Sunday, November 13, 2011

Learning from Gordon Neufeld - Part I

I promised several people that I would write a bit about my Gordon Neufeld parenting class, so I'm going to do my best to share some key things that I've learned and to point the way to further studies.

First, I will share that I read his book, "Hold on to Your Kids" when my oldest was no more than two or three-years-old.  At the time, I was not particularly enamored with the book, as it is primarily focused on peer-orientation, a situation in which kids' primary attachment figure (which should be a parent), becomes another child, which, Neufeld says, is like the blind leading the blind :)  I fully understand this and think the book provides wonderful exposure to a little-known phenomenon for people who's kids go to school, but my experience tells me that peer-orientation is very rarely a risk for homeschooled kids.  However, what I missed in my first reading was Neufeld's depth and research and ideas related to the healthy development of all children, even those not at risk of peer-orientation!

For those whose kids are in school, I highly recommend reading the entire book; for homeschoolers, I recommend starting with Part I (general background about peer-orientation and the all-important chapter "A Matter of Attaching" describing the six ways of attaching) and Part III (particularly Chapters 16, 18, 19, and 20).  IMO, the key chapters are Chapters 2 ("A Matter of Attachment"), 16 ("Collecting Our Children") and 19 ("Discipline That Does Not Divide").  I have read these three chapters several times over the past few months and I especially love Chapter 19.  My husband recently read only Chapter 19, and from that chapter alone, he gained a much deeper understanding of Neufeld's teachings (I stumbled on this fortuitous encounter - for months I tried to get him to listen to this API Live audio and/or to read the full book - finally it occurred to me that I should start small and I have been more than happy with this relatively small step!)

I am now taking one of Neufeld's "Power to Parent" course.  I've just completed the first section of the course (The Vital Connection).  I'm going to try writing some of the most important things I've learned, but I highly highly recommend hearing it all first-hand from Neufeld!  If you can afford the class, it is well worth the cost!

Session One - Our Hidden Source of Power

I was made aware of another blogger who has posted summaries about each of these lectures, so I'll include links to her blog for each lecture.  For more on this lecture, see here.

In this session, Neufeld teaches that a well-attached child is a child who is easy to parent.  Period.  This is the golden key to parenting.  By attachment, he does not simply mean the attachment-lite eight principles of Attachment Parenting!  He says that attachment is "that drive or relationship characterized by the pursuit and preservation of proximity."

Session Two - Becoming Attached

For more on this lecture, see here.

From Chapter 2 of the book, the six stages of attachment are:
1.  Senses - "The child needs to sense the person he is attached to, whether it is through smell, sight, hearing or touch.  Nearness is pursued and attempts are made to preserve it."
2.  Sameness - "...seeking to be like those she is attached to and attempts to assume the same form of existence or expression, by imitation and emulation."
3.  Belonging and Loyalty - "To be close to someone or something is to possess it or claim it as one's own."
4.  Significance - "...we feel we matter to somebody.  To find favour, or to be dear to someone, is to ensure closeness and connection.  The attaching preschooler seeks ardently to please and to win approval.... Such children live for the happy face of those attached to."
5.  Feeling - "...warm feelings, loving feelings, affectionate feelings....  the pursuit of emotional intimacy becomes intense.  A child who experiences this kind of emotional intimacy with the parent is able to tolerate much more physical separation and yet still manage to hold the parent close."
6.  Being Known - "To feel close to someone is to be known by them.  In the pursuit of closeness, a child will share his secrets...  Parent-oriented children do not like to keep secrets from their parents because of the resulting loss of closeness."
To be emotionally healthy and develop a strong attachment, a child must reach level six of attachment with his parents.  We need to help our children attach by determining at what level they're at and helping them attach at deeper levels (higher numbers are deeper).

Neufeld has a wonderful picture of the gift (and responsibility) of a strong parent/child attachment - the picture is of a heart with the words "Adult" and "Child" surrounded by shield with the words "Attachment" and arrows shooting from the outside but not penetrating the shield of attachment.  This picture is worth a million words for me.  An additional piece of the puzzle is that a child has no shield from the parent to whom they are well-attached.  So, if we shame a child, or cause separation (physical or through ignoring) or alarm, the child HAS NO PROTECTION!!!

I think this is one of the most important pieces that I've learned from this course so far.  This type of situation results in "defensive detachment" which means "when being close to someone sets us up for a vulnerability too much to bear, the brain can reverse the attachment instincts, resulting in resisting proximity where one should be pursuing it."  If you hear a child say to a parent, "yeah, whatever" or "I don't care" - that's defensive detachment - it means the child is afraid of getting hurt by the parent so he becomes defended against vulnerability - he protects himself from feeling vulnerable by putting up a wall.

That might not sound so bad, but it's imperative that a child's heart remains "soft" (not defended against vulnerability!) to become or stay deeply attached, and as you might remember from session one, the full attachment is what makes the child easy to parent :)

So, our primary goal as parents is "to make it safe and easy for our children to attach to us."  This means at the most basic level, reducing separation (physical like time-outs, verbal like yelling, non-verbal like ignoring) and increasing attachment (he discusses later how to increase attachment).

Session Three - Harnessing the Power of Attachment

For more on this lecture, see here.

The three ways we harness the power of attachment are through Collecting, Giving something of our's to hold onto and Inviting Dependence.

Collecting is fairly well explained in Chapter 16.  However, the piece that wasn't so clear to me from the book is that we have to collect based on the child's level of attachment.  So, to collect a one-year-old, we use touch - we hold the baby and make sweet sounds and we immediately get the eye contact we seek; to collect a two-year-old, we might talk about how we both have blue eyes.  You would not (necessarily) collect a 10-year-old with physical contact and you certainly wouldn't collect a baby by sharing a secret :)  So it's important to know at what attachment level your children are so that you collect them based on their level of attachment.

He explains in the course as well as in the book that you must "collect before you direct".  If you want your child to do something, you must collect them first.  I was turned off by this when I initially read the book because it seemed formulaic to me.  In practice, though, it doesn't have to be (though strictly-speaking it certainly can be used in such a way).  Slowly, with practice, you can learn to collect your kids before making requests (verbal or otherwise).

One of the amazing things about Waldorf Education is that much of Neufeld's teaching is built into the Waldorf Method (the same could be said, though to a lesser extent, about Judaism).  In Waldorf, we collect our kids with a song when we wake up; each time we ask our kids to do the next activity, we do so through a connecting song; meals are begun with a song and prayer; we collect with Circle Time before we start Main Lesson; Main Lesson itself begins with a verse during which we're standing making eye contact, etc.  Each transition song helps to collect our kids before we begin the next activity.

Neufeld discusses giving the child something to hold onto in Chapter 19, so I'm going to skip it here.

I love his discussion of inviting the child to depend on us.  This is something that is so very poorly understood in our world today.  People think that we will spoil a child by doing things for a two year old, much less a five year old.  Neufeld says that to spoil meat is to leave it out of it's proper environment, the refrigerator; likewise, we spoil kids by taking them out of their safe environment, ie, proximity with their parents.  He tells a story about the parents in Provence, where parenting is much more instinctual and nourishing - he says you would never see a child in Provence going into the refrigerator to get themselves food - this is for the parents to do and, by doing so, they invite dependence!  Of course, we don't have to prepare every single meal for our kids, but it is certainly food for thought (pun intended!)  The more we invite our children to depend on us, the more safe/secure they feel, and, in Waldorf terms, it means we aren't pulling them into their heads and away from the world of imagination in which they thrive.

Particularly important is to invite dependence with Alpha children - these are the children whom we might have leaned on a bit too much (telling the child, "I need help") or given too much say in the schedule or their upbringing.  Alpha kids are those who decide what to do for the day, what to eat, what color the walls are painted, what clothes the mother wears, etc, etc.  These are the kids who eventually bully their parents.  I was asked by someone to touch on what to do when a "three year old is going on thirteen, saying 'moooooommmm!!', 'don't talk' and giving (her mother) 'the look'."  My understanding is that this is a case of an Alpha child.  The solution is simply for the parents to regain the position of Alpha - don't ask too many questions (as in Waldorf), don't appear to give in to demands (if you plan on one painting and the child wants to do two and you decide to do two, say, "Ah, yes, I was planning to do two paintings today" and pull out another piece of paper so you remain in the lead), you can even remind the child that you're taking care of him (eg if he's concerned/anxious about what's for the next meal - this is something he shouldn't need to worry about and you can simply tell him not to worry, that you're taking care of him).  You don't have to actually *have* the answer to everything - the point is that you ARE the answer.  You can use phrases like, "I'm taking care of this" or "I'll figure this out" or "Let me think about it" if you're not sure what to do.

The idea of inviting dependence is very important I think and it's something that Neufeld explains very clearly in his lecture.

I'll also go into an aside here about futility which I think is part of being a strong alpha parent.  This is discussed some in his book and is clearer to me after taking the Power to Parent course.  When Yoav was younger, I was very much affected by Jane Liedloff's "The Continuum Concept" and I was very uncomfortable with futilities, much less futilities of my own doing!  As an example, if Yoav's banana broke, I would try to fix it for him by mushing it back together and hoping he'd eat it without it falling apart, rather than simply telling him that it was broken and comforting him through hugs if he needed to cry about the broken banana.  As a result, he is not resilient - he is not often uncomfortable facing problems.  Since studying Neufeld, I've been working on softening him by being "an agent of futility and an angel of comfort" - not only helping him through externally-imposed futilities like rain or a broken banana, but even creating futilities like saying we're not going into the forest today.  The important thing about feeling futilities is for the child to move from mad to sad - first they might get angry - "I want to go into the forest!" and stomp feet and whatnot.  When the parent stands firm (lovingly, not yelling that we're not going into the forest LOL), the child will eventually soften and feel sad.  It is the sadness that allows the child to move on and to see that "all is still well" in the world (versus not moving past mad, which results in repressed feelings) - proximity and connection with his attachment figure hasn't been broken and, on top of that, he is able to consider solutions to the problem if one is needed - such as perhaps asking if we can go into the forest in the afternoon.

The key to understanding if we should stand firm or give in is to understand if the desire is a need or want.  Of course, you can give in or find a solution sometimes - you don't always have to go through this exercise, which can be quite time-consuming!  It's a beautiful thing to see the child move from mad to sad - you eventually learn to recognize the tell-tale signs of softening, of the shoulders slumping or allowing you to come close to cuddle if the child is in defensive detachment.

I know this got long - there is much more in the video on this section and it is explained so clearly by Neufeld - as you can tell, this was a very important session for me ;)

Session Four - Competing Attachments

For more on this lecture, see here.

I think this is all fairly well explained in the book - the idea that attachment is like a polarized magnet - pursuit of proximity with one person results in resistance of another.  This explains shyness - the child seeks proximity with his primary attachment figure and at the same time resists proximity with the stranger.  Shyness serves attachment and children should be allowed to grow out of it naturally!  This is something that many people in our society do NOT understand :)

This lecture was mostly in the book - he explains that a strong attachment with the child will allow him to emerge into personhood which will allow him to relate to peers without loss of individuality or loss of adult attachment.  The primary sign of a competing attachment is when proximity with one leads to resistance to proximity with the other (if you're seeing your child on their iphone/ipad at the dinner table so they can continue to be on facebook or chat with their friends, you are facing competing attachments and need to read the book ASAP and take this class!!!)

One interesting thing I learned in this lecture (which is probably in the book in the chapter on Creating an Attachment Village) is that, for kids who go to school, it's very important for the parent to be the person to introduce the child to the parent.  So, first the parent meets the teacher and then introduces the teacher to the child - this way, the attachment relationship is preserved.

It will probably be a few days before I get a chance to write more about the remaining lectures, so I'll just leave links to summaries at thedreamtowrite blog...

Session Five - Preserving and Restoring the Ties that Empower

For more on this lecture, see here.

Session Six - Handling Aggression

For more on this lecture, see here.

Session Seven - Handling Counterwill

For more on this lecture, see here.

Session Eight- Guidelines for Discipline

For more on this lecture, see here.

To take the course, click HERE!!!


  1. This is a great post, Em! Love me some Neufeld ;)

  2. Hi -- my husband and I just finished Part I of the course a couple of weeks ago. I posted about it on my blog and am linking to your summaries. So good!

    Thank you.

  3. I want you to know this post just saved my child's life today. My husband and son were getting in the car about to go to the library and I was checking my email and a friend sent a link to this post. I only read part before I thought I should connect with my son and tell him bye. I got up to go to the car right after my husband walked in because he forgot his wallet, but when I got outside I saw that the car was backing out and realized that my husband had left the car in reverse. The car backed out of the drive way into the street and through a neighbors yard and was entering a second yard when I caught up with it and fortunately no damage was done but only because of your post that prompted me to gather my child at the moment it did. Thank you. I'll now read the rest of your post.

  4. Oh my gosh, Anonymous, I have tears in my eyes - what an incredible story! I hope your son (and you!) wasn't too shaken by the experience. xxx