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While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about - Angela Schwindt

>> 22 January 2008

Francoise Dolto had a very singular vision of the child. She was a paediatrician and psychoanalyst. She thought that word, explanation and communication was very important in the construction of an individual.

I am currently reading a few books by her which regroup a series of questions and answers she gave during dedicated radio broadcasts. Parents would write letters with their educational questions about their children, and Dolto would answer them during the radio show. This took place in the 70ies but still now I find her explanations and advice valid and useful.
Her thoughts were quite revolutionary at a time when it was thought that infants cannot understand nor suffer from what happens in reality. But she also addressed mothers, distressed parents who want to read and understand the symptoms of their children.
Of course a baby cannot talk yet, but Dolto anticipates that he can listen, understand and be pacified by a true voice if targeted at the child directly. She says 'children have a language before they speak a language'.

Children always understand.

Indeed, she contends that they understand in the womb. They need to be spoken to, to have things explained to them. They need to be listened to; their views need to be respected.

Dolto insists that no matter how painful, children must receive an authentic response to any question.
Although I do not agree with everything she says, I do agree with the fact that one should explain things to children and that, contrary to what we think, they understand a lot at a real young age. Our oldest son, now 20 months, has changed his behaviour slightly after the arrival of his brother one month ago. Of course he presents the normal and healthy jealousy traits, but sometimes he tends to cry out instead of talk to me. One day I was trying to get him to eat his soup as he had told me he was hungry. Immediately after the first spoonful he wanted to get out of his chair and refused to eat. Once out of the chair he said 'eat' again. Once in his chair I decided that he was going to stay there. He started to cry out - now this is a crying without tears, just a kind of discontented shouting for something I could not understand. At the same time his little brother was crying in the next room. You can understand that this situation was slowly getting on my nerves. After trying to discipline the eldest to no avail, it hit me. He was trying to communicate the same way his baby brother was, by crying. Once I understood that I tried to talk to him saying that his baby brother cries because he cannot talk yet. That his only way to tell me what he wants is by crying. But that he, the older brother, can talk and can therefore TELL me what he needs or wants. He does not need to cry. He looked at me with a frown like he was thinking very hard. Then he smiled and said 'eat'. He did not cry out anymore and finished he soup in no time.

I had my proof that talking to my child, explaining things to him even though I might think he is too little to understand helps.

The other day the oldest was staying over at my parents for two days (including one night). When he got back home he did not fall asleep as usual that night and we had to get him out with some milk and talk until finally, later on he fell asleep. We figured that staying over at his grandparents probably wasn't such a good idea with the new baby around for he might think that he is being pushed aside. The next time he went to his grandparents, I explained to him hat I would come pick him up that afternoon and that he would sleep at home. That he was going to his grandparents because I needed some time to do grownup things and take care of the baby but that this did not mean that I did not love him or tried to get rid of him. When he left with my father he turned around and said 'Mama pick up' meaning that he had very well understood me and knew I was coming to get him. Since then he presents no more sleeping problems.
I guess the above two examples are in line with what Dolto preached. I probably would have reacted in such a way even without having read any of her advice. I am a talkative mother and wherever I am with my children I constantly babble away at them telling them what I or we are doing. I guess Dolto just pointed a finger at something I unconsciously knew but probably was afraid of doing thinking my kids were too young for adult explanations.
At the moment my oldest starts pointing at his penis, saying 'zizi' and 'papa' and 'mama'. So I guess I have to prepare myself on explaining to him that mama does not have a zizi... I will hurry and read up on the subject :-)



Indeterminacy 22 January 2008 at 14:25  

I like the post you made -it broadens my horizons. Never heard of the lady you mentioned, but she sounds to be right on target. I know that I always tried to take my son seriously, and listen to him, etc. - I noticed that not all people do that - and it really looks bad to me.

La delirante 22 January 2008 at 21:27  

Had never heard of Mrs. Dolton but sounds like her books are very interesting. It is always important to listen to kids...and give them the right answers...not that I have my own kids but I was also a kid :)

It's OK to be WEIRD! 31 January 2008 at 08:41  

I always say that kids are just little people - they have their own opinions and thoughts and we adults tend to forget that ARE still learning just like the children are.

Thanks for visiting my blog the other day. I have enjoyed what I've read here so far, too. It's great to 'meet' you!

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