As I mentioned, I’m in ongoing education on how to better parent the emotional aspects of raising small (and growing!) humans. The most recent discovery that has been helpful with this process is learning about attachment theory (which is different from Dr. Sears’ attachment parenting).
I recently listened to Hold Onto Your Kids on audio book, and it has really helped me to relax into my parenting role and my children have been able to relax into their role as well. More a book on child development than yet another parenting book, Hold Onto Your Kids is a nice step back into reviewing and understanding our normal biological attachment needs.
It works with our attachment needs, and the natural order of parents being in charge and children being dependent.
Attachment Parenting vs Attachment Theory
Following a newborn’s cues, an important part of attachment parenting, is almost always successful since the newborn is operating out of pure instinct. A newborn eats often at times to support growth spurts, becomes clingy to support attachment needs, and demands closeness to support safety.
Forming a secure attachment takes more than jut giving giving giving to your children. As the child becomes more aware of the world around them, there is a time to follow their lead, but there is also much of the time that you need to be their answer.
Be Their Answer
In his book Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld looks at how our peer-oriented culture is inhibiting that natural follower/leader role that is needed for children to fully mature and learn from their parents.
When parents are able to trust that they are who their children need them to be, they naturally are in charge and in authority.
As many parents are insecure in their ability to parent, kids are taking up the alpha role and parents are looking to kids to make decisions. Not finding the natural authority and power in their parents, children are starting to look to their peers for that authority. It’s creating a ‘blind leading the blind’ Lord of The Flies type arrangement.
What is alpha?
Alpha is someone who recognizes that someone is weaker, unsure, or insecure and then makes a decision to either exploit their weakness or take on a care-taking role.
Take care of or dominate.
We are seeing more and more bullies in schools, parents being run ragged by demanding children who resist their authority, and generations that dismiss the decades of experience that their grandparents have. This is from children taking the alpha role because their parents are not. And because they do not have the maturity to be good leaders, they are seeking to dominate those they perceive as weak instead of take care of them.
When a mature, kind, compassionate person is alpha, they can easily see who needs help and they step in to help them. Look at any natural disaster, and like Mr. Rogers said, ‘Look for the helpers’. This is the natural role of parents- to help and lead their children, to provide physical and emotional help to those who depend on them.
Our culture, with its many parenting ‘experts’ giving conflicting advice, punishment and reward systems that really don’t work long term, early separation of young children from their parents due to needing two incomes, and the focus on age segregation in every activity from school to sports to church, it’s easy to fall in the trap of children looking to their peers for attachment and parents becoming more and more insecure because they really aren’t sure that they’re doing things correctly.
When children sense that parents are not alpha, they try to fill that role. And because they lack maturity and brain development, they do it poorly.
Fortunately for you and I, becoming alpha does not mean we need to dominate. Seeking to dominate is how a bully demonstrates alphaness and fights to keep his position. In contrast, those who are secure in their ability to provide, protect, and nurture their children instead focus on being their provider and protector.
Becoming alpha means that we need to trust in ourselves and our ability to be exactly who our children need. It means we may need to do a little less following what our children want, and a little more holding our children close and working on attachment so that we have their hearts.
Let Attachment do the work
Logic takes too much work. As adults, we know how exhausting it is to make medical decisions, financial decisions, food decisions, and even decide which movie to see. Asking children to think logically about their decision to trust, follow, and learn from adults in authority is even more exhausting.
Thankfully, with a secure attachment, the desire to follow and ‘be good’ is as instinctual and easy for children as pulling their hand away from a hot stove.
A child who is attached will look for slight cues that what they are doing is on the right track. If they are peer-attached, they will find laughs from being the class clown, nods of approval and delighted jealousy as they ‘correctly’ follow the latest pop culture trend, and acceptance as they come together for a common viewpoint, no matter whether it is right or wrong, good or bad. A parent-attached child will be easy to correct as a parent can gently point out what is socially acceptable or not, what is healthy or not, and what ‘people like us’ do.
Learning is also an easy fluid process when there is attachment. Think back to school, and how easy it was to learn from the teachers that you felt an attachment to, or from your grandmother as she lovingly taught you how to garden, knit, or bake. And then, in contrast, think about how the minutes dragged on and many tears were shed in the classes where you felt the teacher didn’t like you, and there was no attachment.
Learning from those whom you love is easy.
What I love about this
I, and probably most of you, find the attachment aspect of raising children to be the most rewarding part. Sometimes I felt like I had to turn so many things into ‘teachable moments’ that I wasn’t actually enjoying the moments with my children as much as I wanted to.
Being able to trust that if I just enjoy the time with my children, and foster the connection, they will fall in line like little ducklings took a huge weight off my shoulders. No longer did I feel like I wasn’t doing enough. Just being and enjoying is enough.
And sure enough, it did work for us! I was amazed at how things that normally caused resistance in my family suddenly were non-issues. Redirection was easier. Relating was easier. Enjoying was easier.
Immaturity and Brain Development
Kids are not just miniature adults who haven’t had life experience or 13 years of schooling. Their brains have not fully developed to be able to reason, draw accurate conclusions, and predict long-term outcomes. Just as a 3-year-old does not have the capacity to understand long division no matter how much you try to teach him, he also does not have the logic needed to understand the world around him enough to make his own decisions about what is right for him. This is where attachment, mirroring, and trust come in to play.
The child needs to trust and follow his parents until his brain is more developed and he is developmentally ready to be his own person. Parents need to trust that they are good enough to receive that trust.
Why is Parent-Oriented Attachment better?
When a child looks to his parents for guidance, support, and care, not only are they better equipped to teach him well, but they also are much less likely to turn their backs on him. Think of how fickle trends and fads are in school. One day a child can be the most popular and adored child among his peers, but one misstep and the child can just as fast be rejected by his peers. If this is his source of community, his source of attachment, think of how damaging this rejection would be.
Neufeld asserts that a child cannot have an equal attachment to his peers and his parents from an early age. Because the ability to see things from two different points of view is not developed yet, he won’t have the ability to be attached to both parents and peers until after adolescence.
Parenting should be easier than it is
We are not meant to parent children who’s hearts we do not have. Work on attachment, capture his heart, and then parenting will be instinctual and easy.
Somebody will be giving them cues on how to act, how to live, what to do. If not us, then who?
It can get exhausting reading parenting, or really any nonfiction book. Books have goals, it’s what provides structure and keeps the reader engaged.
If you read a book on paleo nutrition that is written by a parent, you may find that this parent advocates that the reason *their* children are well adjusted and happy is due to their unprocessed diet and plenty of time outside.
The book on breastfeeding and baby wearing advocates that those behavior produce the most well adjusted children. Montessori books ensure that structured activity is the surest way to produce extraordinary children, where Waldorf takes the opposite approach and advocates unstructured play to fully develop the child’s mind as he becomes the person he is supposed to be. There are books that advocate more rules, and an elaborate system (that they assure you is simple if you just stick with it) of charts, warnings, punishments, and rewards. There are books that assure you that if you only follow your heart, you’ll find the way.
In all cases, books are written out of love, and someone wanting to share what worked for them personally. With all books that advocate a life change, please make sure you take a deep breath, take some time to process, and then try what you think will work, and abandon what you think will not. What works for one person, or for one family, may have pieces that work for others, but nothing is ever going to be a once-size-fits-all solution.
The book Hold Onto Your Kids really isn’t as much of a parenting book as it is a look into human development and suggestions for how we can fulfill the attachment needs.
More on parenting:
- Moms, please let your children be bored
- The Food-Behavior Connection
- Why I’m ‘that mom’
- You know I have a child with special needs, this is probably what I haven’t told you
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