The significance of the limits of permissible behavior in childhood

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Repeated in many articles (including articles written by psychologists), the phrase that a child is equal to us, an adult, a person who has the same desires, opinions, rights like us, in fact is completely untrue. If this is so, then the child should have the right to vote on the presidential conclusions (and the right to run for presidency!), The right to marry, and also have a number of civil duties like responsibility for the criminal code. But this is all from a series of absurd proposals, impossible in practice. It is quite obvious to us, but for some reason reasoning about the rights and personality of the child does not cause us such perplexity as previous thoughts about the right to vote and criminal responsibility. Indeed, because the child is not yet a full-fledged person, we have the right and even the duty to educate him, the right to punish and be an authority for him.

A full-fledged, mature personality is not brought up and does not bear responsibility for it, because this responsibility for itself is borne by itself. The child does not bear this responsibility; his parents (or persons substituting them) do it for him completely for 14 years and then for another 4 years. The child is not able to take care of himself not only and not so much because of his physical weakness, but because of his personal undevelopment. He does not yet have a clear picture of the world, abstract thought is not available to him, he is not socialized and does not have an established system of values. He is a human being with an undiscovered personal potential, but we must clearly understand that the potential and the abilities already revealed are completely different things, just as the caterpillar is not yet a butterfly, although it will certainly become it under the proper conditions.

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An adult person, being a full-fledged, autonomous person, is able to independently build the boundaries of what is permissible, realizing his responsibility to the society in which he lives. A child of this as much as an adult can not do and needs to be given this framework by adults. At the same time, the child regularly tests these boundaries for strength. This is for him a guarantor that he is under the supervision of adults, and therefore, in safety. It is also a guaranteed way to get the attention of adults, which the child also very much needs. If these boundaries are fuzzy and blurred, the child becomes nervous, unsure of the parents.

The crisis of three years is the time when the child actively tries the boundaries for strength and tries to expand them in accordance with his new opportunities. The three-year-old does not only stand on his feet, but also actively runs, he tries to independently perform various manipulations, imitates adults, speaks a lot, requires greater independence. “The crisis of three years can be expressed in the manifestation of such symptoms as negativism, stubbornness, obstinacy, self-will, protest-rebellion, devaluation, the desire for despotism. For the first time they were identified and described by E. Koehler in the work “On the personality of a three-year-old child.” L. Vygotsky described seven of the most striking features of a child’s behavior during the crisis of three years as a “seven-star symptom”.

This is a very important time for parents when it requires a complete unity of the policy of raising a child, so that the child does not have the opportunity to consolidate manipulative behavior, maneuvering between mother and father. The child requires, on the one hand, space for the development of motor skills and for the implementation of the simplest choice, on the other hand, he no less needs clear boundaries of what is permissible. Ability to build their parents are perceived by the child as strong, and therefore reliable parents, with whom it is safe and peaceful. The crisis of three years can be called a time of revision of the borders, their expansion, but not crash. You can not tolerate the manifestation of open aggression and rudeness from the child, not only and not so much because adults are uncomfortable with this behavior, but because the child does not receive in this case the notion of what can and can not be done in one’s own behavior. After such behavior the child searches for a border of acceptable behavior and without finding it, starts to go in the provocations further and ceases to perceive parents, as authoritative persons. The children of such parents turn into domestic tyrants, become isolated family members and completely uncontrollable. Typically, this happens in cases where the child is the link between spouses, cement, keeping the family in integrity. An excessively capricious, aggressive child is a child with the destroyed boundaries of what is permitted, which has no precise idea of ​​what can and can not be done in behavior. He is nervous, has an increased excitability and subsequently has a number of difficulties in socialization.

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Parents in families where the child is a dedicated member of the family, its center, are afraid of losing the child’s attention and love and are therefore ready to fulfill his every whims. It does not teach the child of love, on the contrary, it teaches the child to manipulate people and blackmail them. Being afraid of losing love, parents lose their own dignity and in the eyes of the child they cease to be authorities, become weak, and therefore unreliable. The child’s love for his parents is first and foremost a belief in their strength (both physical and moral), the belief that they will protect, will not leave him. Parents, whom the child perceives as weak, unable to resist him, the child, pressure, can not be trusted, and therefore can not be a truly beloved child. It turns out a paradox – that parents should have children’s love and trust, they, parents should not be afraid to lose the child’s love and be able to tell the child “no”, be able to restrict and justly punish the child.

“If a child is allowed to do something forbidden, he becomes anxious in his heart … An eight-year-old boy, whose mother allowed to hang on the footstep of a walking bus, accused her of not loving him:” If you really loved me, you would did not allow me to risk my life. ” Another boy stopped respecting his parents for not stopping the guys who broke his chemical “lab.” It is very difficult for children to cope with their socially unacceptable reactions, feelings, desires. Parents should become their allies in this struggle. Defining the boundaries of the permissible, we help the children, as if recalling them: “Do not be afraid of your reactions. I’m close – I will not let you go far. ” Commenting on the above excerpt from the book of the well-known Western psychologist Hain J. Ginnota, I want to note that along with the correct guidelines on the definition of borders, there is an erroneous, harmful attitude that the child is a developed, equal person to us. “Children are individuals who have equal rights with us for any feelings and desires. We need to understand their big fantasies and small fictions, their thoughts, feelings, desires, and also give all the emotions an appropriate way out.” Parents of the child are not “allies”, as was said above, but guides to the human society, guides, on whom the child is completely responsible. “Socially unacceptable reactions” for the child are simply reactions, because he has no idea what is socially acceptable and what is not. This can only be indicated to him by his parents and only they can give him the limits of permissible behavior. Also, the reaction of an eight-year-old boy, which looks more like a teenage boy, is surprising.

Reading articles and books of psychologists about child psychology and education, it is regularly possible to meet such phrases as “punishment without humiliation,” “respect the child,” etc. In the society somehow imperceptibly, the general opinion is gradually strengthened that in the matter of education and training of children and adolescents, only a carrot (ie, the principle of encouragement) is truly effective method, and the whip (punishment) is said to be extremely harmful, traumatizing child practice. Thus, we completely reject the postulates of behaviorism about positive and negative reinforcement. Even more: to some extent we thus deny the biological basis of the human being, his ability to acquire conditioned reflexes, which manifests itself much earlier than consciousness appears.

A human’s consciousness is formed for a long time – only in 11-14 years old abstract thinking is formed (according to Piaget), a person’s outlook is formed much later and then “polished” for the rest of his life, i.e. the process of the development of consciousness should ideally last a lifetime! Erich Fromm wrote that “the tragedy of the life of most of us lies in the fact that we die, never having fully born”, i.e. not having time to fully form their conscious, human principle. But at the same time dozens of specialists – psychologists and educators – are calling to see the Person in the child and respect him, not wanting to see the child as a natural, natural, aggressive beginning. A child is inadmissible to respect, as an autonomous adult with a baggage of personal achievements, work and actions – all that we respect people for. Respect means recognizing the freedom of the individual, which we respect, which is impossible with respect to children – we can recognize his freedom only within certain narrow boundaries. The child because of underdevelopment is incapable of perceiving respect and does not need it at all, he needs attention and love, which for him is faith in the strength and kindness of the parents. The rights of the child for the child as a rule are no more than the ability to manipulate adults.

Unlike a teenager, a child does not seek to assert himself among peers, to gain respect for them, to assert his ego. For the child, the notion “We”, and not “I” – we with my mother and father is much more significant. Therefore, the child is unacceptable to perceive as an equal, because for an equal we are not responsible and the equal does not need our care and attention, as the child needs. Hiding behind the humanistic arguments about the rights of the child, his personality, the value of his desires, opinions and thoughts, society renounces a realistic view of the nature and essence of man and therefore contributes not to the development of children, but rather, on the contrary, enhances the problems of upbringing and education. Thus, it harms children themselves, because a happy child is a child, confident in their parents and surrounding adults, believing in their mind, strength and kindness.

Forgetting about the biological, instinctual basis of a human being, people fall into a dangerous illusion both at the expense of themselves and at the expense of their children. Man carries in himself both a biological and a social principle, and in children a biological, instinctive principle will manifest itself particularly vividly. It is impossible to curb and subordinate it to consciousness, using only encouragement, only a positive incentive, as it is impossible to live life, experiencing only positive emotions. It is impossible to eradicate from a person his biological, aggressive principle – only to teach him independently, through consciousness, to control himself and direct the energy of instincts into a creative, socially acceptable channel. This requires an internal discipline, which the child does not have, but which he must be taught to adults both through encouragement, and through restriction and punishment.

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The Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz, on the example of aggression, wrote about this as follows: “The main danger of instinct is its spontaneity. If it was only a reaction to certain external conditions, which many sociologists and psychologists suppose, the position of mankind would not be as dangerous as in reality. Then it would be possible to thoroughly study and exclude the factors that generate this reaction. Freud deserved fame, first recognizing the independent meaning of aggression; he also showed that the residual of social contacts and especially their disappearance (“loss of love”) are among the strong factors that favor aggression. From this view, which is correct in itself, many American educators have drawn the wrong conclusion that children will grow up in less neurotic, more adapted to the surrounding reality and, most importantly, less aggressive people if they are guarded from any frustration (frustration) and from childhood all of them give way. The American method of education, built on this assumption, only showed that the instinct of aggression, like other instincts, spontaneously breaks out from within the person. There were innumerable insufferably brazen children who lacked anything, but certainly not aggression. The tragic side of this tragicomic situation was manifested later, when such children, when they left the family, suddenly faced, instead of their obedient parents, with ruthless public opinion, for example, when they went to college. As American psychoanalysts told me, very many of the young people brought up in this way, the more turned into neurotics, hitting under the pressure of the public order, which turned out to be extremely tough. Such methods of upbringing, apparently, have not yet fully died out; last year, a very respected American colleague who worked at our Institute as a guest asked me to stay with us for another three weeks, and as a reason did not bring any new scientific ideas, but simply without comments said that his sister had just come to visit his wife, and that three children had “no-frustration”. Lorentz wrote his remarkable book back in 1963, but since then the “soft policy” of education, unfortunately, only gained popularity.

A few words about the problem of education of adolescents. The teenager begins to be actively integrated into the society, which provides a lot of new opportunities, new rules of behavior, loads with new responsibilities and new requirements. If we consider the adolescent crisis as an extension of the boundaries of permissible behavior, then we can trace many analogies with the children’s crisis of three years. As in it, the extension of borders does not mean their destruction. A teenager is not less, but even more than a child, needs clear boundaries of what is permissible. In this he needs no less than in freedom, in the opportunity to try himself in different spheres of life. All freedom has its limits and curbs it, a person can master new possibilities only by feeling the limits of this freedom, the limits of acceptable behavior. Otherwise, freedom becomes an unbearable burden, a huge spectrum of innumerable choices, none of which seems to the adolescent to be clear. If a child was not taught to feel these boundaries as a child, did not give him these boundaries and, thus, deprived of self-control skills, then this child, becoming a teenager, runs the risk of “going all the way”, but emphasized the respectful and attentive attitude of adults to his experiences and problems will only contribute to his capriciousness, inadequately inflated self-esteem, self-centered fixation on himself.

In the case of a teenager, the educational function of parents is much less than in the case of a child. Education of adolescents is in many respects a social sphere: social and cultural rules (unwritten laws), state policy and state institutions. The upbringing of a teenager is no longer so much at home as in a school, in a technical school or university, in a sports section, volunteer squads, museums and theaters, and public youth organizations.

The upbringing of a responsible, patriotic, conscious citizen begins with a child, with the family. It begins not with the recognition of his personality, but with faith in the power and love of the most important and authoritative for the child people – his father and mother. This authority is based on the child’s confidence in the power of the parents, their fairness and their ability to protect it. Fair punishment for unacceptable behavior and limitation of behavior is not only the norm of child upbringing, it is the norm of any human society, which differs from wild nature in that it lives within the boundaries of law, and not instinct.


Translated by Daria Egorova

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