people. The psychologists and attachment researchers Karin and Klaus Grossmann speak of “psychological security,” which originates from “human affection,”3 and Alfred Adler, who throughout his life warned of the consequences of spoiling. In the lack of love he saw the reason for many human lapses.
Pampering is not about the excess of affection, but about attitudes that limit the development of the child’s personality and that lead them in the wrong direction.
Pampering attitudes include all forms of overprotection, such as permanent concern and doubt, constant warning of dangers, underchallenge, little confidence in the development possibilities of the child, as well as a willingness to relieve the child of tasks which it can manage itself, to expect no effort and to remove all difficulties for him. It also includes inadequate admiration and exuberant praise, or the over-crowding with gifts, toys, and with exaggerated affections and promises, and not least the lack of clear boundaries and the tendency to fulfill all wishes of the child and allow to be blackmailed by it.
In his book  “Die Droge Verwöhnung” (The Drug Spoiling) Jürg Frick writes “spoiling” ultimately means putting an end to the logic of human coexistence. […] Spoiled children and young people plainly skip the needs of their fellow human beings. All they know is‚ ‘I want’, ‘now’, ‘this minute’. To wait is alien to them.”4

… strengthen the children

It is the task of education to enable children to actively cope with their lives and thus connect them with their fellow human beings so that they become ready and able to jointly contribute to the common good. It is important to adequately encourage and promote them. Children have to learn to deal with challenges and face them. This requires courage and confidence in the own abilities.
Children are strengthened if they are in a position to take responsibility for small tasks at an early stage. Age-appropriate demands provide an opportunity to train one’s own skills. With each successful effort strength and confidence are growing.
If the success is not easy to achieve little encourages such as “you have learned a lot already,” “you’ll be successful,” “try again,” or other encouraging words can help children regain endurance. These are signs of attention that every child is in need of. But careful, to encourage does not mean to take over!
From the outset, children need binding rules and limits and certainly not only in protection of danger. Rules, boundaries and a clear valued stance by the parents give them orientation and promote the development of the personality. They help children to a realistic attitude to life.
Parents who want to strengthen their children should not deprive them of this important experience.     •

1     Liebling, Friedrich. “Die Bedeutung Alfred Adlers für die moderne Psychologie” (The importance of Alfred Adler for modern psychology). In: Friedrich Liebling, Aufsätze (Essays). Zurich 1982, p. 13f.
2    Bottome, Phyllis. Alfred Adler portrayed in proximity, London 1939, German Berlin 2013. The book is suited to get acquainted with Alfred Adler and the individual psychology.
3     Grossmann, Karin and Klaus E. Bindung – das Gefüge psychischer Sicherheit (Attachment – The Structure of Mental Security), Stuttgart 20146, p. 19
4     Frick, Jürg. Die Droge Verwöhnung (The Drug Spoiling), Berne 20053, p. 27
5    Schmidt, Hans-Dieter and Richter, Evelyn. Ent-wicklungswunder Mensch. (The Human Being, Wonder of Development). Berlin 19812, p.37