by Hanna Vock


The adults’ responsibility towards children is threefold:

Caring – Parenting – Supporting

Certain requirements must be met for these processes to be successful:
Imperative: the unconditional love of the parents, the open and emotional attention of anybody involved with the upbringing of the child, their authenticity, the willingness to be fair and basic material means.

Desirable for anybody involved in the upbringing of the child: a cheerful and positive state of mind, a general interest in learning and comprehending.

Even though this manual focuses on the question of advancement of gifted children, yet along with the effort of advancement arise parenting issues. After all, kindergartens are (in Germany) even legally obligated to contribute to the upbringing of the children and to do so in close cooperation with the parents.

Unimaginable, a day in kindergarten where the decisions related to questions of upbringing made by the staff or individual kindergarten teachers did not have any effect — even if it were deliberately decided not to act, interfere or get involved.

What Exactly Is Parenting?

The pertinent literature is abundant, still I would like to add my view of the topic:
Technically speaking, parenting is intentional or unintentional behaviour control.

When children grow up they are being steered towards or away from specific kinds of behaviour. The same goes for an adult’s efforts of refining his own upbringing (or such efforts by another person directed at that adult).

It depends highly on the experiences of the child (or the adult) where in particular the process of parenting will lead. And it is in all cultures that adults aim to affect these experiences, which so eminently imprint on their children’s upbringing.

It is undisputed that the influence of the parents and other individuals of importance in the life of the child is paramount. I consider it crucial. It is a great power, only to be executed with great responsibility.

With regard to manipulation — inacceptable in any of its forms — the line is being crossed when the child is geared towards a behaviour that serves the (selfish) interests of the adult more than those of the child. The pursuit of selfish objectives while the child is growing up turns the parent into a manipulator.
– “I want to get the child to be submissive and not get in the way of my convenience.”
– “I want to get the child to have a career so that I may be better off later on.”
– “I want to get the child to ease my loneliness and never leave me.”

Aside from the danger of manipulation, it is generally true: The less responsible the parents go about the upbringing of the child the more the influence of other individuals who are close to the child will weigh in. Some parents mean the best, but do not even get close.

If parents do not manage to create a well-structured environment for the child, if their attention and care is unreliable, if they meet the basic needs of the child only insufficiently, if the parents, through their own conduct, do not exemplify good communication, the availability of a positive, alternative role model becomes very important.
Beside family life, kindergarten represents not only an additional space, but a space where the child can feel easy and relaxed, where it experiences the edifying forms of togetherness and receive further stimuli for its social development.

Objectives of Parenting

This goes for anyone who is responsible for the upbringing of a child: His/her objectives with regard to upbringing are strongly dependent upon his/her idea of what constitutes good upbringing, regardless of whether or not they are aware if this.

Somebody who has shown great indifference or even recklessness towards others in the pursuit of his career and the accumulation of wealth may well find it desirable for his children to cultivate just these character traits. It may not be on top of his list to teach his children to share, to be considerate towards other people and to comply with the rules of fairness in the pursuit of their goals.

What is difficult is when the child is being told one thing (the good) while it experiences another thing (the not so good) as is being exemplified by the adults, and when on top of this the latter is what is really expected of the child. Then the child can only despair, revolt or become a phony too.

Since many different ideas are possible, I feel obliged to outline my own idea of a child with good upbringing. Needless to say: the reader does not have to share my views.

During its infancy and throughout pre-school age I would like to make my contribution in the way that the child at the age of six will have developed the following traits and skills:

    • The child is well aware of its needs and able to speak up for them.
    • The child is self-confident.
    • The child is aware of and respects the needs of others.
    • The child does not need to be encouraged to ask for help or for an explanation if needed.
    • The child is, in most instances, able to curb its aggressive impulses.
    • The child disposes of appropriate ways to defend itself when under attack.
    • The child usually approaches other people with an open, impartial mind and a friendly attitude.
    • The child has a pronounced sense of justice and injustice.
    • The child respects rules of conduct when it understands them and will mostly abide by them; it is able to question a rule and if necessary verbalise arguments, either against it or in favour of a better rule.
    • The child is able to put aside its own wishes temporarily while something more important has to be taken care of.
    • The child is able to look out for its own possessions and those of others.
    • The child is able to share and does so joyfully. It will spontaneously give presents to others.
    • The child is able to listen to others and mostly manages to hear them out.
    • The child is able to play with others peacefully and cooperate purposefully.
    • The child is able to keep up friendships over extended periods of time.
    • The child is able to arrange to meet friends and stick by them.
    • The child tries to mediate conflicts.
    • The child tries to get help when somebody is being attacked.

Is Parenting Necessary?

Parents often ask me what I think about parenting in the strict sense and whether it is really necessary to take “deliberate measures”, and whether it is not sufficient to see to it that the child grows up under favourable conditions.

My answer is: favourable living conditions are, as described above, a prerequisite for a successful development.

Yet, I see parents (and kindergarten teachers just the like) in an obligation to meet all three requirements in order to ensure that the child gets everything that is necessary for a successful development:

1st Care.
This includes:
loving; cuddling;
protecting; reliably providing for the child;
communicating in an unmistakably loving, honest, friendly and respectful manner.
The adult in charge himself profits from doing a good job: he/she will earn the affection of the child, its charm and caress.

2nd Support (education).
This includes:
Actively helping the child develop an ever increasing understanding of the world (and thereby of its own self).
Creating a positive (if even humorous) learning atmosphere and conveying the tools of cognition.
The adult in charge will profit himself: together with the child he/she discovers and learns about things he/she did not know yet; many things will be understood much better through the effort of explaining them. The child’s questions lead to new insights.

3rd Parenting.
This includes:
actively helping the child to develop its social competence, to become a fair, circumspect, reliable and likeable person.
The adult in charge himself profits: He/she is being trained to overcome him-/herself in order to consistently meet the child’s permanent needs for care, protection and communication.
He/she learns to set aside his/her own needs for sleep, rest, hobbies and socialising as much as necessary. He/she is being trained to observe just the more his/her own authenticity ‑ to not say one thing and then do another.

All this is a question of the appropriate degree: denial of love is bad, so is overwhelming love; do protect, but do not over-protect, as can often be observed these days; do offer consistent and reliable care, but do not over-feed and pamper; cognitive stimulation, yes, but do not challenge the child too much or too little.

Finding the right balance in these endeavours is a permanent challenge, in the family as well as at kindergarten.

And When Does Parenting Begin?

Caring and supporting begin at birth. But what about parenting?

I think, up to the age of about 2 years children should be granted a jester’s license. (The only exception here is: they must be taught to accept a “no” early on, see below.)
Within this period they hopefully experience themselves as being safely and consistently nurtured – and they just go on doing “their thing”. They follow their impulses within the framework of well-structured surroundings, which provide sufficient stimuli and where basic needs are reliably met.

These are the needs I consider to be “basic”:
– Nourishment,
– safety/security (“I’m being looked out for”),
– physical activity,
– warmth,
– fresh air,
– physical closeness to loving persons,
– emotional and intellectual contact to loving persons,
– hygiene,
– undisturbed rest,
– stimulating surroundings,
– lots of freedom to explore the surroundings (to promote and sustain the joy of discovery).

What Exactly Do I Mean by „Parenting“ at Very Young Age?

1st Helping the child to increase its independence,
2nd Helping the child to develop socially agreeable behaviour.

The first point is easily accomplished if one manages to avoid over-protection. I see two causes for over-protection: one originates in (often unrealistically exaggerated) fears with respect to the child, the other cause is the egocentric attitude of some parents who do not want to be alone and seek their own fulfilment by binding the child to themselves, by looking after the child too much and thereby making themselves indispensable.

The development of independence requires not only certain degrees of freedom, but also guidance and encouragement to take action. These efforts, too, are to be made by parents and kindergarten teachers.

The second point needs a closer investigation.

Encouraging the child to develop socially agreeable behaviour, is the effort of turning a self-centred one-year-old into a socially competent five-year-old who respects others and who is able to take some responsibility for itself.

There is good reason that a new-born child and a one-year-old are self-centred: a tiny human being, so highly dependent, must take whatever and whenever it can. If need be, it must scream and “annoy” others.
Its perceptual aptitude, its ability to communicate and its mental capacities do not yet suffice to show any other behaviour. In many cultures babies therefore do have that above mentioned “jester’s license”, this phenomenon can even be observed among higher mammals.

This changes when a child reaches the beginning of its third year. Parenting efforts by adults (as well as by elder children) set in at the age of two. The other two requirements (care, support) must be met by the adults from the very beginning on.

The Early „No!“

The primal means of parenting is the word “no”. Some prefer “stop”, because it does not sound so sharp [as does the German “Nein” which sounds like the English “Nine”] when shouted loudly or spoken in a decisive tone. I prefer the more alarming “no”.
Parents who fail to make timely use of the word “no” (or “stop”) will have difficulties later on.

This “no” does not mean: “I don’t want this right now”, but it means “This is forbidden”. It has nothing to do with my current mood, but it reflects a norm to be abided by in the community the child is part of.

The “no” can only be justified by a lot of “yes”. No child can accept a predominance of “no”. Most definitely, liberties and prospects of development must predominate, so that the “no”, whenever necessary, is acceptable for the child.
The “no” is only necessary,
– if the safety of the child or other people or living beings is in danger,
– if fairness must be established,
– if certain objects must be protected from damage,
– if the parents’ nerves or those of other people would otherwise be overstrained.

The “no” can be effective even if the child does not yet understand the meaning of the word. It is the alarming tone and the corresponding facial expression that does it. Since individual children are of different sensitivity, for some it will take less, for some a little more emphasis.

From the beginnings of mankind to this day adults have had to hold back little children by use of alarm signals; that is, whenever little children begin to move around on their own. The adults have to pay attention and react quickly and loudly when a baby is about to do something dangerous – fall into a creek, climb onto a dangerous rock, step into fire, run into a street. And – for as long as the child does not yet know where a boundary is ‑ an adult will have to go and help the child see the line that should not be crossed.

This alert has been and still is not only applied when a child endangers itself or others, but also in instances where the child is assaulting others – or when it is about to damage something of value. If, for instance, a child is pulling another child by the hair because it wants a toy, one should put an end to this – and quickly so, right at the onset of the child’s action; interfere to reinforce the norm “do not pull others by the hair” verbally and by facial expression.

This is quite exhausting, but it is the only way to prevent the child from developing its aggressive impulses into a general method of getting its way, which will then be hard to get rid of, once it has proven to be successful. By the same token the child that has almost become the victim of the assault in our example learns that it has a right to remain unharmed (and that the adults will protect it).

The more attentively the toddlers are being attended to, the earlier they can be left unobserved. The good news is: If children are trained early on to react to a loud “No!” by pausing and stopping the intended action, they can be granted more free moving space.

At our kindergarten (and I am sure so did many other kindergartens too) we managed to have very few assaults among the children. And in instances where they did happen, the assaulted child knew it had the right to defend itself and that the adults would not put the defence on the same level as the assault.

Many children have a fine sense of the difference between offence and defence. Unfortunately kindergarten teachers often confuse the children by getting the two mixed up. Once an aggressor shouts out loud enough “But he hit me too!” too often both are told “You shouldn’t hit each other at all!”. Great …, might as well go right on to the next attack, easy as it is to get away with it.

How Can Important Possessions Be Protected by Shouting the “Alert”?

When my oldest grandson began roaming through our large living room, in which a little office is set up in one corner, he had to cover 6 meters from one end to the other. Once he had arrived at the opposite end of the room there were shelves with ring binders tempting him. It would have been easy for this strong young boy to pull them out and tear them to bits and pieces, and it would have been a great pleasure for him at this stage.
At the other end of the room (6 meters away) there is another shelf with toys and — now — also a ring binder with scribbling paper in the bottom two rows. This shelf was the “yes” mitigating the “no”.

Now I wanted to draw a line and steer his behaviour.

So I laid out an eye-catching ribbon on the carpet in front of my office corner. As soon as my grandson got closer to this border I shouted “No, no!” and hurried towards him pointing at the carpet behind the ribbon, shaking my head and repeating my “no”.
Then I turned him around, pointed at the path over to the other shelf and gave him an encouraging “yes”. When he got there and started pulling thing out of the shelf he got to hear another friendly “yes”. I even felt like sitting down next to him and joining him in his activity.

This “training” had to be repeated a couple of times, then he had learned the lesson. From that point on, whenever he got close to the forbidden shelf, he shook his head, laughed, turned around and “dashed” crawling happily towards the other shelf. We had an understanding, and I had the feeling that he liked just that. Ever since the office corner was “no go” – and whenever a ball incidentally rolled into that corner he gave me an enquiring look and waited for my “yes”.
He had learned to respect the boundary.

It became difficult again when he discovered his interest in my computer. But here, too, he would always ask my permission first. By the same token I ask the now five-year-old before taking any of his things, for example his school supplies.

This might remind some people of obedience training as applied to animals. Obedience training, when applied to an animal (or to a human being) aims at a behaviour which rewarded with no more than a treat or the attention of a human being, without which the animal would get along just fine in the wild. No tiger needs the stroking by a human being for a happy life, no dog living in the wild longs for the lap of a human being. For more or less justifiable reasons we take away the freedom of animals and provide them with an agreeable alternate world instead, for as long as they behave the way we want them to.

Early behavioural training for children (which many higher mammals give to their young too) is no obedience training, but instead helps children to be safe, become independent and likeable members of their group.

Not the training as such is questionable, but many aims of parenting and behavioural expectations posed upon children are. If for instance a 4 or 8 years old child is expected not to get all messed up and dirty when immersed in intensive playing, or if a child with a great urge to be physically activity is expected to sit still over an extended period of time in school, I find that highly questionable.

And Further Means of Parenting?

So, at the beginning there are reasonable aims of parenting and the corresponding behavioural expectations adequate for the given age of the child. Furthermore, there are “yes” and “no” and the corresponding behavioural training.

But what comes next? Which other adequate tools of parenting are there to be implemented to achieve further aims?

Physical violence is not a tool of parenting, it is a crime.
Among pedagogues this principle has become second nature, yet physical violence against children is still widespread and it has not been that long that it was considered perfectly alright. Physical violence does not only include spankings and physical abuse of other kinds. The denial of food (no dinner tonight or worse) or locking a child up belong on the list too.

Psychological abuse of any kind is no tool of parenting.
There are many kinds of psychological abuse implemented to discipline children; some are obvious, others are more subtle: denial of love; threatening; ridiculing; compromising; humiliating; ironic and sarcastic remarks; unfriendly comparisons with other, allegedly better children …

This is never parenting, this is the abuse of power.

Appropriate Means of Successful Parenting

Parenting encompasses several processes that are entwined with one another:

1st The establishment of norms and rules.
Good norms for living together are often simply passed down, it is enough to be aware of them and to reflect them. Other norms have to be developed (they have to be made up, discussed, negotiated, adjusted and updated).

It is up to the adults (parents, kindergarten teachers) to agree on good norms for living together. When the children have reached a certain age they can be involved in this process. Some 4-5-year-olds may have some good ideas to contribute.

From these moral norms (for example: we want to be fair) rules are to be derived, which are either to be followed by everybody alike or which can be interpreted in a more differentiated way, as for instance: 1 adult gets 2 scoops of ice cream, one kindergarten child gets 1 scoop of ice cream. (See also: The Civil Servant Wanted too Much Ice Cream.)

When there is not enough money and all children are hungry, it may also be fair to leave out the adults and only buy ice cream for the children. (In this particular case the children reasoned: “First of all, we are children and we still have to grow, and then it is you who carry the money and therefore you have to make sure you have enough money on you.” – Case closed.)

Rules should be reasonable and thereby acceptable for the children; there must be no unexplained rules and no rules that limit the children’s freedom unnecessarily.

2nd Communicating rules and norms.
Norms and rules must be communicated in a way that is comprehensible for children. It must be made sure (even if in an exhausting effort) …

    • that every child knows every single rule,
    • that every child understands every single rule and knows why this rule exists (attribution to the norm from which it was derived),
    • that the children are aware that there will always be the opportunity to debate the rule anew – just not in the current situation of the breach of the rule.

3rd The reinforcement of the (well-established and accepted) rules.
The best rule is worthless if it is not being reinforced. The children lose their confidence that the rules are really apt to ensure the rights of the individual and general fairness if arbitrariness rules.

Sometimes the rules apply, sometimes they don’t – sometimes there are sanctions, sometimes there aren’t – this undermines the adults’ credibility.

This does not mean that the same rules have to apply everywhere. Children can easily accept that there are different rules at home, at kindergarten, at their grandparents’ house or in other families.

At our kindergarten it had always been permitted to climb up on the chairs and tables, to play on them or move them around. Sometimes they were even stacked on top of each other. Before a meal they would be wiped off with hot water and dried off and thereby the standards of hygiene were met.

Some parents found it hard to accept this rule as they were afraid their children might start climbing up on tables at home. But it never happened. The children were quite able to differentiate and managed quite well to follow different rules in different situations.

A conscientious allowance of exceptions is as important as the rule itself. There is no doubt that exceptions have to be made. They make the application of rules considerate, fair and friendly.

For safety reasons climbing onto the roof of the garden shack is forbidden. But presently we have a few older children who are really good at climbing, the roof is dry and not slippery and we have the time and can stand by and watch out for them. Therefore we make an exception and let them climb onto the roof.

The other way around: We have a personnel shortage, one of two kindergarten teachers on duty today has a severe headache, the group is agitated and the atmosphere is tense. So for the last two hours of the day, the rule “you can always go any place, in front of or behind the house, to the far corners of the property, behind bushes and anywhere else” is being limited to “everybody stays within the playground in front of the house”. This must be explained, and then also be reinforced!

Sanctions Are Necessary

If children – and this is frequently the case with gifted children – are immediately aware of it when having made a mistake, all “sermons” are superfluous. A look into the remorseful face of the child will do. Any further action would hurt their feelings unnecessarily.

If, however, the child thinks it didn’t do anything wrong, there is need to talk. No endless discussion, which some gifted children can carry on forever, but a precise and clear statement of where everybody stands in the matter.

Sometimes sanctions are necessary — for example, when the child shows the same intolerable social behaviour over and over again, like when it repeatedly does not take care of chores around the house it has accepted, or it keeps teasing and annoying other children. (Appropriate duties at home for a five-year-old could be: regularly taking the dishes out of the dishwasher, or tidying up its own room and vacuuming it, or sweeping the balcony, the veranda or the stairway, or cleaning up the table after dinner and wiping it off …)

What Could These Sanctions Look Like?

1st You can let natural consequences follow,
2nd You can deny certain “benefits”.

A natural consequence is that parents/kindergarten teachers are angry and clearly show their disapproval by scolding the child.
A natural consequence of the failure to clean up the dinner table could be that none of the parents feels like telling a good night story, even though the good night story is custom and practice and the child has any right to count on it.

If the room has not been tidied up, visits by friends or planned activities with friends may be cancelled, even if the child has been looking forward to these. It would be a natural consequence if the parents insisted that the room be tidied up and cancelled the trip to the public swimming pool (or used the time set aside for the trip and took care of it themselves).

There is hardly a natural consequence in the case of repeated teasing and annoying of other children. An appropriate sanction might be to exclude the child from the trip to the amusement park or (at kindergarten) from the next planned field trip.
It is important that the child understands how the sanction is linked to its behaviour.

A tough but often effective method can be to expose the child to peer pressure. This requires a good deal of sensitiveness and acuteness of thought on the side of the kindergarten teacher. Such a case is described in the article: And Gone Were the Presents.

The Children Parent Each Other Though!

Yes, not only the parents and the kindergarten teachers parent the child, it is being parented by the other children as well, even by children of the same age or younger.
An adult does not always witness how children interact so that he/she could, if need be, intervene — and for children of age three and older this is a good thing.

The children are quite able to negotiate the terms of their interactions among each other. If it works out, this takes quite a load off the shoulders of the adults.

And what does that mean: “if it works out”?

It’s working out well if in a group of children it is the well-mannered children who are setting the agenda. A group of children is never egalitarian. There is always at least one, if not more, leader-type child with a natural authority (or power) who is setting the tone and the agenda.

What do these children do? Which are their norms? Which behaviour seems to come naturally to them?

Parents and kindergarten teachers cannot absolve themselves from the responsibility to look after this and make sure that those children are supported who have higher expectations with regard to social behaviour. Unfortunately, this does not always happen by itself.

When I first started out at my kindergarten it was like the “Wild West”. The strongest children were rather selfish and inconsiderate: they occupied the most popular places and held on to the most wanted toys whenever they felt like it. They threatened and drove other children off, and they would not even hesitate to get physical. They thought it was their good old right (the right of the strongest) to always have their way, even by the use of force if need be.

A number of children avoided this gang and stayed way out of their way. They were intimidated and gave up quite a few things they were entitled to. The middle-aged children tried to decide: do I want to be a victim or wouldn’t it be better to be the offender after all? The little ones (3-year-olds) “had no say at all”.

Many parents think this is normal: “That’s the way children are!”

It took a few months before things began to change. The ruthless among the children who were in their last year before school would by no means see why they should give up their “prerogatives” and did not change their attitude before changing over to school.

Their leave was a great relief, not only for myself and my colleague, but also for some of the children. They had long understood that good rules could mean safety and justice – as long as everybody stuck to them.

Ever after we were often envied for our fun and peaceful kindergarten life.

When Has Parenting Failed for the Time Being?

I consider early parenting (irrespective of education and care) as failed if a child at the age of 5 still shows antisocial behaviour on a regular basis.

Almost every child at this age will transgress boundaries and violate rules every once in a while. This, too, is indispensable in the effort to develop a strong sense of self-determination. But part of this effort is also to learn to face the music.
These are the necessary processes of social learning:

    • the occasional violation of rules,
    • the protest against or acceptance of sanctions,
    • the principal questioning of rules.

It is the same for adults: I’m speeding on the motorway and the next thing I know is I have to put up with having to pay a fine of € 25.00 — and how I just love that!

This “every once in a while” is to be distinguished from the habitual violation of rules. A child of 4 or 5 years of age that keeps defying rules which are vital for a peaceful coexistence is being antisocial. What is to be considered “antisocial” at this age? It means
– assaulting others again an again,
– wanting to hurt them,
– wanting to get what others already have and fighting for it brutally and ruthlessly (deafening yelling and screaming are part of the deal too), not being able or not wanting to share.

What Has Gone Wrong?

– Social standards have not been communicated clearly enough or without enough emphasis. Benign parents often think that such expectations are too much for their young ones. They grant the child the “jester’s license” for too long.
And / or
– There have been negative role models among the adults, among older children or among the child’s peers of age. These had an overwhelming influence and were not criticised enough.
And / or
– Violations of norms have been answered with indulgence, if bad comes to worse even in a comforting (!) manner.

Unfortunately, even one of these parenting mistakes can by itself set off an antisocial development if repeated often enough.

Now What?

Now — as horrible as it sounds — the child must be re-educated. This is an arduous task, which requires that parents and kindergarten teachers will pay close attention to the child and react clearly and without delay to any violation of a norm. And this must happen at a time when the other parents (and kindergarten teachers) with the well-mannered children can lay back and even leave their children to themselves over extended periods of time.

At this advanced age (5 or 6 years) it seems to me to be more difficult to get to a point where these children really internalise social norms, where good social behaviour becomes second nature and a heartfelt desire.

Woe Betide, if You Let Them Loose!

We all know ill-mannered children who “can totally freak out”, if they are unobserved or if they are in the majority in a group. Children’s birthday parties, sojourns in youth hostels and occasions of the kind can sometimes “derail” entirely — a horror for the parents. Such escalations are a clear signal that norms have not really been understood, accepted, let alone have become an internalised desire.

This can happen if mistakes of parenting persist or/and above all if children/juveniles experience a distinct discrepancy between the norms and the actual behaviour of their parents, their kindergarten teachers or of others from their social surroundings.

Then social behaviour will only be shown when under observation by stronger / more powerful individuals (or in the worst case will not be shown at all). Then we are talking about a juvenile or adult with an anti-social behaviour disorder.

If It Has Worked Out Well So Far: the Next Step in Parenting

The well-mannered child has now developed a reliable “inner voice” for social behaviour. The parenting job would be done, if 4- and 5-year-olds were not still somewhat easily lured into anti-social behaviour. There is always a promise in allurement. The persuader appears strong and keen: he promises fun, pleasure, triumph. Nothing wrong with letting oneself be lured into fun, pleasure, joy and triumph, as along as this does not go together with anti-social behaviour. And, by all means, there are plenty of socially acceptable sources for such indulgences.

Children should, however, be “vaccinated” against the allurement of anti-social behaviour. Those who are in charge of their upbringing and whom the well-mannered child trusts must continue to observe closely.

They should catch on quickly when another child or an adult tries to talk a child into anti-social behaviour, for instance: “Come on, let’s smash this” or “Come on, let’s run away (or across the dangerous street)” or “Come on, let’s say (to another child): ‘You’re not getting any of this cake, you’re too ugly’” or “We can steal this, nobody’s watching”.

It is surprisingly common that such behaviour is considered perfectly normal for 4- to 5-year-olds, and it is often trivialised.

How is this to be changed?

It is not easy for parents to criticise their child’s best friend, but it is necessary.

It is the only way for the child to learn how to take its own decision and to draw a line if necessary. There is no need to put the friendship into question (unless the case is severe). Being confronted with the criticism the parents have for the friend the child can decide for itself whether it is with the parents or with the friend in the matter. In any case it gets a chance to work things out with its friend. Maybe the friend changes his/her behaviour, maybe the friendship is spoiled or given up altogether and new friends have to be found.

It is vital that the child be supported in its ability to take and offer criticism, that it learns to draw a line, where necessary, and have certain expectations with regard to friendship.

Parenting continues and has to be finished in time

Basic moral issues can be sufficiently dealt with within pre-school age — but the children will always face new moral challenges — just like we adults do. Parents and teachers are responsible for helping children to cope with these, they should continue to stand by actively and with genuine interest. Sometimes well justified sanctions have to be imposed even on school children.

In my experience it is about at the age of 13 or 14 years that gifted children usually reach a degree of maturity that renders all further disciplinary interventions superfluous. The parenting process is “completed” and the child can now decide for itself, entirely independently.

If there continues to be a good trusting relationship between the parents or the teachers and the child/adolescent, the juvenile will come back for advice or comfort, surely not in all, but in some situations. This, of course, requires the teenager to recognise the adult as a moral authority and to be confident, that the adult will understand the current problems and handle them discretely and wisely.

Some adults, who would be legible for offering assistance just by virtue of still being close enough to the juvenile, jeopardise their credibility by being too suspicious, exerting too much control or trying to act as a guardian.
This is a pity for both sides.


In more fortunate cases the adults give up their leading role in time and assume a position where both sides learn from each other as equals.

See also:
Special Playing and Learning Needs or the Early Notion of Being Different
How Do Gifted Children Learn?


Date of Publication in German: 2013, September
Translation: Arno Zucknick
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see Impressum.


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