The portal published an interview with the editor Danijela Petrov and the psychologist from the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center Mia Roje Đapić about the bounderies in upbringing. We publish the entire text:

“Every child, no matter how much he opposes parental demands, asks for structure from them and, in fact, unconsciously desires boundaries. Mia Roje Đapić, a psychologist from the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center, revealed to us how important these boundaries really are in education.

“The Council of Europe has defined four pillars of parenting, which I always like to start with when it comes to raising children. These are: caring behavior, providing structure and guidance, recognizing the child’s individuality, and empowering the child. In short, parental responsibility is the unconditional acceptance and empowerment of a child as a person with tenderness but also clear rules of conduct. Just as a child needs the love and care of a parent, he needs the aforementioned structure and guidance. Just as a child learns empathy and emotional regulation from his parents, he learns the rules of behavior, responsibility and the fact that our actions have consequences – both positive and negative “, says psychologist Roje Đapić, noting that the wishes and needs of children are often inconsistent. Namely, although they often want there to be no rules, children’s needs are just the opposite.

“If we were guided only by the wishes of the children, she would probably not go to school regularly, to the doctor, she would only eat sweets, she would be in front of small screens all day long and the like. The child has the right to be angry, to be sad and disappointed when parents set boundaries. The child has the right to test these limits and the strength of the framework that the parents provide. In doing so, we can always validate their emotions and comfort them, show that they are loved and accepted, but that this will not affect the change of rules and concessions. Once parents show inconsistency and discounts on signs of child dissatisfaction, either because it is easier for them or because they cannot tolerate the child’s negative affect, it is more likely that the child will protest more and more against the set limits, in order to achieve their current desires”, says the psychologist and notes that parents often misinterpret the advice of psychologists, in the sense that psychologists propagate childishness. And, indeed, one often gets the impression that many parents are afraid of their children and leave them at the helm to feel good and so that their feelings are not hurt. Are we generally more lenient in upbringing than previous generations and why is that (not) good?

“Traditional upbringing is very different from the modern. In the past, few people even questioned about educational methods as they do today, so the modern age brings many advances. At the same time, however, parents are overwhelmed by the amount of information, advice, guidance from verified, and often unverified sources. Many parents look at children’s rights with resistance, because due to the superficial presentation of the profession, it is easy to get the impression that today children have all rights and no obligations, that excessive protection of children, not parents and so on. In fact, if we really go deeper into children’s rights, we will see that absolute permissiveness and putting the child in the role of family leader are in stark contrast to children’s rights. Some parents fall into this trap with the best intentions and it is important to support them professionally, both for their own sake and in the interest of the healthy development of their children”, advises Roje Đapić.

Many parents, when they don’t know what to do, are subject to ultimatums in the sense of “If you don’t do this, you won’t do this and that”. When it comes to ultimatums, the term has a very negative connotation. Of course, it is not advisable to expose children to ultimatums or threats, however, it is perfectly fine, and even desirable, to acquaint children with the consequences of their behavior and give them developmentally appropriate responsibility for their choices. For example: “You can write homework now and then go to football with your brother. You can decide and leave the task for later, but in that case, you will not go to football with your brother ”.

“It is important to consistently stick to what we say and accept that the child makes a choice that seems wrong to us, as long as he does not objectively endanger himself or others,” advises this psychologist.

The consequences of the behavior are divided, he says, into reinforcements and punishments. The main difference is that reinforcements increase the likelihood of some behavior occurring, and penalties reduce the likelihood of some behavior occurring in the future. Reinforcement can be positive, ie providing something that is comfortable for the child, such as a reward (eg “When you clean the room, you will get an extra half hour to play outside with friends”), or negative, or eliminating an unpleasant stimulus / activity. Although tonight it is your turn to wash the dishes, as you have cleaned both your own and your brother’s part of the room, the rest of us will wash it ”). The punishment can also be positive, the so-called punishment by giving, in which the child is introduced to some unpleasant stimulus or activity (eg “Since you did not walk the dog when you should, this week you walk the dog every morning”) or negative, or taking away something that is comfortable for the child (eg . ”Since you are late for home, there are no evening outings this weekend”).

It is desirable that the consequences of the behavior have to do with the actual behavior and that the child, when possible, is given the opportunity to “repair” the damage, such as walking the dog all week because he did not walk the dog when needed so other family members had to. It is also important to pay attention to the desirable behaviors to be rewarded. Some parents say that this is the child’s task anyway, so there is no need to stand out, but it does not have to be a great reward – sometimes it is enough for parents to notice, praise, and pay attention to the child and when everything is done properly. Parental attention is the strongest reinforcement of a child’s behavior and, if they can’t get it by good methods, they will find the bad ones. Finally, it is important that children understand the rules and consequences if we want them to learn something from experience”, advises Roje Đapić.

When choosing rewards and punishments for a child, they should be about the child’s desires, not needs. Abolishing the contact, love and availability of the parents or on the other hand the need for the child to deserve them are not appropriate consequences of the behavior. We want children to have security, to feel worthy of love and respect for themselves and all further relationships in life. It is also important to separate the child and behavior. Even though we don’t like a child’s behavior, it doesn’t mean that we don’t like the child or that he or she is “naughty.” Although it sometimes seems clear to us adults, it is important for children to keep repeating and emphasizing it.”


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Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.   

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