Professor Svetomir Bojanin, a child psychiatrist, is known to the general public as the author of the book School as a Disease, in which he was the first to open painful questions of an inappropriate attitude of the modern school towards the mental health of children and youth attending those schools. Later on, in the book Secret of School, in response to previously asked questions, he presents to the general public a model – a school as it should be, as well as a comprehensive analysis of the situation in modern, primarily domestic, schooling. He remained active even after the end of his working life at the University of Belgrade and the Institute of Mental Health in Belgrade, therefore several of his books have been published for the last few years, and his public
appearances have been noticed.

On Saint Arandjel Day 2016, I was greatly honored to talk with Professor Bojanin about role models, identity, friendship, learning, love, and other issues that growing up raises both for children and their parents.

Professor, how did your parents’ behavior towards you define you as a parent?
Thirty-six years have passed until I accomplished the role of a parent. I was completely confused by all those psychiatric theories that are mostly senseless, so I barely got out of all those „Freuds and Jungs“ so it took me a while, and it all affected my relationship with my child. I was somehow afraid that I had to study and work constantly and that I didn’t know anything else… So I learned a lot, but I didn’t apply it, I lived the way my parents did, I emulated my father and mother.
Four things should be warned about – children shouldn’t be given anything too much or too quickly, nothing that they don‟t like or don‟t understand. Whenever I am invited to give a lecture and teach someone how to behave with children or solve psychiatric problems, I am always in fear of two big dangers or traps; of an untruth, that life has already passed, and that when something is not going well, we should look at ancient books to see
how to solve it. In my opinion, there is too little in those „ancient“ books about „ancient truths“, but also about other truths.

The second danger is that I can be misled about something as being considered valuable just because it is new. No one examines what is only possible, which is the truth about life. The truth about life is what we’ve already said, that is „Know thyself.“ Occasionally, we are enlightened by the truths about life, we know and meet them, but we do not apply them; for example, Comenius. He was a significant bishop in the Hussite state in the 17th century. The Habsburgs displaced the Czechs throughout Europe. In the Netherlands, for instance, they had a large colony. Then the Czech bishop visits the colony and sees that children feel lost, that the people feel lost about their identity, and about their basic cultural patterns. And then he tries to make the so-called pansophia
(omniscience) which Czech children will be taught, to make children stick to what is human in their civilization progress. That book was written in 1628 for teachers Czechs, to save the identity of the Czech people who were in the diaspora. And then it turned out to be so brilliant that in 1638 it was translated into Latin and became a great didactic that is still being studied today. There you have a load of time of course in between, but he gave a few fantastic things. He said that children should not be given anything too much, or anything too fast, in order to learn; nothing they don’t like or don’t understand. And when someone doesn’t know these rules, then that one fails the teacher’s exam, Pedagogy… And nowadays when a pedagogue comes into school no one asks him or her about those four rules; don’t give them too much or too quickly, see what children love and whether
something is appropriate for their age. No one demands that any more, so I even heard the other day
that a high-school teacher said Comenius is outdated. Not only is he not outdated at all, but his teachings are yet to be applied! Something new doesn’t have to be immediately valuable, but something that is good – is good. Truth is what is true, may it be the truth said by Socrates or the truth said by Comenius.

Know thyself. That claim of Socrates is even today the most modern truth we know about a human.
Get to know yourself, therefore, and only after that take the role of a father or mother.

Nowadays thousands of parenthood styles are being offered, which can only confuse those who are setting off to that path. How can we be sure that we act correctly, in the first place as parents, of course, and then in all other aspects of life?

We don’t know how and why, but one day it occurred to a man to take into his hands a chisel and a hammer in order to carve ‟Know thyself” into the stone. I experienced “Get to know yourself” as an exclamation. And then he had that conversation with the son, his son. He didn’t take a rod to teach the boy discipline; and he didn’t say to him, “I am your father and I know how a life should be lived, you should listen to me”; and he didn’t deal with authority or authoritarianism, but simply talked to him about life. Then they came across the topic of what sorts of people exist. There are all sorts of people, but there are also good people. Those good people, why do we say they are good? How can we discern an honest person, how can we tell an honest person from a dishonest one? Well, an honest man is honest because he pays his debts; he pays them on time. Therefore, we can draw a conclusion that one has a virtue inside oneself, a virtue that is given to him, a possibility of virtue, and if his actions correspond with his virtues, it means that one is satisfied and happy; if the virtue doesn’t correspond with one’s actions, that is the place where evil, conflicts, and unhappiness begin.

That Socrates’ claim is even nowadays the last truth we know about people.

Then you have that story – people who hold a stone in their hands each, a harlot who should be stoned, and the Christ, and they are waiting for the justice. Christ says to them that a person who is without sin should be the first one to throw the stone; and they are giving up the stones, going away, and he stays with the woman. Then she says, “What should I do now?”, and he says “Go and sin no more”.

A parent always offers oneself to one’s child!

There was no thunder, no death, no party punishment, none of the evil we see every day in our outwitting and deeds. What is happening here, what does “go without sin” mean? He tells us, in fact, that we need to be constantly on the lookout. Does what I’m telling you come from my vanity so I can prove I’m clever, or from the wish to find a mutual agreement about life when discussing it? Do we talk with others to hear something we don’t know or didn’t know; do we make a dialogue from the balance point and raise that balance to a higher level, or do we make that dialogue to prove that we‟re right?
Therefore, what is left is to get to know ourselves, to learn what we feel, who we are, and if we become parents starting from that point, then everything is fine.

We avoid too much talk in the camps we organise and choose the activities which can give children the opportunity to “pick up” as many behaviour examples as they can from the adults. What would you say about educating and nurturing by setting examples?

What you do in your camps is so beautiful; so beautiful because you also have another sort of problem now. We know a child didn’t start walking due to a working habit, it didn’t start talking out of a working habit, but it has done all of that on its own because it tried hard without giving up. I remember myself watching my children; they have always been doing the activities they cannot do and as soon as they managed to do something, they would yet again start doing something they cannot do. Therefore, a child’s got the urge to be like us, it’s got the urge to speak like us, and it is inspired by emulating us if it loves us. Now, those moms and dads must know that whenever they spend time with their child they are offering themselves to their child; and that not only fun and rolling on a carpet belong to educating children, but also when we sit in front of the TV or when you as a dad are fixing a faucet with your two-year child by your side while it handles over a screw or a hammer to you and you say to it “you’re excellent”. Or moms…I know a little Milena, she would stand by her mom while the mom is washing the dishes, and she emulates the washing, she’s more of a bother than help; and they say
to the mom “let her go so she can’t slow down your washing”, but the mom says “let her be here, let her learn”. They should be let learn to do things. Therefore, emulation at an early age is a basic pedagogical and educational tool. When a mom orders a child to tidy the toys, it doesn’t want to do that, but when she says that she’ll pick up the big toys out of all that mess and tells the child to pick up the small ones, a child will do it immediately.

Our aim is not the order itself, but a child knowing to tell the order from disorder.

So, we are cunning and say ‟let’s play” because we want to reach an aim through playing and to raise our children in that way. That’s called identification, so instead of saying “go to tidy your room”, a mom should say “let’s tidy our room together”.

Children who are up to ten years old should’t be said “go and tidy your room” or “start learning”, but “let’s tidy the room” and “let’s learn”.

When something isn’t good at school, then we should say “let‟s see what’s not good” and let the child be a leader in finding a mistake. Maria Montessori already said that excellently, as early as 100 years ago (and we behave as if we‟ve never heard of that). Or when a child has a writing test and gets the worst mark, it means we are classifying. No classifying or giving medals and promotions, but we should discover life and its secrets. When a child finds out that it got confused about something, and that it got neither a slap nor the worst mark for that, but that it solved the problem together with a parent or a teacher, then it will try to solve another problem and the next one again. When solving a problem comes from “let’s learn/ do/ make something together”, it means that there is an invitation for the symbiosis of a parent and a child, and then the symbiosis
further dissolves gradually so that we become me, Pera, Steva, Mira and everyone assumes their individuality. That‟s the way the symbiosis dissolves, but it dissolves healthily and gradually so it doesn’t break apart, and we grow up in a healthy way. Your gatherings are the first thing I liked because children watch their dads doing things. They can also see there that the belief in dads doing something outside a house and moms inside a house is only a myth because that myth won’t happen if mom and dad are good friends.

It seems that there are no friendships at schools like before, which is tendentiously forced by a competing mentality.

Camaraderie and friendship became something undervalued among children; you don’t get either a mark/ grade or a reward for that, but there is ridicule; they say „look at him, he’s helping that fool, he’ll also turn into a fool“. Thus, the basic condition for fathers and mothers to be good friends is to nurture camaraderie and friendship as far back as at school. We tend to establish sexual education but we make a scandal out of it. Nobody either denies or rejects sexual education, but what is sexual education for girls or boys? It comes to boys playing football and girls dancing ballet. That’s the difference; that is also the reason why girls don’t play together or make friends with boys up to some age, or why they don’t speak about camaraderie with boys and why boys and girls are not caring for one another. They could solve some problems together, and then, when they fill in their capacities and cells with friendship, sexual maturity emerges around 11 or 12 years of age. After
that, we can introduce sexual education slowly and gradually. Then there we have friends and comrades who are being sexually educated, and not enemies and rivals and we don’t have the situation of who is going to be superior to the other from the start. That’s where the significant problem is. As far back as Jung’s times, Jung pointed out it was very dangerous to teach children anything before they were ready for it. You cannot teach a five-year-old child how to hold a gun or about sexuality – as I saw in the film I’d watched recently about schoolchildren going to an excursion on the river Mlava where children being only seven years old were taught how to kiss on each other’s mouths, i.e. how to make out with each other – that is perverse and disgusting.
The first father’s task is to make mom feel sure about (his) love which is one of the pillars of that gentle young life.

Is there a difference between a mother’s role and a father’s role in children’s lives?

It all depends on the personalities of the mother and father. You’ve also got tough mothers, and you’ve got soft fathers. All in all, the classical principle is that aesthetics comes from the mother, and ethics, courage, strength come from the father. However, since we live in a civilization where there is not much difference between a hunter and a cook, that level of identification is maybe less important here, but in its essence, a child’s got that need to be attached to a person, it is attached to you until it is three or four years old. The mother is the one who is more important, a child has grown from her hands and it is going back to them. That has nothing to do with sexuality or gender, that belief is absurd, what’s important is that the child has come from its mother’s body. That body was its embrace and then came its mother’s voice, and after that, somebody else is gradually
emerging; that’s the father and his first task is to make mom sure about that love which is one of the pillars of this gentle young life. That is the parents’ task because all of us, both males and females, have that need to feel tucked up in safety, and every child’s got the need to be loved and to mean something to someone.

However, then comes the day when peers become more of an influence than the parents, isn’t it so?

Yes, later, a peer group is more significant than a parent for a child.
Family is more important to a child who is up to three years old. Identities are very important. A Mirko and a Milena, being five years old and a bit younger, respectively, came to sleep at our place so that their father could take proper rest because they were to travel to the seaside at nighttime. In the evening my spouse is taking them to sleep and little Mirko is going by her side and he says “but we are not yours, we are our parents‟ “. It is essential for a child to identify with its family.
Everything originates from the family – smiles, glances, physiognomy, and everything else that goes with these.

Every child feels the need to be loved and to mean something to somebody.

But, when it gets older than three years of age, a child begins to take interest in the surroundings outside the family, such as its friends etc, and it learns how to make friends and play with peers. A granny takes her grandson out into a park and he starts fighting with children, but he cannot wait to go out again and hang out with children because he loves children. He would hug them when the other doesn’t want to, so children need some time to learn how to love, how to be together and hang out with other children.

When a child is four, it identifies with its surroundings and starts making its choices there. In my opinion, it is very important for a child to be able to tell the beautiful from the ugly; when it is five or six it should recognise whether it‟s a male or a female, and it is important for children to love each other because they are friends and not spouses (when children play with each other as in the game “a husband and a wife, a funny life”), but because they are pals. We slowly identify with those similar to us out of that, and when the time comes we‟ll do the same with mom and dad. If mom and dad are compatible, it’s important for children to be with them so that they don’t identify with a nanny, cartoons or back then at my times with cowboys or American Indians if the dad
wasn’t a heroic type enough…It is important for a child to know what is ugly, what is beautiful, what is good, and what’s not good, what is pleasant and what is unpleasant ouch ouch, what is edible and lovable, and what can be loved in some other way. And then, when we have defined what’s good vs what’s bad, at six or seven there emerges logical thinking in a child and everything is put in its proper place, everything fits everything. It happens on its own, whether in a jungle or at school or faculty…The sooner we followed the identification and differentiation of emotions within a child or an adult, the more mature shall we behave sexually, socially and in all other ways.

It is always significant that there is a male identification example so that a child can entwine up with it.

What were your childhood and your relationship with your father like?

My father was a trader. He spent his youth in the Austro-Hungarian armed forces, and after that, he dealt with politics. He appeared somewhat cold, but when I was ill he could be very warm. When we would go to the seaside or somewhere, I liked to go everywhere by his side, and he didn’t mind that at all, he even talked about that. I felt a distance, but I admired him from that distance. He was always kind of important to people around us. There was a kind of tenderness between us, which was not of everyday type but only when needed. On the other hand, I had a cousin whose mother died while giving birth to him and he simply adored my father.

We can notice that fathers are more away from home for work. What are the consequences
of that to the boys and girls?

It always seems like a drawback, but we also expect that there’s an uncle, cousin or granddad who is tough and consistent, and it is always significant that we have the male identification role model whom a child can entwine up with. It can also be a neighbour if there’s a good neighbour with us. We had an uncle Aca /atsa/ in our family, who was strong and burly, a wonderful man, and all children were there around uncle Aca when he would come by; he was the one with authority. That authority is needed because we are there together in all possible circumstances, such as on festivities, in pyjamas, or the most private situations. We are also together when in our bad moods, for we are just ordinary people, we are no educators. However, that friend of ours, who is admired
by us all, is naturally admired by our children, too; and all that always happen as it just should. It is so much important that families hang out together, that there are dads who would take five or six children to the countryside, and also moms who would play with five or six girls, that there are identification role models whom children are attracted to. So, of course, we are not going to push them in one or some other direction, just as we are not going to disturb them.

Thank you very much.

Well, giving thanks goes to you.

I’m sorry for not talking to you like this before I became a parent, for I’d surely be a much better one.

Don’t say so. Don‟t be the best one! Don‟t be the ones with all the best marks/ grades and don‟t be the best, but just be what you already are. You have your qualities. Allow yourself not to be perfectly fair. And don‟t be the best parent, just be a normal person.

Translated by Maja