Book Review: Difficult Children – There is No Such Thing May 16 2017

Difficult Children Waldorf Publications

Difficult Children: There is No Such Thing
An Appeal for the Transformation of Educational Thinking
by Henning Kohler
Reviewed by Ronald Koetzsch

Today "difficult children"—children with attention deficit disorder, high levels of anxiety, restlessness, aggressiveness, and other emotional and behavioral problems — are a major challenge for parents, educators, and therapists. Once the child has been diagnosed and labeled as having ADD or autism or some other condition, the standard approach is to use psychotherapy and/or psychotropic drugs to change behavior. Millions of children today, for example, take the drug Ritalin for attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity.

Henning Kohler is a therapist working with children with special needs in a clinic near Stuttgart, Germany.  In Difficult Children—There is no Such Thing, Kohler presents an approach to dealing with difficult children that is radically different in theory and practice from the generally accepted ones.

Kohler's approach is founded on Rudolf Steiner's view of the child, the same view that is the foundation of Waldorf Education. According to this view, the child is the incarnation into a physical body of a preexisting spiritual being. This individuality has chosen to leave the spiritual world and to come to earth to continue its evolution—to "work on something"—and to contribute to the evolution of humanity as a whole. The child has willed himself into earthly existence for a purpose and destiny and has chosen parents and other adults who will help him fulfill it.

With this understanding as a basis, Kohler says that the role of parents and educators is to help the child discover who and what she is and will be. Their work is not to form the child into a new version of themselves, to impose their capacities and behaviors.  Each child brings love and warmth into the world, and perhaps even a new evolutionary impulse, a possibility for positive change.  Adults must encourage, protect, and nurture the child so that she can realize her freedom and destiny.

According to Kohler. the cause of difficult behaviors in children lies largely in the world into which they come.  It is a world in which family life and child rearing practices have lost the warmth, love, and trust of former times; in which education assesses, evaluates, and dehumanizes children and destroys imagination and soul: in which children are viewed as commodities to be trained to suit the purposes of the economy and the state; and it is a world in which children are abused and exploited and subjected, through the media, to violence and crass, sexuality. Difficult behaviors result from a closing down in the face of the modern world and the death of love, of true thought, feeling, and action.

Kohler offers much practical advice on dealing with so called difficult children and in effect with all children:

  • Realize that we adults are our children's chosen companions and are privileged to be initiated into their individual futures and into the future of humanity.
  • Give up the idea that we have the right and the ability to make a child into this or that type of person.
  • Protect children from the forces of death in the society that attack childhood.
  • Give affirmation, encouragement, trust, social support, and esteem.
  • Give children the space and freedom to become what they wish to become.
  • Weave social skills into the child's peculiarities—ie., do not adopt a laissez-faire approach.
  • Be a role model.  Exhibit tolerance. Adaptability, acceptance so that the child can develop these same capacities.
  • Do not submit children to evaluations and assessments that will result in a label of dysfunction.
  • Do not be intimidated by pedagogues and therapists who live by assessment and therapy.
  • Discern and respect the value of the child's special characteristics and behaviors.

Kohler also presents interesting and thought-provoking case studies that illustrate how his approach works in practice.

Difficult Children—There is No Such Thing calls for a major shift in how adults think about and relate to difficult children and, in fact, all children.  It deserves the careful study of parents, teachers, and therapists.

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