Interview with Dr. Catherine Gueguen – Part I

Catherine Gueguen, pediatrician, became known to the general public thanks to two reference works published by Editions Robert Laffont in French: “For a happy childhood – Rethinking education in the light of affective neuroscience” and “Living happily with your child” . She recently co-authored in French “Developing psychosocial skills at school. Let’s dare non-violent Communication” (Edition Canopé, national education, 2023).

Her interventions help us to better understand how the child perceives the world and “the other”, how the child feels our words or our attitudes towards him/her and how to communicate with him/her?

We wanted to meet her to benefit from her insights.

Doctor Gueguen, you have participated to making the contribution of emotional and social neuroscience accessible to parents. What do they tell us about the brain and behavior of young children?

Don’t put pressure on yourself, don’t blame yourself!

First of all, I would like to say to parents and childcare professionals: “Don’t put pressure on yourself, don’t blame yourself! ” Why? Because all these discoveries about the development of children’s brains are extremely recent, and they are a real educational revolution.

For centuries, and even now throughout the planet, the vast majority of adults – whatever the culture, whatever the religion – have believed in good faith that it is necessary to punish children, to train them, to humiliate them so that they behave well and do well at school. So for many adults, it is very complicated because this scientific research shows that, on the contrary, we should be empathetic if we want children to develop well. We should support children, encourage them instead of humiliating them, punishing them and devaluing them. And of course, adults are not going to change their attitude towards children with the wave of a magic wand. This path will not happen overnight.

Making mistakes is okay  

I think everyone knows that education is extraordinarily complex and difficult. And what’s more, all adults make mistakes, whether they are parents or professionals. And making mistakes is okay. All humans make mistakes, and perhaps especially in the educational field, because it is extremely complex. One day or another, all parents, and even professionals, lose patience, get angry, shout or want to give up, become discouraged. They say words, and they make actions that they later regret, and sometimes even immediately. But admitting when you’re wrong and apologizing is very educational for children! This teaches them that adults make mistakes like them, and that we learn from our mistakes. The main thing is to want to improve, to progress, and not to stay alone when you feel overwhelmed. What I am saying here for parents and professionals is very, very important.

What neuroscience researches tell us

Precisely, this is linked to the 2nd question that I want to ask you. You regularly warn against the effects of punishment and criticism. You just mentioned it, but you haven’t yet mentioned the isolation of children. What are the risks for children when we talk about isolation?

Appeasing does not mean giving in

When children are in distress, they have an immense need to be secure

To follow up on the first part of your interview, and because all parents face crisis situations with a child in their daily life: could you give us a concrete example… in a supermarket or even at home, a concrete example of an unacceptable reaction for parents, and an example of reframing – knowing of course that there are no magic recipes

Children cannot calm down alone