Interview with Caillou’s psychologist
An interview conducted by Christine L’Heureux, publisher and co-creator of the Caillou character.
Over the years, the Caillou stories have always been supported by the expertise of child psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. From the outset, I believed these stories required an authentic voice carefully tailored for the children we wished to reach.
Strengthened by this conviction, I adhered to this guideline over the years and asked for similar choices from the animated studios. The input from our child psychiatrist enabled us to create rich and fully developed content. I believed in this philosophy then as I do now; in my opinion, it has had a powerful impact on Caillou’s success.
Caillou has a soul and a clear identity. He is unique, in the sense that the storylines do not simply outline the day-to-day life of any child, in the way many other children’s books do. Instead, they allow us to experience the full spectrum of Caillou’s emotional life.
This is an intimate world, revealed to us in small, delicate ways. A child’s interior world, with thoughts not easily spoken and too rarely expressed – and yet, talking about everything is an essential requirement for normal childhood development. Caillou offers us a glimpse into the unfathomable depths of a child’s heart, in a world replete with emotion. This is the foundation on which this character was created.
For many years, we have worked with Francine Nadeau, who opens her lectures by introducing herself as “Caillou’s psychologist.” And rightly so; Francine has collaborated in the writing of so many Caillou’s adventures through the years. As a result, I decided to revisit the basis of our relationship in a recent conversation with her.
CL: In your opinion, what makes the Caillou project so unique, even after all these years?
FN: I do believe that every collaborator on this project has worked to externalize the inner world of a young child, to bring the invisible into the open . . . and to speak the truth about a child’s life, over and over again.
Essentially, the authors and all of the various “shrinks” who have contributed to this project used the same approach as any good parent would. They put themselves in emotional resonance with the child, at his level, at his pace, examining things from his perspective. They adjusted to him and to his daily life experiences, as intense and real as they are, and became his mirror. . . As a result, Caillou is an independent little boy with a life filled with wonder and exciting adventures.
More than anything, however, the project was focussed on ensuring that the Caillou books were not created from an adult perspective. They do not center on a parent teaching or pressuring a child to improve. In these books, we see life through children’s eyes and share their daily experiences from deep within.
CL: In your mind, what is the objective of this project?
FN: The Caillou books seek to help a child understand himself and feel unconditionally understood and accepted, which is at the very heart of emotional security and self-esteem.
Through these deceptively simple books, it becomes clear that major issues emerge and lifelong lessons are learned through the mundane details of everyday life.
The Caillou books are based on French psychoanalyst Françoise Dolto’s key principles: children are driven to live, grow and express themselves. In her own words, a child is “a creature of desire and communication.” Children always need to find meaning in their experiences.
Therefore, parents dedicate themselves to the lives of children and their desire to live and to grow.
This is what we attempt to do in many of the Caillou books: support children through their developmental issues and give them whatever they need to resolve their own issues.
CL: What role do you play in developing the Caillou books?
FN: I have been Caillou’s psychologist for the past 12 years. In that time, I have worked with you and several other authors to share Françoise Dolto’s most recent work, as well as that of Winnicott. Most recently, I have also discussed findings from other developmental specialists such as Daniel Stern, Penelope Leach and other researchers in attachment theory.
The apparent simplicity of these texts is only the tip of the iceberg. Authors only have a few words and images to describe a child’s experiences; whereas in reality, it can take many months of internal struggle before a problem is solved. Through each adventure, the child can become more fully human, stronger and more self-aware.
The Caillou books present a normal, ordinary child who is experiencing some tough life issues. Like most children around the world, he has a lot of conflicts to resolve.
Caillou is a pint-sized hero who speaks universal truths: the joys, fears and heartbreak of every child. If he can express and gain control over his emotions over time, perhaps he will be able to avoid the therapist’s office later in his life! And if he can externalize painful feelings over time, he will enjoy a true zest for life – a key sign of healthy development.
For adults, the Caillou books are like exquisite miniatures – they can reveal so much if we only take the time to read them at a higher level.
The Caillou texts are written simply, to best reach young children. To parents, they can seem a bit repetitive or boring, but they are adapted so that two and three-year olds can recognize themselves and identify with the story.
We have so many testimonials from kids who love Caillou. They are deeply attached to this character and identify with him. He will be a treasured childhood memory forever.
This is what I strive for in every collaborative project I undertake with you.
CL: What about Caillou’s parents? What do you think of them?
FN: They are “good enough” parents, as Winnicott would say. These parents are not perfect, but they are very much in tune with their child. They resolve their conflicts outside of the narrative, so we don’t necessarily witness their journey towards maturity. As a result, instead of lecturing their child, they are stable and consistent. The child is therefore surrounded by a supportive environment and has an opportunity to take charge and solve problems with maturity and independence while still being sheltered from anxiety.
Caillou’s environment responds to his needs, which is the basis of a stable emotional core. He feels an attachment to both parents, reinforced by a sense of security. Caillou knows he can count on his parents when he needs help. In these stories, human parents can also draw inspiration and support from Caillou’s Mom and Dad.
And in those wonderful moments when parents are deeply connected to their feelings and those of their child, they recognize themselves in Caillou’s parents. And perhaps they avoid many situations that could lead to a crisis.
Through these books, we work so that every child can build a true identity – not just a shell. For some parents, this can be difficult at times because Caillou does display his vulnerability.
In conclusion, I would like to respond to several comments about the Caillou books and character:
• Their popularity doesn’t make them meaningless or shallow.
• Their attractiveness doesn’t make them superficial.
Caillou, who is now 25 years old, really speaks to kids today.
In my opinion, these stories are beautiful, gentle, comforting and authentic.
CL: Thank you very much. I understand the importance of this creative project better than ever.