Your child 1-3 years

Authority, what's the point?


To succeed in imposing prohibitions on his child and enforcing them, one must be persuaded of their merits. The psychoanalyst Claude Halmos explains the absolutely indispensable nature of authority in education. Interview.

Why can not a child do without authority to grow up?

  • The fate of a child is to become a civilized being, able to live among others, happy and without causing them any problems. But originally, the little human is badly off for that! It operates according to three principles that do not exactly facilitate life in society.
  • First, he is driven by impulses: if someone is on his way, he jostles him; if he wants something, he uses it. Then he is also the prey of the pleasure principle: he only does what he likes and refuses anything that causes him the least displeasure, so especially the efforts and constraints. And finally, he is convinced of his omnipotence: he thinks he is the king of the world, the center of everything, especially of his family.
  • For their child to give up this initial operation, parents will have to educate him. And in front of the immensity of the task, they will have no choice but to have recourse to a tool to this measure: the authority.

What are the effects of a ban on the psyche of a child?

Forbidden things allow the child to do the enormous work that is incumbent on him: to transform himself internally to become a civilized being
  • A child has an ambivalent position in relation to the prohibitions. Obviously, he refuses them because they go against his impulses, his quest for pleasure and his feeling of omnipotence. But he feels intuitively that he needs it and he looks for it.
  • Take the example of these children who are allowed to do anything: they jump everywhere, climb on the furniture, throw their ball through the room ... and then end up hurting themselves. In the absence of limits placed by adults, they are only a limit, in this case through their bodies.
  • So even if the prohibitions upset the child, they will certainly not traumatize him! On the contrary, they will give coherence to his existence, help him to find the right direction. If, every time he is tempted to indulge his impulses, his pleasure and his omnipotence, he finds a sign "meaning forbidden", he will be obliged to look for ways to behave differently.
  • Forbidden things allow the child to do the enormous work that is incumbent on him: to transform himself internally to become a civilized being! For education does not consist in forcing a child into a mold, but in giving him the means to change and adapt to civilization. On the other hand, if the "meaningless" signs are not clearly placed or if they do not stand up, the child will continue to rush into inappropriate ways, which in any case will not lead him to be happy at all. middle of the others.

How to set up these tags in a sound and judicious way?

  • It is first of all to state the prohibition: we do not tap on the head of his boyfriend in the square to sting his bucket.
  • It remains to explain the meaning of this prohibition: "If we had the right to type the others, it would mean that anyone in the street could hit you and our world would become unlivable."
  • Finally, it is fundamental to make him understand that he is not the only one to be subjected to this prohibition, that all the other humans are also the same, including the adults. "Your dad might also like the neighbor's car, but if he hit him for it, he'd go to jail!"
  • The very foundation of a just authority (quite distinct from authoritarianism) lies there, in the legitimacy of the prohibition having a real meaning and imposing itself on everyone, not just children. That's the difference between having your toddler put on a raincoat because it's raining and forcing him to put on a green raincoat because we like that color ...
  • Another obligatory passage to exercise authority: to feel legitimate to do so, to be intimately convinced of the importance of this role and firmly determined not to derogate from it. It is this conviction which is authoritative with a child, when he feels that whatever happens, he will not be allowed to perform what is forbidden.

Will a child love his parents less, if they exercise their authority?

A child is never wrong. Unconsciously, it always makes the difference between the limit which is posed of right way and that which is imposed by the adult for its only pleasure
  • A child is never wrong. Unconsciously, it always makes the difference between the limit which is posed in a fair way and that which is imposed by the adult for its only pleasure. In the first case, he has no reason to begrudge him! And then very quickly, he experiences the benefits of forbidden. A child who has been taught not to beat everyone makes friends. Certainly, he had to give up the immediate satisfaction of hitting, but he discovered the tremendous pleasures of communication and play.
  • Of course, there is inevitably an ungrateful period to go through, when the child must submit to the prohibitions, without having yet touched the benefits. Exactly as when later he will learn his multiplication tables or make scales at the piano. These frustrations are part of life, we adults have known them and we are not dead! May the parents reassure themselves: authority is an act of love and their child perceives it completely. On the other hand, in families where a normal authority exists, there is also a calm climate, conducive to beautiful relationships. When a child has the idea that he has to go to bed at 8 pm, that getting up ten times is useless, the moments before bed are likely to be pleasant.

From what age can one start to lay the first taboos?

  • The content of the limits and how to explain them will vary according to the age of the child. The civilizing mission of parents starts from birth! So, when a mom explains to her baby, who cries because he wants to stay with her all night, that she is not only her mom but also the wife of her dad and that she wants to sleep with her companion, she shows authority. She tells him his place, she tells him where the limits are.
  • Educating a child is a particularly exhausting job. But the conflicts are only transient: faced with a firm will, a child quickly admits that certain things are not done. It would be a shame to postpone the exercise of authority until the next day, persuading himself that his child is not old enough to bear the frustrations. Mistake ! The more we wait, the more difficult it is to straighten the bar ...

Isabelle Gravillon with the collaboration of Claude Halmos, psychoanalyst, author of L'Authority explained to parents, Interviews with Hélène Mathieu, and Growing up: the construction of the child, the role of parents, ed. Fayard and The Pocket Book.