In a passage of "Terminable and Interminable Analysis" (1937) Freud said that the three impossible professions are, in order: governing, educating and analyzing, which are reflected respectively in the functions of the parent,teacher and the psychologist. All roles united by the presence of a great-expert who relates to a small-inexperienced.
Returning to Freud's words, I will not be interested in the educational function that the adult should have towards the child but, although having different overlaps, I will focus on the human qualities necessary to enter into a relationship, to know how to be with or in the presence of children.
What does it mean to have the ability to be with children?
The first image that I represent of the relationship between adult and child sees an adult kneeling, lowering himself in order to be and "reach the height" of the child. I described a real, concrete situation, but entering into relationship with children also means symbolically becoming small, re-becoming small, be able to feel small, helpless, helpless.
It is said: "Children are the mouth of truth", "They are without filters", the same "filters" which, growing up, obscure and hide our truth.
It can happen, generally from 3 years, that children ask questions such as: "Why do people die?", "Even children die?", "What happens next?".
They are questions / lamas, I call them, because of the pain they cause, since they bring us back to our anxieties, intolerable and unanswered anxieties. So being with them means recognize these anxieties even as their own, before I tolerate them.
It frequently happens not to understand a child; we don't decode a cry, we don't understand the nature of a whim or a given behavior. Here too there is little we can do if not agree not to understand, not to know, to be able to stay and stop in doubt, to wait in a receptive way, qualities that in certain aspects recall Bion's psychoanalytic concept of "Negative Capacity". Being with a child means to face one's responsibilities.
Returning to the initial image, the adult is lowered, but is still an adult in the presence of a child who, with varying degrees of intensity, depends on him.
So, is it possible to accept that someone depends on us if we do not accept in turn to depend on someone?
For example Edmond Gilliéron (1994) thinks that the ability to take on two complementary and necessary needs such as that of living a certain solitude (independence) and of living in the presence of others (dependence) is equivalent to the ability to become autonomous.
Being with children implies the ability to deprive oneself in order to give, to "do without" to "allow to". I assume that if we are with a child and there is only one non-divisible and non-divisible "object of desire", it is given to him. The fact of giving up something to give it involves having give up our greatness, to our strength, to our omnipotence. If we do not do without our omnipotence we cannot allow them to experience it and thus become self-confident.
Giving up our omnipotence also means be able to apologize, of recognize their shortcomings, your shortcomings, your mistakes; as well as be able to gratify and recognize their merits.
Being with children implies the ability to know how to play, to imagine, to create, to know how to be in illusion. It means that if a child hands us a fake phone, we have to answer it.
When the child becomes capable of abstraction, being able to communicate with him gives something precious, to quote Winnicott (1971) we witness the overlapping of two play areas, the co-construction of a symbolic universe which is no longer neither mine alone nor hers alone, what Ogden (1994) referring to what happens in the analysis room calls "Third Analytical Intersubjective" and that is the creation of a space-time-unconscious ours and / or nobody's of two.
Being with children means recognize the other and respect them. A child is a person. You have to know how to respect their times that are different from ours, their ways that are different from ours, their world that is different from ours, and you have to be wise or capable enough to be able to stay with the difference without eliminating the difference itself (Bateson, 1972).
And then they test us, they are extremely good and very clever in doing it. They are human cubs, they are not angels! They test our physiological needs (sleep for example), our patience, our constancy, our ability to establish and maintain the rules, but they are nothing more than ways to test our love. So being with children implies the ability to love, to give and receive love, keeping in mind that it tends to the child who needs love most will ask for it in the least loving ways.
Being with children means dealing with all this.
It is natural to think how much these qualities must be inherent in each therapist / parent to allow their patients / children to "heal" / grow.
And what can happen when you don't have these skills?
It can happen, as it happens, that the child from "object of love" is transformed into an enemy, an enemy to whom to take away voice, expression, movement, freedom, and in the worst case scenario an enemy that must be annihilated.
Children are mirrors, I would add that the smaller they are, the more powerful their reflection is. Not everyone manages to look at their own reflected image, not everyone manages to look inside, not everyone manages to be as wonderful as they are.
- Bateson G., (1972) Towards an ecology of the mind, Ed. Adelphi, 2000.
- Freud S., (1937) Terminable and Interminable Analysis, Ed. Bollati Boringhieri, 1977.
- Gilliéron E., (1994) The first interview in psychotherapy, Ed. Borla, 2003.
- Ogden TH, (1994) Subjects of the analysis, Ed. Masson, 1999.
- Winnicott D., (1971) Playing and Reality-Game and reality, Ed. Armando, 2005.
* Notes on the author: Melania Di Nardo is a Psychologist and Psychotherapist with a Psychoanalytic orientation. For years she has dealt with psycho-educational interventions with children of different age groups. Since 2015 she has been engaged in private clinical activity as a freelancer in the city of Pescara, targeting mainly teenagers and adults. Since 2018 she has been working as a psychologist consultant in the Psychological Listening Center (CASA) of Chieti Scalo, in which, in addition to individual or couple counseling courses, she leads information / training groups aimed at specific issues. Since 2019 she is an ordinary member of Psy +.