Hold Onto Your Kids

Book Recommendation by SJMA Teacher Kathy Allison.

Hold Onto Your Kids, by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, M.D.hold on

This is an insightful and empowering book for both parents and teachers.

Dr. Neufeld believes that there is no authority without relationship, and describes attachment as the critical force which binds the generations and enables the transmission of cultural and family values from one generation to the next. He believes that it is unrealistic to expect a child to show signs of creativity or curiosity about the world, or develop complex social skills, until the child has had his/her emotional needs met by a caring adult.

He argues that contemporary society has mistakenly subverted the natural attachment between caregiving adults and children, by encouraging kids to turn to each other for socialization, and over-valuing their popularity with their peers. He believes that peer attachment has led to the flat-lining of culture, which is skewing kids away from emotional maturity and towards a cool culture of conformity and emotional numbing. Regardless of its pervasiveness, peer attachment is a poor substitute for the leadership of mature, caring adults, and is described in the book as  the blind leading the blind.

The situation requires a sea change in our understanding of the problem, and a willingness to take back our rightful place as the primary attachments and leaders in kids’ lives. Dr. Neufeld describes the essence of re-connecting with our kids with a simple phrase: Collect before you direct.

Here’s a short excerpt on attachment:

Attachment rituals… exist in many cultures. The most common is the greeting…a greeting should collect the eyes, a smile and a nod. A greeting is the foundational prerequisite for all interactions. Because we are meant to deal with children in the context of attachment, to ignore this step is a costly mistake. In some cultures, like Provence and in some Latin countries, greeting children is customary and expected. In our society, we often do not even collect our own child, never mind anyone else’s.

            For teachers and other adults in charge of children not their own, collecting them should always be the first item of business. If we engage in taking care of children or proceed to instruct them without first having collected them, we violate developmental design. Children who are more mature psychologically are not so dependent on being collected, but only when they do not need us so much can we afford to skip this step. As a grandparent, I am constantly reminded that one must always start at the beginning to be able to get to where you want to go with children.

            The next step is giving the child something to hold onto.   

Attention and interest are powerful primers of connection. Signs of affection are potent. Researchers have identified emotional warmth, enjoyment and delight at the top of the list as effective activators of attachment. If we have a twinkle in our eye and some warmth in our voice, we invite connection that most children will not turn down. When we give children signs that they matter to us, most children will want to hold on to the knowledge that they are special to us and appreciated in our life.

            The ultimate gift is an invitation to exist in one’s presence. There are thousands of ways this invitation can be conveyed: in gesture, in words, in symbols and in action. The child must know that she is wanted, special, significant, valued, appreciated, missed and enjoyed. For a child to hold on to this invitation, it needs to be genuine and unconditional.

…It is damaging when separation from the parent (time out) is used punitively against the child. To engage in that oft-advised but pernicious practice is to say, in effect, that the child is invited to exist in our presence only when she measures up to our values and expectations. Our challenge is to provide an invitation that is hard for a child to turn down. In holding on to our invitation, they will be holding on to us.

Ch. 16, Collecting Our Children, Hold Onto Your Kids

 As teachers, we are part of every child’s village of attachment, and it’s empowering to know that even if we only spend 30 minutes a week with them, we can make a difference in their emotional development – if we take the time to attach to them.

I see this happening all the time at SJMA – the smiles, the nods, kids striving to be like their teachers – it’s part of our school culture. With Kathy Walker’s guidance, we have instinctively created a warm and emotionally healthy community. Dr. Neufeld provides the theory that explains it.