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Raising our children

Sensing your child’s needs

Interview AD - In a nursery the children are being read a story

With the best of intentions we bypass the true needs of our children. Even in the first years, which specifically determine our children's emotional stability for the rest of their lives. Why this is so and what can we do about it? Psychologist Ingeborg Bosch explains this in her latest book.


Text: Helga Kormos Photo: ANP/Ruud Hoff
Archive photo ANP/RUUD HOFF

A nursery worker reads a story to the children. Taking a child to the nursery at a too young an age causes stress, according to Bosch.

Let the baby cry or pick it up? Take it to the nursery or keep it at home? These are the kind of questions new parents are confronted with. It is up to them to try and find answers in the plethora of information out there.

While, according to psychologist Ingeborg Bosch, there is indeed information available that is reliable and objective and from which clear directions can be derived. This information is however hidden in scientific literature which is not easy to understand for people who are not versed in the specific terminology of these works.

Ingeborg Bosch saw it as her responsibility to transfer this knowledge to parents and professionals who work with children. This was one of the reasons why she wrote her new (self help)* book which is about raising children.

We should, according to the author, be aware that a baby’s pre- and postnatal brain is extremely sensitive to anything that happens to it. Negative experiences cause the production of stress hormones which harm the tender, rapidly developing brains. With far reaching consequences for the child's emotional stability later on.

But do not think that stress only happens in cases of child abuse and other traumatic experiences. Also relatively less severe, more "normal" negative experiences can cause a lot of tension. For instance this happens when parents leave a child in nurseries too soon, leaving the child to cry until the time has come to feed it, or ignore it when it is scared and needs reassurance. “The essential part is”, according to Bosch, "that the child is completely alone with its feelings. That there is no-one who provides the help, comfort or reassurance that it needs. That is what causes most stress."

Bosch however does not want to put blame on parents, she rather wants to raise awareness of what is at stake. It is crucial that mothers and fathers are available to their young children as much as possible and immediately and appropriately respond to their signals. Only then the child feels safe in the knowledge that there is always someone who will consistently meet its needs, which is the elementary condition for safe bonding and with that, for the right development. This has been confirmed by American research involving measuring the levels of the actual stress hormones. The better the mothers reacted to their children’s signals, the more safely bonded and the lower the children’s stress levels were. 

That there is no-one who provides the help, comfort or reassurance that it needs. That is what causes most stress.

There are however more considerations that drove Bosch to writing this book. According to Bosch, all of us deny the fact that there is much amiss with what we consider proper child rearing. Just take a look at, for instance, the huge number of adults who are trying to cope with fears, depressions, addictions and so further. Disorders which according to Bosch "virtually always have their roots in the past". And this is while - pay attention - in most cases their own parents had the best of intentions.

She calls it a "persistent myth that as parents we should by inborn knowledge naturally know how to behave as mothers and fathers." Child rearing, or as she rather calls it "support of children towards adulthood" is not a small matter. "But, in this day and age where we need diplomas for nearly everything, there is no requirement at all for having children and rearing them.”

It is hardly surprising that Bosch is adamant that couples, once they realize that they would like children, should first stop and contemplate the following: where does this wish come from, the consequences of becoming parents and so forth; that expecting parents prepare themselves thoroughly before the child arrives, also physically. "Child rearing is a top sport, especially in the early years, and even more so when you yourself have a burdened past.” "Prevention is so much better than treatment afterwards."

Bosch has described her ideas and vision fully and with much passion. Parents and others who do not shy away from reading approximately four hundred penetrating pages can benefit from it. This is also true for politicians and policy makers - because in the last chapter of the book the author specifically and comprehensively addresses them. And this with quite a few ideas and propositions around how to improve matters for families in the Netherlands. Parents cannot as such manage everything on their own, certainly not if they are required to combine care with work. Society must give them more scope and help in order to fulfill their task as well as possible.

Foto AD over een kinf dat steun en begrip nodig heeft


‘“Feel that your child needs
understanding and support
rather than reprimand,
punishment or reproach.”


Anyone reading the book shall not find any detailed advice on specific situations that will arise with bringing up children, as that, according to Bosch, will not work. It is much better to develop an "internal compass" which can guide parents on their path. Then they do not need to refer back to expert advice or – unwittingly - repeat what their own parents did.

Because this will happen without fail as long as we are carrying our ‘own baggage’ around with us: the negative experiences which we ourselves have had to repress in order not to feel the pain. This survival mechanism from the past ensures that we are, as it were, half blindfolded. Bosch: "Half the pain and needs of our own children pass us by unnoticed. Our baggage hampers our emphatic capacities.”

An example from the book illustrates this: one mother, who as a child, had been punished harshly after wetting her pants, copies this treatment towards her daughter. This is why the child is not yet potty trained at four years old. The mother does not notice her child’s fear when being reprimanded severely over an accident. The reason for this is that the mother in question has had to bury her own fear and despair a long time ago.

How can we get rid of these blind spots?

"By becoming aware of the destructive survival mechanisms that we activate in order not to feel the pain which is buried deep inside our bodies.” She has developed a method to achieve this, Past Reality Integration, PRI in short **. This method helps us to realize and in particular also to feel what it is like to be that small and dependent and then not having your needs met.

Half the pain and needs of our own children
go by unnoticed.

Going through this process does not only help you achieve more balance in your own life. According to Bosch this is also a prerequisite in order to be able to clearly feel what your child really needs. That is not always easy. The real needs of children are often hidden. "Children usually do not have the verbal abilities available to them to express themselves adequately” explains Bosch. Then it is a good thing when you can sense that your rebellious or withdrawn offspring needs understanding and support rather than reprimand, punishment or reproach.

But does the above mean that Bosch wants to let children have their way in everything?

Far from it. In the book she not only points out the needs of children but also when parents need to take the lead. A child needs someone to take it by the hand as well: to protect it from danger, guard its health and teach it not to harm others. “Do this clearly and confidently but with understanding,” says Bosch. So, not angrily, blaming, shouting, pushing or pulling the child. Because then we only teach it to fear us.


A plea
More room for parenthood.

In her book “De onschuldige gevangene” (The innocent prisoner) psychologist Ingeborg Bosch pleads, like the midwife Beatrijs Smulders, amongst other things for more and better facilities for parents. These vary from extended pregnancy and parents leave, part-time employment until after the child reaches puberty, to wages for mothers and fathers, courses in parenting and more. According to her it should also become the norm that children are not left in nurseries before the age of 2,5 or 3. From that age on children are developing the ability to play together. And then attending the nursery should be limited to only some part-days per week.
Most toddlers attend nurseries for two part-days a week, according to the NJI (Nederlands Jeugd Instituut: Netherlands Youth Institute). Like Bosch they plead for the presence of the same nursery workers (and the same children) consistently because the little ones derive their security from that.

* De onschuldige gevangene (The innocent prisoner) by Ingeborg Bosch, pubslished by L.J. Veen, 22.90 euro

** For more information on PRI and the books by Ingeborg Bosch,

Article from the Dutch newspaper 'Algemeen Dagblad' from Januari, 9 2008