Positive education: a child-friendly method, less for parents

“In order for her to fall asleep, I tell her that I understand her emotions, I try to make her realize the importance of falling asleep. But, insisting, insisting, I came to tell her “stop”, that it is not she who decides, the way it is. »

Elsa is 40 years old. The mother of little Alma in the midst of the “terrible two”, she is one of those parents who, at the birth of their child, enthusiastically invested in the field of so-called positive (or benevolent) parenting, convinced that this parenting method developed in the 2000s will solve all crises, with that they may encounter along the way to fatherhood.

The key to a peaceful family life?

Needless to say, the titles of the books that prowl on the top shelves in the Educational Sciences section appeal to any parent who has already faced their child’s wrath on the train or in the supermarket. “Cool parents make happy children”, “Living happily with your child”, “Children’s emotions are at the core”, “Speak so that children will listen, listen so that children will talk” … So many bestsellers promising caring parents. a guarantee of a peaceful family life, but also the maximum development of your child. After all, what parent doesn’t want their child to be the happiest in the world?

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But for Elsa, the daily application of positive parenting principles sometimes turns into a headache. “I confess that this is not easy, I would like the benevolent method to be always applied in practice, so that the children listen to everything,” the young mother admits. But sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes you crack and moan. »

And she’s not the only one. On internet forums, many parents say they have been seduced by the principles of positive education but struggle to apply them every day. For Beatrice Kammerer, a journalist who specializes in education and parenting and author of Really Positive Education (Larousse ed.), this difficulty is partly due to the vague definition of positive education. Currently, the only authoritative opinion is the opinion of the Council of Europe, which Beatrice Kammerer considers “not very accurate” and summarizes under the title “ideal parenthood, which is aimed at the best interests of the child and his development.” “Positive parenting calls into question the principle that authority would arise as a result of asymmetry between parents and children,” the author continues, summarizing his main principles: non-violent parenting, suppression of rewards, and democratic relations with children. child.

So many ambitions that convinced Elsa on paper. But which are sometimes very difficult to put into practice. “I try my best to keep things going well, water down my wine, but sometimes I get authoritarian in spite of myself, scream. While I understood that it was useless, ”Elsa admits.

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For 40-year-old Alexa, the mother of two girls aged 12 and 17, the advice in these books worked well during “non-work” moments when the family climate was peaceful. “But when I was exhausted, and someone had a hundredth rage over some little thing, it’s hard not to start screaming that enough is enough, that we can’t take it anymore. »

“The concern with the designations of positive or benevolent parenting is that they seem to imply the presence of negative parenting and malevolent parenting,” emphasizes Aude Secheret, co-author of Vincent Joly’s book Innocent. Get rid of the inhibitions of positive parenting” (ed. Larousse). “However, when someone seeks help in books to have a more peaceful family life, with less conflict, it is because they have a desire in their heart to raise their child to be happy and to “help you become a happy and resilient adult.”

“Parents get the impression that they are incompetent when there is simply no miraculous parenting recipe! »

Beatrice Kammerer is also concerned that parents are wrong about the goal of positive education. Or rather, deliberately misled by books that refer to it. “When you say to parents, ‘We’re going to sell you a miracle cure so that your children are not only accomplished and sane, but also cooperative and no more conflicts,’ that’s a very strong argument. However, according to the expert, these methods are not really aimed either at making the child obey, or at subordinating him to parental authority. “This is not about making the daily life of parents more comfortable, but about getting them to adhere to a much more important social goal, which is the best interests of the child. »

We “do not raise a child like we clean a sink”

Another pitfall of positive education is its dogmatism, notes Beatrice Kammerer. In her book, she wisely reminds us that “you don’t raise a child the way you clean a sink.” “Once you start saying don’t say no but stop, don’t say this anymore, do that, it doesn’t work very well. Parents get the impression that they are incompetent when there is simply no miraculous parenting recipe! »

She also deplores the fact that books promoting these non-violent teaching methods use neuroscience arguments to justify them. But, “when you really look at what is said there, it is often tendentious popularization, of poor quality, which reinforces dogmatism, because everything is explained there in an extremely categorical way.”

For its part, Aude Secheret points to the distortion of the language of parents who strive to apply the principles of non-violent parenting on a daily basis. “With children, all the small daily gestures can be a source of tension: eating, bathing, brushing teeth, homework … If we take on all these situations, which are countless on parental day, thinking in advance about everything that (which leads to that the parent almost speaks a language other than their own), they become unmanageable, the parent eventually becomes exhausted, and the child may risk sensing their insincere parent and persecuting him even more. »

“We adhere to the idea of ​​​​an ideal that is rarely found in everyday life”

This is what Elsa saw. The one who wants to take pride in being a “benevolent mother” under any circumstances regularly encounters phases of opposition that push her to her last trenches. “After that, I feel guilty, upset, I have the impression that I am useless,” she says. That is, if this is written, it means that there are people for whom it works, but I don’t. »

“Sometimes it seems to me that these books are illustrations of ideal parents,” Alex lucidly notes. We adhere to the idea of ​​an ideal that is rarely found in everyday life. Beatrice Kammerer nods. “We must not forget that positive education is the pursuit of an ideal. It’s very good to give yourself ideals, you won’t bring up children without children! But the ideal, by definition, is unattainable. We may strive for a positive and non-violent education, but we cannot achieve this under all circumstances. And the authors of benevolent education never tell parents about this. Then we come to the paradox that positive education protects favoritism towards children, but not as much, if at all, protection towards parents. »

Constantly demanded, but always feeling like they are doing too little or doing poorly, parents become exhausted and this can lead to parental burnout. According to psychology professor Moira Mikolajczak, between 5 and 8% of families will be affected by this evil. For Aude Secheret, this “evil of the century” is a symptom of a society that puts too much on the shoulders of parents. “They are given implicit and sometimes explicit responsibility for the present and future happiness of their child, constantly implying that this only depends on how they raise them and how they treat them. They also have to force them to play sports, bring them into contact with nature, help them with school… although not all parents necessarily have the specific means for all this. »

“Education is do it yourself”

What to do when you want to raise your children as best as possible and in goodness, not forgetting and not exhausting yourself? The first step is to stop bemoaning the idea that you can be the perfect parent, like in the books on positive parenting, and become what Beatrice Kammerer calls an “explorer parent.” “Education is do-it-yourself. We have the right to make mistakes, to search, to start over. I like the idea that we can still critique what we try. It allows parents to ask themselves questions, give them confidence, allow them to make mistakes,” emphasizes the author, who also reminds you that you do not play with the child with every word or attitude. “Just because we once cried or weren’t the parents we always wanted to be doesn’t mean it’s over, far from it. On the contrary, it can also be a way to show your child how to correct a situation when you did not behave the way you would like, how to overcome your difficulties.

Also, feel free to challenge the words of those who position themselves as experts in benevolent parenting and admit that such a trick works for others, but not for your child or for yourself. “There is no single answer, the answer lies in daily adjustment and every family must build it. »

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