Caillou or Childhood as Seen by a Child

Christine L’Heureux (CL), editor and co-creator of Caillou:

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 to the children we wished to reach.

Convinced of this, I have adhered to the same guiding principles over the years and have demanded similar choices from the animated studios. Getting input from an advising child psychiatrist enabled us to create rich and fully developed content. I believed in this philosophy back then just as much as I do now; in my opinion, it has powerfully impacted Caillou’s success.

Caillou has a soul and a clear identity. He is unique because our 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 his emotional life. This is an intimate world, revealed to us in small, delicate ways. A child’s interior world, with thoughts not quickly 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.

We have worked with Francine Nadeau, who opens her lectures by introducing herself as “Caillou’s psychologist”, for many years, And rightly so; Francine has collaborated in the writing of so many of Caillou’s adventures throughout the years. As a result, I decided to revisit the basis of our relationship in a recent conversation with her.

Ms. Nadeau answers questions from Christine L’Heureux, editor and co-creator of Caillou.

(CL): In your opinion, what makes the Caillou project so unique, even after all these years?

Francine Nadeau (FN) :  I believe that all the people who have collaborated on this project have worked towards making the invisible visible; showing a young child’s interior world, as well as naming and reiterating what children’s lives are essentially about.

The authors and the various “shrinks” who 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 his daily life experiences, as intense and authentic 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, the project was focused on ensuring that our books were not created from an adult perspective. They are not centered on parent teaching or pressuring a child to improve. We see life through the child’s eyes and share his daily experiences deep within in these books.

CL : In your mind, what is the objective of this project?

FN : The Caillou books seek to help children understand themselves and feel unconditionally understood and accepted, which is at the very heart of their 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”., always seeking meaning in experiences.

Therefore, parents dedicate themselves to the life of their child and their desire to live and to grow.

This is what we attempt to do in many of the Caillou books: support children throughout their development 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 on 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 life’s regular challenges and difficulties. 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 heartaches 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 received 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 therefore has a supportive environment around him, which enables him to take charge and solve problems with maturity and independence while still being sheltered from anxiety.

Caillou is growing up an in environment where his needs are met, which will serve as a basis for emotional stability. He feels bonded with both of his parents, resulting in a secure form of attachment. Caillou knows that he can count on them whenever he needs help.

With these books, actual parents can feel supported or inspired by Caillou’s parents. 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, perhaps avoiding 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.

To conclude, I would like to respond to several objections surrounding the Caillou books and character:

  • Their popularity doesn’t make them meaningless or shallow.
  • Their attractiveness doesn’t make them superficial

Caillou still really speaks to children 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.