I started facilitating the first course in the Gordon Neufeld Power to Parent series last week. Dr. Neufeld (www.gordonneufeld.com) is a world renowned developmental and clinical psychologist practicing in B.C. and presenting at forums around the world (www.montrealgazette.com/life/work+play/6109961/story.html). It is a privilege to be able to present this information, and to experience the profound difference that it makes in the parent/child relationship.
One of the main tenets of Dr. Neufeld’s philosophy is that of attachment. Dr. Neufeld’s definition of attachment is: “that drive or relationship characterized by the pursuit and preservation of proximity.” (Vital Connection handout, p. 3) In other words, the child will want to be both physically and emotionally close to the person to whom he or she is attached.
If a child is well attached, he or she will be relatively easy to parent. Not that attachment ensures that there will be no problems, but that the child will tend to want to cooperate with those to whom he or she attached. How do we know if a child is attached? Dr. Neufeld offers up several indicators, namely that the child will want to:
· listen to those to whom he or she is attached
· cooperate with those to whom he or she is attached
· want to be with those to whom he or she is attached
· relax in the company of those to whom he or she is attached
· confide in those to whom he or she is attached.
This does not mean that the child will be easy to get along with with those to whom he or she is not attached. For example, if a teacher or daycare provider does not make the effort to get to know the child, the child may challenge the caregiver in ways that parents do not see at home. Conversely, if a teacher makes the effort to connect with a child, the child may be more cooperative with the teacher than the parent.
The more I learn about Dr. Neufeld’s work, the more amazed I am at both the simplicity and the profound nature of it. It makes perfect sense that a child will follow those to whom he or she is attached, just as all baby animals follow their mothers in the wild. This is an instinctual act, one that parents and caregivers can capitalize on for their child(ren)’s benefit. As ducklings follow their mother, we want our children to follow us, as this is what keeps them safe from the dangers in the outside world. I am continually impressed at the profound nature of this philosophy as it takes root within me and grows in such a way as to challenge ways of thinking and being with children.
An example at my school this week was with a child who has been quite a challenge throughout the grades. Multiple parent meetings, consequences, detentions and one on one talks have not positively impacted this child’s impulsive behaviour. One of the school staff brought it to my attention that the child had apparently damaged another child’s property. When I asked the child why, I was told about many children who had hurt this child’s feelings. For the first time before speaking, I looked into this child’s eyes and saw rejection, hurt and sadness. I realized deep within myself that this was a very wounded child. Previous consequences and parental meetings had only served to reinforce this child’s feelings of rejection. I felt such sadness in my heart that I had been party to treating a child this way.
The profound nature of working with Dr. Neufeld’s material over the past few years is that it is changing me! I am seeing children with new eyes! It is starting to become intuitive. I asked the child what he would like to do to make the situation right and together we developed a plan to repair the damage to both the property and the relationship between the two children.
When we see children through a developmental lens and try to understand what is going on below the surface rather than simply focusing on the behaviour, we begin to understand different ways to work with the child. I often ask myself how I would want to be treated if I messed up. Would I like to be talked down to, punished or shamed, or would I want understanding, support and encouragement to make it right? I will be forever grateful to Dr. Neufeld for providing the inspiration to understand and work with children in a different way, as well as to share this amazing information with other parents.