We live in the information age, but sometimes it seems we are moving into the “too much information” age. It is so easy to get lost in the endless sea of tweets, posts, feeds, and chats– all competing to increase their likes, shares, and followings in the name of social influence. Some for better and some for worse.
In this era of overwhelm, it is important to remember that information is not necessarily truth. In fact, the overabundance of information can actually make it more difficult to discern what is true and what is noise. As parents we are faced with the difficult task of helping our children wade through it all.
However, the world is changing so fast that it is difficult to say which of all these influences will be beneficial to our children when they are grown. Likely the careers they will someday live through don’t even exist yet, so how are we supposed to prepare them for the future? This is why I am constantly on the look out for ideas that are timeless, aka: PRINCIPLES. Principles are truths that will serve our children in any age, no matter how the world may change.
The old adage, “Methods are many, principles are few. Methods may change, but principles never do” is ever apropos. So no matter what educational system your children are currently experiencing and despite the wide variety of roles you might play in that path… I thought I would share a progression of principles that I feel will lead to the good result of a happy, well rounded, engaged, trustworthy and able child. I will share these in a 3 part series over the next few weeks.
Principle number 1: Right Relationship.
“A child’s heart finds something to attach to and then becomes like it” -Gordon Neufeld
We have all heard how important it is for our children to be attached (or bonded) to us as parents. But do we really understand how pivotal this primary attachment is? I certainly have not understood this as a parent until very recently. Maybe I’m just late to the party, but as I have been learning more about attachment and its deep seated effects on the development and education of our children, I have been completely blown away.
So what exactly is attachment, you ask? Let’s ask an expert…
In his book, “Hold on to Your Kids” Gordon Neufeld describes attachment as the orienting force in a young human’s life. Compared to other animals, human babies are born relatively immature. They cannot walk, communicate, feed, or in anyway care for themselves. Infants are pre-programmed to depend on a mature adult to care for them and to raise them from immaturity to maturity. Children “take their cues” from whoever holds the place of primary attachment. The best primary attachment is a loving, capable, mature adult; however, if we as parents are not careful, a child’s attachment focus can shift in harmful ways. This lessens the strength of our influence and makes parenting (and educating) a child a very difficult task.
The incidence of children who are weakly or superficially attached to the adults that are responsible for them is pervasive in today’s culture. This is largely due to the fact that our society has become obsessed with “independence.” We praise children who are able to care for themselves at young ages. We see a toddler’s “shyness” or difficulty separating from parents as a weakness. We don’t want our kids to be too emotional, dependent, or sensitive. Instead, we tend to push our kids to be “tough,” to “stop crying,” and to “figure things out themselves.”
This bend toward early independence can have some unwanted side effects when it comes to the child’s “attachment brain.” Children who are made to spend long periods of time away from their primary attachments find themselves starving, in a sense, for attachment. When an attachment void is formed in the absence of the child’s familiar/familial adults, like a duck, they will fill that attachment void with whoever they can find. Even if the object of their attachment does not actually have the ability to protect, teach, or model appropriate behavior. A 6 year old cannot raise another 6 year old to maturity because they themselves are immature.
Don’t get me (or Dr.Neufeld) wrong, friends are fine. BUT when a child’s attachment brain is orienting on a peer instead of a mature adult, several things happen…
1. The child no longer “takes their cues” from the one who is responsible for the results of their actions. In other words, if your 10 year old is more deeply attached to your neighbor’s 10 year old than he is to you. Instead of looking to you, their parent, for what is right, what is good, what is cool, what is interesting, what is funny etc… They look to their peers.
You might see this behavior and think that it is “normal” for children to care more about what their friends think than what their parents think. And I would agree with that statement as long as we are using the word “normal” to mean what is “common.” However, it is not actually developmentally normal (or healthy) for a child to be so driven by what their friends think and do. Our perception that it is normal is merely the result of the common occurrence of children today (and for the past 60 years or so) to be “peer attached” instead of “parent attached”
From Hold on to Your Kids…
“A dangerous educational myth has arisen that children learn best from their peers. They do, partially because peers are easier to emulate than adults but mostly because children have become so peer-oriented. What they learn, however, is not the value of thinking , the importance of individuality, the mysteries of nature, the secrets of science, the themes of human existence, the lessons of history, the logic of mathematics, the essence of tragedy. Nor do they learn about what is distinctly human, how to become humane, why we have laws, or what it means to be noble. What children learn from their peers is how to talk like their peers, walk like their peers, dress like their peers, act like their peers, look like their peers. In short, what they learn is how to conform and imitate.”
This leads to another detrimental effect…
2. The child will become resistant to our attempts to parent them. Mother Nature has programmed us to reject direction from anyone who we are not deeply attached to. This is nature’s way of protecting young children from influences that would do them harm. So if your child’s attachment focus shifts from you to a peer, it will likely become more difficult for you to teach, guide, and influence them. Children who are peer attached view spending time with their family as a huge drag. They become obsessed with maintaining constant contact with their peers if not physically, then through texting or other social media outlets.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you might be dealing with a peer-attached child and if so, you should RUN (or click) to the nearest bookstore and buy Gordon Neufeld’s Hold on to Your Kids. For REAL. Even if you haven’t read a book in the last decade…this would be a good time to change that.
Now before everybody gets all excited about needing kids to be independent and how we can’t coddle them or be “helicopter parents,” let me assure you that there is nothing wrong with wanting our children to be independent and resilient. However, our current parental culture of demanding these qualities from our toddlers by cutting the proverbial apron strings as soon as possible, isn’t actually the way to get this result.
Dr. Neufeld teaches that, “Our new world preoccupation with independence gets in the way. We have no problem inviting the dependence of infants, but past that phase, independence becomes our primary agenda…or what we believe is independence. We fear that to invite dependence is to invite regression instead of development, that if we give dependence an inch, it will take a mile. What we are really encouraging with this attitude is not true independence, only independence from us. Dependence is transferred to the peer group.”
Take pigs for example…
Last week I was watching a National Geographic Awesome Animals episode about Pigs.
Toward the end of this episode (at the 20:44 mark, if you want to watch it), they show a piglet who was weaned from his mother too early. The pig is placed on a 3 food tall platform with runways that extend from the center (in the shape of a plus sign). Two of the runways have plexiglass walls and two of them have no protection on the sides. The pig who was weaned too early plays it safe on the runways with walls, while a pig who had a secure attachment to his mother easily explores the more dangerous runways and is described as “curious and confident.”
This is not a post about how long you should nurse your li’l piglets but rather the broader ramifications of how independence and confidence grow out of a secure attachment to one’s primary care givers. When an child’s attachment is secure, a child is at rest. If a child does not feel securely attached, they will do nothing but seek attachment.
For example, once a child has been fed (physically), he is free to go about his day and progress in many ways. If he lives in relative abundance, he assumes that whenever he becomes hungry, there will be food. He doesn’t expend any effort or thought on finding food. On the other hand, if food is scarce and a child is constantly seeking it, he will never feel satiated and hunger will remain the driving force in his life. He is not free to progress in other ways. Likewise, we must satiate our child’s need for attachment and let them rest in our love (not work for it) so that they can grow and develop their own independence.
- If you have 5 minutes, I would highly recommend watching this clip from Gordon Neufeld about the importance of attachment.
- If you have 2 hours, I would highly recommend watching this lecture from Gordon Neufeld about why it is important for our children to be attached to mature adults instead of their peers.
- If you have enough time to read a 300 page book that will change your life and everything you thought you knew about parenting, I would highly recommend reading this book from Gordon Neufeld.
I will be posting in more detail about these ideas and how they have revolutionized my internal state, my relationships with my children, my understanding of my own childhood, and the priorities we now hold to in our home…but for now, look for principle number 2 next week!