Why did my child give up sport?
Brain researcher: "Children make themselves miserable out of love for parents"
Your child wants to be loved, they love you - and they want to make you happy. We're not telling you anything new, that sounds wonderful. But if the child tries to fully adapt to the expectations of the parents, then it loses spontaneity, joie de vivre and sensuality, as the brain researcher Gerald Hüther thinks.
DEFAULT: In your lectures and books you repeatedly advocate that parents should enable their children to play freely. What does it mean and why is it so important?
Hüther: When children play without adult guidance, they learn. You can't show the child how to paint. You have to find out for yourself. Every new discovery, every new knowledge and every new ability triggers a storm of enthusiasm in the child's brain. This enthusiasm for yourself and for all that remains to be discovered is the most important fuel for the further development of the brain. That is why every child learns everything particularly well that triggers enthusiasm in them.
DEFAULT: Well, especially small children often develop a great joy of discovery while playing. Parents then have to set limits and prohibit the child from doing things. What then happens in the child's brain?
Hüther: If the child keeps clearing out all of the kitchen equipment in the cupboards, parents may come up against their own capacity for this joy of discovery. They forbid it. So the child realizes that this is not wanted. As a result, synaptic inhibitions are placed in the child's brain on the area that is responsible for the joy of discovery and enthusiasm. The same thing happens when a child has an insane need to move and finds it difficult to sit at the table. At some point, it may find that it has reached its limits in trying to unfold. So it is forced to suppress this need.
DEFAULT: But there are also children who have a very strong will and assert themselves ...
Hüther: Every child has one great wish: that they be loved by their parents. It wants to make parents happy. If, with his urge to develop, he keeps feeling the rejection of the most important caregivers, then this need is gradually suppressed. This does not happen consciously, but is a function in the brain that has to happen: The state in which a brain, a whole person, consumes the least energy is called coherence. That is achieved when everything fits together perfectly. This conflict between the needs of the child and the limits of the parents creates a situation that disturbs coherence. This quickly becomes uncomfortable because the nerve cells begin to fire in an uncoordinated manner. Then we are not well, we start looking for a solution, and when we can find it and meet the challenge, this incoherent, energy-consuming state in the brain becomes a little more coherent again. The child is then "voluntarily" ready to address its needs. I like to call it "This part of the brain gets involved". It can be anything: joy in learning, enthusiasm or compassion. If the child has managed this well, there is also a reward for it: the parents' joy because the child is good.
DEFAULT: Compassion is something positive. Doesn't that please all parents?
Hüther: Why don't you walk around town with a kid who hasn't suppressed sympathy? You might pass homeless people lying on the ground. Most children cannot go by without stopping and asking what is wrong with the man or woman. Then you have to make it clear to the child that you don't want to worry about the fact that this person may be their own fault. As a result, the child learns to walk past a homeless person without feeling compassionate. Why? Because it is more important for the child to be with their parents than to turn to the homeless.
The needs and personalities of every human being brought with them are eventually wrapped up so well that they fit into the family and society. The ones who are best tangled fit in best. Ergo: A good school leaving certificate is not necessarily an indicator of intelligence, but of good adaptability.
DEFAULT: Why is that bad?
Hüther: Because you are never really happy in this state. With such entanglements it is so that the need comes up again and again and you have to push it away again and again with a high expenditure of energy. That is also the reason why particularly involved people can no longer develop. They have to keep adjusting, getting more tangled, and at some point they're slippery and slippery all over the place. They always fit in everywhere, but they have lost important properties: joie de vivre, spontaneity, sensuality.
DEFAULT: Do you have a concrete example from life?
Hüther: I even experienced a little story myself: After one of my seminars, a manager approached me because he was worried about his 26-year-old son. He had already dropped out of four courses. He was in Australia to find himself and had already started a new apprenticeship, for which he could not muster any enthusiasm. I met the young man for coffee and we started talking. Actually, I just wanted to know from him when he had felt the last time in his life that real joy and enthusiasm. He told me about a time when he was twelve years old when he regularly played paintball with friends. His eyes started to shine. And then? At some point his parents told him they were concerned that their son was playing with guns. After all, they are pacifists. After that conversation, he never played paintball again. The only reason he was able to stop was because he was suppressing his passion for it in his brain. So the area in the brain that is responsible for enthusiasm and passion has been inhibited. Then there was nothing left.
DEFAULT: That shakes me. After all, the parents didn't do anything wrong, and then a big life problem for a person arises so quickly here?
Hüther: Neither the parents nor the son meant it badly, but that's how our brain works. The second law of thermodynamics also applies to all human communities such as schools or later in the job. In order to maintain your functionality, you must try to keep the energy consumption as low as possible.
DEFAULT: Is there any way to reactivate this area in the brain?
Hüther: Yeah, that's the good news. The human brain can be rebuilt throughout its life, and it is never too late to break free from these established patterns of one's own thinking, feeling and acting. Brain research calls this ability neuroplasticity. To stay with the wording: Development is always possible. Namely when we come into contact with our entangled needs and personality parts again. Some go to the forest to do this, others watch a film, and others meet someone who touches them. The aforementioned young man then founded a start-up in which, as in paintball, he was able to combine teamwork and the feeling of autonomy. His father told me that he is still passionate about it today.
DEFAULT: That sounds easy again. After all, we are constantly touched by something in everyday life, aren't we?
Hüther: Well, you have to want this development. We live in a world in which one can live quite well with the entanglement of our potential. There are people who do not want to be touched, then the suppressed needs are simply pushed away again and again. With big cars, big houses, expensive clothes, alcohol or other things that nobody really needs.
DEFAULT: Does that mean that these tangles in our brain are sometimes a cause of our environmental problems?
Hüther: Of course, that's why you have to start with the children too. For several generations it has been well observed that children become less and less involved. Of course, this also has to do with the fact that we haven't had a war in the last 75 years - thank God there was no need and misery. That means that parents were more able to accept their children with their personalities and just let them be as they are.
There is now the first generation of children in whom we as adults have not been able to suppress their needs. These children are now our development helpers. This has never happened in the whole of world history. That the next generation helps the elderly to free themselves from their entanglements. Today the children sit at the table and say: "Nope, I don't eat meat. I feel sorry for the animals." Thirty years ago that would have been a problem in many families. Today this affects many parents - and, to stick to the example, it is not uncommon to see that the whole family is vegetarian after a year.
DEFAULT: You said at the beginning that the ultimate goal of children is to be loved by their parents. Does that mean that children these days are more likely to "take the risk" of not being loved by their parents?
Hüther: No, they know that there is a generation of parents who accept their needs. From generation to generation they have freed themselves a little from all these dogmas and are now able to grant the child rights. If the old power structures in a society are no longer so strong, then there are no longer so many suppressed personality parts and needs, and people are liberated.
DEFAULT: What is your future prognosis for the next 50 years?
Hüther: We are currently experiencing a process of dissolution of power structures and hierarchical orders. They are not negative per se, because for 10,000 years they have made society more or less coherent. They are only unfavorable in that, for 10,000 years, people all over the world have been trying to overtake, outperform and outbid one another. In the end, the world will be globalized and digitized. We have already ruined the diversity of life that has emerged on our planet over millions of years. We got completely lost there. The old principle of order has long since reached its limits. It put forward something that is now destroying it itself and increasing the incoherence again. The result is that many people are looking for something that will restore this order.
DEFAULT: What would that be for example?
Hüther: Mr. Strache, Mr. Trump or Mr. Orbán.
DEFAULT: Does that mean that many do not even want to develop their own potential?
Hüther: You cannot handle this newfound freedom. That's why they long for old, hierarchical models. In order to restore this, the world would have to function just as it did back then. This would require a war that was as destructive as possible, where everything collapses. Then a leader can come again and organize the reconstruction.
DEFAULT: So your forecast for the future is a destructive war?
Hüther: If we want to survive on this planet, we have to learn to shape our coexistence more constructively than before: with each other instead of against each other, connecting instead of dividing, mindful instead of ruthless. Man should actually find his own inner orientation, like a compass, with the help of which he shapes his own life and his coexistence with others in such a way that it is good. And that is called dignity. Dignity means that I no longer make myself available as an object for others and I also no longer make others an object.
DEFAULT: So if we live with dignity, can we save our planet?
Hüther: . Someone who has become aware of his own dignity is no longer suitable for hierarchical orders. If we as adults succeed in developing this dignity in the children, then they will no longer be available for the rulers mentioned above. The new has long been there, but given the fact that the old has been around for 10,000 years, it cannot prevail the day after tomorrow. This is the most difficult process of transformation that we as humans have ever been through.
DEFAULT: From the point of view of the brain, would that be the next evolutionary step?
Hüther: As long as there is hunger, need, misery and disease, we will not be able to develop. That is why it was also good that we were constantly inventing new things in hierarchical structures in order to counter this. We have all of these things under control, at least in theory. So yes, we are now at the point where we could start living as humans. (Nadja Kupsa, January 19, 2020)
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