Do you respect your children

Respect children's limits

children signal their parents what they like and what they don't. And your integrity should preserve mothers and fathers. But you should too their own limits make clear.

Text: Jesper Juul
Petra Dufkova / The Illustrators

Respecting a child's integrity means two things: respecting the child's boundaries and recognizing his or her basic needs. You can get to know your child's limits by simply observing your child. From birth to the seventh month it can only be in dialogue if it is in very intimate contact with you.

If you hold a child in your arms and after a certain time it no longer looks at you, but looks away, then that means that it has enough. And if you don't understand or respect its sign, then next it will turn its whole head away from you. And this gesture certainly does not mean “I want more!” But “I need a break!”. After a break, you can get in touch again. But if you skip this gesture as well, then you shouldn't be surprised that the child starts screaming.

This is a very good period to, for example, self-critically pursue: When do I do things to be a good father, and when am I actually a good father without wanting to be? Your child will immediately signal it to you if you observe and respect them. If you don't respect it, however, then it will completely withdraw into its inner world and isolate itself, or it will cry incessantly - these are the so-called "screamers".

When do I do things to be a good father, and when am I actually a good father without wanting to be?

With every child you have to learn anew where their limits are. Some like to be very physical, some don't: they want to be with you, but if you hold them too tight, they don't like it. As an adult, you have to respect both and, depending on the child's needs, get involved. Because if you think you always have to hold it tight just because you feel like more physical contact yourself, then you are abusing it.

Be authentic instead of being polite

Later in life, we get to know each other's limits by overstepping them. So it is not advisable to be too careful, but we should always be aware of what is happening!

By the way, there are also cultural differences. If, for example, I meet a family on the street in Denmark and I already know the children, then they will look at me and the parents will immediately say: "Aren't you saying hello?" The parents do not even notice that they are crossing a line because the children looked at me and said hello to me in this way. I know them and what they want to tell me with their behavior. But the parents panic because they think it is not up to social standards. To a "Hello, nice to see you!" I like to do without, because the children's eyes tell me more.

If the same situation happens in Croatia or Italy, where people are generally more physically affectionate, the parents will even force the children to kiss me. And you can see from many children that they don't like doing that at all. So why would you kiss me and why would I want you to kiss me? After all, I am a stranger to them and what is expected of them is an intimate act. But the parents see it differently: for them it is part of the convention and is something like a social ritual - they think nothing of it , but are very astonished when they hear from me: "I don't want the children to kiss me." With that I also express the following: Why are we here? To talk seriously to each other or just to be nice to each other?

Children under eight want to own their parents 24 hours a day. So you have to set boundaries for them.

Children have to kiss a whole army of aunts and uncles - why? This is how you cross their limits, because children want to make a difference: they like one uncle, they kiss him unsolicited, but not the other. And if you see this in your children, then you should respect it.

I'm not saying you shouldn't touch children and float in fear of breaking their boundaries - no, touch them, but if you get a specific message from them, pay attention to it.

Children should cross borders

Incidentally, our limits as parents want to be respected in exactly the same way. First of all, children keep crossing our borders. And it is important that they do so, because how else should children know what limits are and that each of us has limits? Children under the age of eight prefer to own their parents 24 hours a day. So you have to set them limits and tell them: "I can't deal with you now!" And they won't let up and come back again and again: "Play with me!" - And you have to stick to it: "I can't now, but I would love to play with you later!" You don't hurt the child by making such a statement, you only hurt them when you criticize them. The children may be disappointed or even shocked, but they will take it in and integrate it. It's different when you hold them responsible and find them guilty: “Can't you see I'm busy? How can you, you bad boy! " Indeed, this is how you hurt them.

I still remember the following situation 50 years ago: My father comes back from work, he sits down at the table and reads his newspaper. But now as a little boy I wanted him to read me from my book of fairy tales. So I go to him, ask him, and what happens? He doesn't even look at me, but at my mother. And she knows immediately what his eyes are telling: "Take it away, it bothers me!" As a “good woman” she would even have stopped me on the way to him and reproachfully said to me: “Can't you see your father reading the newspaper? You mustn't disturb him! " Violate such sentences!

It is important that in contact with children we move from a standard social language to a personal language.

It used to be common practice for children to be reprimanded for trying to contact adults. What a terrible news - you haven't seen your father for ten hours, and now you walk up to him and get insulted and made the "bad boy" for it! How should children not be confused? Aren't adults contradicting beings? They ask you to kiss strangers, but if you want to approach your own father, they don't allow it. The parents are cold and distant and make the child feel out of place - and that's the worst! That is why it is so important to develop a personal language - instead of "You disturb me!" to say: "I don't want to read to you now!"

But adults also have difficulty speaking a personal language with one another and very quickly become impersonal. When a man is with a woman for the first time and wants more from her than she can give, then she takes refuge behind the sentence: "You can't do that." - "How so? Who are you that you tell me what I can do? " Or she says: "You don't do that with women!" - «Which ‹man› doesn't do that with women?" - In such a situation, men and women can get lost in endless discussions. If, on the other hand, the woman would say in a very personal way: “I don't want that!” Then there is nothing to discuss - nobody is right, nobody is wrong. It is as it is! She doesn't want to, and he has to respect it.

It is very important, especially in contact with children who eventually learn from us what limits are and what empathy means, that we move from a standard social language to personal language.

More about boundaries and self-esteem:

Jesper Juul (1948 - 2019)

Take your child seriously - treat them with respect. Children don't need boundaries - they need relationships. Parents don't have to be consistent - they have to be credible.

The Danish family therapist Jesper Juul has shaped people like no other in the past decades with his upbringing and relationship principles.

The founder of familylab, an advisory network for families, and author of over 40 books (“Your competent child”, “From parenting to relationship”) died on July 25th at the age of 71 after a long illness in Odder, Denmark. He was married twice and has a son from his first marriage and two grandchildren.

Jesper Juul's columns are created in collaboration with