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Hold On to Your Kids

Cheryl Peachey Stoner
Hesston KS USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 206-207

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, PhD, spoke on Tuesday morning at the LLLI Conference. During his session, "Hold On to Your Kids," he encouraged parents to maintain attachment with children throughout childhood and adolescence, keeping them close until they are able to be adults on their own.

He began the session by defining characteristics that Western societies value in children, including listening, following cues, trusting, respecting, being comfortable, and being honest. What is valued in children and what is fostered in children, however, are often two different things.

Some parents assume that parenting is a natural skill. Some parents complain that children don't come with a manual. These parents, suggested Neufeld, are experiencing a lack of attachment, which he defined as, "That drive or relationship characterized by the pursuit and preservation of proximity." In his work and his family, he has found that attachment empowers parents because it facilitates dependence, which enables parents to take charge and act with authority. Attachment renders children endearing and tolerable. It creates a compass point that orients parents and provides a place to start from and return to. Healthy attachment evokes children's desire to be good so that parents can act with natural power and authority.

When parents feel that they are lacking in power, they tend to react in one of three ways: seeking know-how, giving up, or resorting to force. These feelings can be avoided by developing a "right relationship." How does a "right" relationship develop? In the first year of a child's life, it has to do with the senses. Parents and children need to be close to feel, smell, taste, hear, and touch each other. In the second year, this grows along with a desire for sameness. Dr. Neufeld shared a story about his grandson. When he was two years old, someone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His favorite person at the time was his uncle, so naturally he replied, "I'm going to be an uncle!"

During the third year, a child works toward belonging and loyalty. The child talks very passionately about "my mommy!" In year four, he seeks significance and importance and shows the vulnerability that comes with these characteristics. In the fifth year, the child spends a great deal of time thinking and talking about who and what she loves, and who loves her. And finally, the sixth year is all about being known -- psychological intimacy. "The person who knows me best, loves me best."

Some families help their children move through the above stages naturally without conscious knowledge of them. Other families find the stages challenging. These parents are, as Neufeld stated, "losing the context to parent." Several things play into the loss of a parenting context. First, there is a lack of cultural support. The rituals that hold families together, such as eating meals together, are being lost. Another factor in the loss of parenting context is discipline methods that are backfiring. Children often react with "defensive detachment," trying to hurt parents by distancing themselves emotionally. This becomes a cycle of detachment. Neufeld encouraged parents to "use discipline that doesn't divide."

Neufeld ended his session with two important keys to raising children: right relationships and soft hearts. He encouraged parents to do what they desire to maintain close relationships with the children and teenagers who were once babes held in their arms.

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