Babies need discipline

Expert discussion: first love, then obedience

"Discipline without fear" is the title of a new book that joins the current debate about education. An interview with the author of the book, Wolfgang Bergmann, himself a father of three children.

Conversation with Wolfgang Bergmann

ELTERN: Is your book the answer to Bernhard Bueb's "Praise of Discipline"?

Wolfgang Bergmann: More like the reaction to a changed educational landscape. For this, Mr. Bueb with his inhuman pedagogy is ultimately only a symptom. I just notice how much parents want to have everything under control with their child today. How important school success has become. That professionals consider boundaries and discipline to be the most important thing in education. And - I still make the best observations in the ice cream parlor: I see more mothers today than I used to who are not afraid to give their children something on their fingers. This development scares me.

PARENTS: Nevertheless, you do not reject discipline as a matter of principle, see book title.

Wolfgang Bergmann: As for the book title: I originally wanted "Obedience is a child of love". But the publisher convinced me to take "discipline without fear".

ELTERN: Is it not possible without these terms, which sound like discipline and order?

Wolfgang Bergmann: It depends on how you use them. Let me sum it up with the simple formula: Children need love and obedience. The sequence is decisive: first the child has to feel loved, it has to trust its parents - then obedience follows all by itself. Basically, children want to follow their parents, and they are happy to do so when they can trust that their parents know where to go.

PARENTS: What if the order is wrong?

Wolfgang Bergmann: So it is with obedience teachers like Mr. Bueb. They put discipline above everything. They spread fear because they are quick to deal with punishments. They also talk about loving their children. But the most important thing for them is to discipline children, to set limits for them. If these children obey, it is out of fear. That is bad obedience, it used to be called cadaver obedience.

PARENTS: But isn't it right to set limits to children and show them that everything in life cannot go according to their wishes?

Wolfgang Bergmann: Oh, you know, there are limits everywhere. Measured against the flowing sense of self of a small child, the world is nailed up. One-year-olds fight against gravity, against the pronounced will of their older sister, against the pitfalls of the German language. We adults don't have to set additional limits, they are just there.

PARENTS: And what do I do with a defiant two-year-old? Example: I have to get out of the house urgently, but my son really wants to keep playing and does a giant dance.

Wolfgang Bergmann: Ideally, you have warned him a bit. And when it really comes time, show him you understand how stupid it is to have to stop playing. He must feel your empathy. But then you are allowed to behave as the obedience teachers would have acted from the beginning. They prevail and after a period of time they say: "It doesn't help, you come with me now." And if the basic trust is right, then you won't need shouting or physical violence to prevail.

PARENTS: In your book you repeatedly emphasize the importance of parents being strong.

Wolfgang Bergmann: Children perceive parents as strong, whom they can trust. Who are loving and full of understanding, but also hit the table if need be. Which are just not tepid. Children don't like that. They prefer clear words to lengthy explanations. They are looking for parents who can give their opinion, sometimes with a wink, fathers who can really thrash a soccer ball and don't tip over when the neighbor complains because the ball has flown into his garden.

ELTERN: All parents would like to be: strong, humorous, relaxed. But they realize that they can't do that in everyday life. You just don't feel strong. Can you prescribe strength?

Wolfgang Bergmann: Of course not. But it is not at all a question of educating without errors. That's not what I mean by strength or sovereignty. I'm doing maybe 30 percent right in my family. The children make up for the rest. Parents should trust what they have a lot more.

PARENTS: The ability to be loving, understanding, empathic?

Wolfgang Bergmann: Exactly. I want to evoke that with my book. Building an intimate relationship with your child - that is more important than great knowledge, clever parenting tricks and a balanced nature at all times. Parents who rely on them instead of punishments trust children. From this trust, curiosity, cleverness and self-confidence grow. And these children obey their parents whenever it matters.

Interview: Oliver Steinbach


You can read more on this topic in the book:

Wolfgang Bergmann:
"Discipline without fear. How to win the respect of our children and not lose their trust"
Beltz Verlag, 17.90 euros