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Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Matter

Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Matter

Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D. & Gabor Mate, M.D.

Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2004

This book is excellant for understanding what our kids are going through. What seemed completely inexplicable before, now offers some kind of rationale. Get the book if you can. At a minimum, read these transcribed notes. Bracketed are additional comments. The 'Take Home' message' is: "Work the Relationship, Not the Behavior."

The 'attachment' conscience may ultimately evolve into the moral conscience of the child. Not until a child has developed a selfhood strong enough to form independent values and judgments does a more mature and autonomous conscience evolve, consistent across all situations and relationships. (p. 84)

Attachment evokes the desire to be good (under the constraints of the attachment target). (p. 84) Creatures of attachment are creatures of instinct. (p. 87) In the absence of attachment our efforts to summon obedience and respect will only trigger opposition. (p. 91) A truly mature person can afford to heed the other when it makes sense to do so, or go his own way when it does not. (p. 97)

Peer-oriented children are obsessed with who likes whom, who prefers whom, who wants to be with whom. There is no room for missteps, or perceived disloyalty, differences, or non-compliance. (p. 112)

True individuality is crushed by the need to maintain the relationship at all costs. No mater how hard the child works, when peers replace parents, the sense of insecurity can escalate until it is too much to endure. Then numbness sets in, a defensive shutdown occurs. They become emotionally frozen by the need to defend against the pain of loss. Peer-oriented children lack integrative functioning, the ability to hold in the mind a mix of thoughts, feelings and impulses without becoming confused in thinking or paralysed in action. You can't 'teach' the brain to do this. This must be developed or 'grown.' (p. 120)

They may lack the ability to be conscious of more than one thought at a time. In this way, they are no different than a pre-schooler. They are too immature to hold on to a goal beyond immediate satisfaction. Without capacity for reflection, they are defined by the inner experience of the moment. They immediately act out whatever emotions arise in them, untempered by any second thought. (p. 122)

They can 'be' their inner experience, but they cannot 'see' it. (Hence the ever present shrug and "I don't know" when asked why they did something. Lacking reflection, the why is literally invisible to them.) Their resistance to leaning on their parents, or taking guidance, is not motivated by a desire to do things truly themselves, but by their attachment to their peers, without whom they are truly lost. There is a lot of desperation in their consuming fixation on their peers. (p. 123)

Maturation is spontaneous but not inevitable. (p. 124) It cannot be commandeered as in "grow up!" we can only provide the environment to nurture it. The story of maturation is a paradox: it is dependence and attachment to the parent that foster independence and genuine separation. Peer orientation can never satisfy the child's attachment hunger. Until this hunger is satiated, the child can never mature. Peer orientation and immaturity go hand in hand, inevitably. (p. 128)

Peer attachments are high maintenance affairs, inherently insecure. (Thus, the endless preoccupation with lists of peer names, who's with whom, who said what and when. Mind numbingly trivial to us, but seemingly life or death issues to them.) (p. 129)

Peer-oriented do not tolerate true individuality. Their agenda is one of conformity, through emulation and imitation. (Thus, they wish to look alike, talk alike, sound alike. Like one big amoeba, their potential personhood subjugated to the group. Exchanging clothes helps this merging process.) (p. 135)

They focus their energies on one desperate endeavour only: the pursuit and preservation of proximity with their peers. (p. 210) Peer-oriented children know instinctively that friends matter most and that being together is all that counts. Arguing against instinct, even skewed instinct, is impossible. (p. 211)

Collecting Our Children: The child must know that she is wanted, special, significant, valued, appreciated, missed and enjoyed. (p. 223) The invitation must be unconditional. The offer must be spontaneous, not part of a birthday or ritual. The foundation of a child's true self-esteem is in the sense of being accepted, loved and enjoyed by the parents exactly as she, the child, is. (p. 225)

Fostering independence is the role of the maturation process; our job in raising children is to look after their dependence needs. (p. 227) We are assuming too much responsibility for the maturation of our children. We have forgotten we are not alone, we have nature as our ally. By forgetting that growth, development and maturation are natural processes, we lose perspective. (p. 226)

We cannot get to independence by resisting dependence. Only when the dependence needs are met does the quest for true independence begin. Do not be put off by the symptoms of the problem. The more defiant and impossible children are to be around , the more they are indicating their need to be reclaimed. (p. 232) The hardest part for many parents is the shift in focus from behaviour to relationship.

Peer-oriented kids go to school to be near their friends, not to learn. (p. 240) Many children, after being with each other for an extended period like a sleepover or a camp will, upon their return, experience tremendous ennui and seek immediate reconnection with their peers. (p. 246)

When the child messes up we must indicate by some words or gestures that the child is more important than what he does, that the relationship matters more than conduct or achievement. The relationship needs to be affirmed before behaviour can be addressed. (p. 255)

It is hard not to react to the rolling of eyes, the impatience in the voice, the uncaring demeanour and the rude tone. (p. 256) Do not recoil or withdraw, as the child will experience it as rejection. Ultimatums generally will not work.

There is no sense in these kids that anything is awry. It is unhelpful to point out to peer-oriented children that their instincts are leading them astray or that the intensity of her peer relationships does not serve their best interests. There is nothing rational about this aberration, and all the reason in the world could not unbend instincts that are skewed. (p. 263)

When we factor in attachment and vulnerability, we see that punishment creates an adversarial relationship and incurs emotional hardening. (p. 271) We cannot "teach them a lesson" nor "show them the error of their ways." They are not at that level. Connection Before Direction (p. 280)

These life lessons are much less a result of correct thinking than of adaptation. The key to adaptation is for futility to sink in when we (the child) is up against something that won't work and we cannot change. When the adaptive process is unfolding, the lessons are learned spontaneously. Through this process, a child discovers that she can live with desires that remain unfilled and agendas that are thwarted. (p. 282)

These lessons cannot be taught directly either through reason or through consequences. They are truly teachings of the heart, learned only as futility sets in. (p. 283)

The parent needs to be both an angel of futility and an angel of comfort. It's not easy.TM The authors state that to facilitate adaptation, the parent must dance the child to his tears, to the place of letting go to the sense of rest that comes in the wake of letting go. It's not a discipline that divides, but a discipline that unites. When we follow a more cerebral path with attempts to appeal to reason, we fail to move the child to adapt.

When we equivocate, we reason or explain or justify, we present a useless moving target, we fail to give the child something to adapt to. If there is any chance for the situation to be changed, there will be no priming adaptation. (p. 283) There will be plenty of time to convey your reasons, but only after the futility of changing things has been accepted. (p. 284) The second part is to come alongside the child's experience of frustration and provide comfort. Once the wall of futility has been established in a way that is firm without being harsh it is time to help the child find the tears beneath the frustration.

The agenda should not be to teach a lesson, but to move frustration to sadness: "it's so hard when things don't work out"; "it's not what you were hoping for"; etc. More important than the words is the child's sense that we are with her, not against her. When the time is right, putting some sadness in our voice can prime the movement to tears. It takes practice. Too quick, too wordy, can backfire. Tears in the face of futility need to happen (p. 284), but we must first safeguard the relationship.

Futility is not likely to move a child to tears outside the comfort of a safe attachment. Solicit good intention, instead of demanding good behaviour. (p. 286) Draw attention to the child's will: are you ready to give it a try;do you think you could? It is important for parents to get on the same side of the problem with the child. Supporting and encouraging, instead of criticizing and confronting.

Draw out the tempering element (p. 290): When a child's behaviour is driven by instinct and emotion, there is little chance of imposing order through confrontation and barking commands. For behaviour to be rooted in intention rather than impulse, the child needs to entertain mixed feelings. These are the tempering element that can regulate the impulse that gets the child in trouble. (p. 291)

Tempering develops impulse control from within. Lying: If we see a child as a liar, we are tempted to confront their untruths in a stern and judgmental manner. (p. 300) If we could see a child who resorts to concealing the truth only because he is too insecure in our love to risk our wrath or our disappointment, we would do everything in our power to restore his sense of absolute security.

For parenthood to fade before the end of childhood is disastrous for both parent and child. When we are stripped of our parenthood, our children lose the positive aspects of childhood. (p.315)

They remain immature but are deprived of the innocence, vulnerability and childlike openness required for growth. They are cheated of their full legacy as human beings. We need to hold on to our children and help them hold on to us. We need to hold on to them until our work is done. We need to hold on to them until they can hold on to themselves.

Added: April 30th 2005
Reviewer: orion
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Language: english


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