So, we are back on our book study. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate wrote “Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers” and it is a very thought-provoking book for our times.
We are in Chapter Two, which I previously wrote about, but decided that the list of “The Six Ways of Attaching” really needed to be a second post. For those of you past the breastfeeding/co-sleeping stage, I want you to really meditate and think about how you can bring this to older preschoolers, to the children in the grades and yes, those teenagers!
The authors note that this list is in order from most basic to most complex, and that this list can give a parent clues and warning signs if our children are becoming peer-attached. This section starts on page 20 in Chapter Two.
1. Senses – physical proximity. The authors note that whilst this begins in infancy, the “hunger for physical proximity never goes away. The less mature a person is, the more he will rely on this basic mode of attaching.”
The authors note that when children are occupied with being in the same space, hanging out, staying in touch, talking for hours about nothing, that this truly is an immature attachment.
2. Sameness- “The child seeks to be like those she feels closest to.” Usually this is most highly evidenced in toddlerhood. Toddlers and small children imitate and emulate.
Identification is another means of attaching through sameness. The child merges with the object of identification. This could (hopefully) be a parent, but it could also be a child’s identity within a group.
3. Belonging and Loyalty. This also emerges in toddlerhood and sometimes you see this in preschool-aged children. The child will “lay claim” to whomever or whatever he is attached to – mommy, daddy, a toy, etc.
Children can get into conflict over whose best friend is whose. The authors note that this type of attachment of can occur between peer-oriented girls.
4. Significance – “we matter to someone”. This emerges more in the preschool phase, where the child seeks to win approval and is sensitive to looks of disapproval and displeasure.
“Peer-oriented children do the same, but the countenance they want to shine is that of their peers. …The problem with this way of attaching is that it makes a child vulnerable to being hurt. To want to be significant to someone is to suffer when we feel we don’t matter to that special person.”
5. Feeling – this also begins most intensely in the preschool years, where children fall in love with those they are attached to. “A child who experiences emotional intimacy with the parent can tolerate much more physical separation and yet hold the parent close.”
The authors state that this fifth way of attachment is most tricky in that if we risk giving our heart away, it can be broken. Those who have loved and suffered may retreat to other less risky ways of attaching.
With children, the authors state that vulnerability is something that peer-oriented children seek to escape and that emotional intimacy is actually much less common among peer-oriented children.
6. Being known – this usually occurs by the time a child is ready to enter school. “To feel close to someone is to be known by them.” The child will share their secrets. Children who feel close to their parents will not keep secrets from them because then they are not as close. A child who is peer-oriented will keep no secrets from their best friend.
The authors point out that amongst children, the greatest amount of “secrets” is actually gossip, not psychological intimacy. “True psychological intimacy is the exception among peer-oriented children, most likely because the risks are too great.”
So, the authors point out that compared to children whose attachments are to parents, peer-oriented children are actually typically limited to only two or three ways of attaching.
They ask, “Shouldn’t it be possible for children to be connected with their parents and teachers and, at the same time, with their peers?” The authors point out that this is possible and desirable, but at the same time, those attachments cannot be in competition with each other. There has to be a primary attachment.
They write on page 27 that “A child’s alienated stance toward his parents does not represent a character flaw, ingrained rudeness, or behavior problems. It is what we see when attachment instincts have become misdirected.”
There is actually more in this chapter, but I think we will leave this chapter and go on to Chapter 3: “Why We’ve Come Undone.”