“Hold On To Your Kids”–Chapter Six

Chapter Six is an interesting exploration of the concept of “counterwill”.  The authors define “counterwill” as “an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced.  It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding.  It makes its most dramatic appearance in the second year of life-yes, the so-called terrible two’s. (If two-year-olds could make up such labels, they would perhaps describe their parents as going through the “terrible thirties.”)  Counterwill reappears with a vengeance during adolescence but it can be activated at any age – many adults experience it.”

This whole description made me chuckle.  Children push against forms all the time, but so do adults!  How often do we walk around complaining and essentially demonstrate the equivalent of kicking and screaming as we grump around?   “Why do I have the be the one who sets the tone in my home?”  “Why do I have to do all the research on parenting?”  “Why do I have to do all the housework?” 

Our children experience this as well.  I am very appreciate of the way Waldorf Education really helps me look at my children in a “sideways” manner.  Sometimes we really can affect more change through telling a story, through just listening and sleeping on it, through not approaching things so directly.  To approach things so directly so often leads to COUNTERWILL.

This from page 75:  “Counterwill manifests itself in thousands of ways.  It can show up as the reactive no of the toddler, the “You’re aren’t my boss” of the young child, as balkiness when hurried, as disobedience or defiance…(Uh, careful, Neufeld and Mate with that term.  Those of you who read this blog as Frequent Flyers are probably familiar with this back post:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/16/a-few-fast-words-regarding-defiance-in-children-under-the-age-of-6/    )  It is visible in the body language of the adolescent.  Counterwill is also expressed through passivity, in procrastination, or in doing the opposite of what is expected.  It can appear as laziness or lack of motivation.  It may be  communicated through negativity, belligerence, or argumentativeness, often interpreted by adults as insolence.”

The authors’ point in this chapter is that counterwill is normal and with good attachment to parents it can be kept in check. However, if the child is not attached to the parents and instead attach to a peer unit, it goes completely out of control.  The authors tell the stories of adolescents who do horrible things in the name of “doing it because we weren’t supposed to” and to “not let them push us around.”  “Clinicians diagnose such children with oppositional defiant disorder.  Yet it is not the oppositionality- the counterwill- that is out of order but the child’s attachments.”  These children are only being true to their instinct in defying people to whom they do not feel connected.  The more peer-oriented a child, the more resistant to the adults in charge.”

Don’t forget that “counterwill” has two important NORMAL functions:

1.  To keep a child from being influenced by those outside of a child’s attachment circle of family and

2.  To help the child develop internal will and autonomy.

The authors talk about the difference between will and clinging to a desire.  They remark that a child’s oppositionality is actually not an expression of will; that in fact it denotes an absence of will because it only allows a person to react not act from a free and conscious choosing.  Counterwill can be healthy in a “I can do it by myself” kind of independence-asserting sort of way, and counterwill will fade as a child experiences true maturing and growth toward independence.  Counterwill as a result of peer-attachment is very different from the counterwill that is serving the purpose of the child attaining independence.

Carrie here:  This is key in smaller children especially.   Smaller children really do not have free and conscious choosing they way an adult should have, so why do we put this burden on them to make choices, to choose to do X or Y?  Go back to the principles of the Early Years:  imitation, less words, less choice or no choice, let rhythm carry you and when these moments of pushing  against forms happens, be that strong, calm, capable rock to support your child!

On page 82, the authors write:  “It is understandable, when feeling a lack of power ourselves, to project a will to power onto the child.  If I am not in control, the child must be; if I do not have power, the child must have it; if I am not in the driver’s seat, the child has to be….In the extreme, even babies can be seen to have all the power to control one’s schedules, to sabotage one’s plans, to rob’s one sleep, to rule the roost….The problem with seeing our  children as having power is that we miss how much they truly need us.”

If all you can see in your children is the negative, the anger, the resistance, the “they are out to destroy my life, I know it!” then of course all you will respond with is your own anger, your own frustration, your own sadness.  Connect with your children, love your children, hold to the boundaries but out of love and   wanting them to grow up to be good, ethical and moral human beings.  Your connection will help make things better!  It really can go more smoothly when you are not on opposite sides.  Love one another!

Many blessings,


“Hold On To Your Kids”–Chapter Five

What keeps parents in the game is attachment.  Commitment and values can go a long way but if it was only that, parenting would be sheer work.  If it wasn’t for attachment, many parents would not be able to stomach the changing of diapers, forgive the interrupted sleep, put up with the noise and the crying, carry out all the tasks that go unappreciated.”

The authors use this chapter to point out that attachment supports parenting in seven ways:

1.  It arranges the parent/child hierarchically – the child is dependent on the parent; children look up to their parents, they turn to their parents for answers, they defer to them.

2.   It makes parents more tolerant of behavior  –“When our children express by actions or words a desire to attach to us, it makes them sweeter and easier to take.”

3.  It causes the child to pay attention to us. “The stronger the attachment is, the easier it is to secure the child’s attention.”

4.  It keeps the child close to the parent.  “If all goes well, the drive for physical proximity with the parent gradually evolves into a need for emotional connection and contact.”

5. It makes the parents a model.  “It is attachment that makes a child want to be like another person, to take on another’s characteristics.”

6.  It causes the parent to be the “primary cue-giver.”  “Until a child becomes capable of self-direction and of following cues from within, he or she needs someone to show the way.”

7.  It makes the child want to be good for the parent. 

With each of these ways that attachment can support parenting, the authors go through and show how these attachments work when a child attaches to peers instead of parents, what that looks like, and what that means for the parent-child relationship.

One interesting quote that may interest many of you, especially those of you with smaller and grades-age children,  was this one: “Children do not internalize values- make them their own-until adolescence.”

I think this quote shows us, and encourages us to keep in the game of parenting past the age when children are “little.”  When I repeatedly say on this blog that children in that second seven-year cycle are still “little”, I mean it.  Seven, eight and nine year olds still need protection.  Ten through thirteen year olds still need the support of parents to guide them.

The authors end the chapter with a final thought regarding a child’s desire to be “good” for a parent and this is that the parent must be trustworthy.  A parent cannot abuse this desire that the child has to work with the parent.  They also caution against using rewards and punishments:  “External motivators for behavior such as rewards and punishments may destroy the precious internal motivation to be good, making leverage by artificial means necessary by default.”

Another interesting chapter; what did you all think about it?

Many blessings,


“Hold On To Your Kids”–Chapter Four

The book we are currently going through chapter by chapter is Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate’s “Hold On To Your Kids:  Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.”

We have done Chapters 1,2 and 3 so far if you need to catch up:

Chapter Three: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/09/25/hold-on-to-your-kids-chapter-two-2/

Chapter Two:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/09/26/more-about-chapter-two-of-hold-on-to-your-kids/  and here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/08/29/hold-on-to-your-kids-chapter-two/

Chapter One:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/08/04/hold-on-to-your-kids-chapter-one/

This chapter is really interesting,and I think a thought-provoking one for many parents today as it addresses the power and authority involved in parenting.  The opening scenario is about a seven-year-old where the parents have very little control.  The authors point out:

“Too often the children are blamed for being difficult or the parents for being inept or their parenting techniques for being inadequate.  It is generally unrecognized by parents and professionals that the root of the problem is not parental ineptitude but parental impotence in the strictest meaning of that word:  lacking sufficient power.

The absent quality is power, not love or knowledge or commitment or skill.  Our predecessors had much more power than parents today.  In getting children to heed, our grandparents wielded more power than our parents could exercise over us or we seem to have over our children.  If the trend continues, our children will be in great difficulty  when their turn comes at parenting.  The power to parent is slipping away.”

The authors take GREAT PAINS to point out that power is not to be confused with FORCE or ABUSE but that is it simply the spontaneous authority to parent that comes from a connected relationship with the child.  “The power to parent arises when things are in their natural order, and it arises without effort, without posturing, and without pushing.  It is when we lack power that we are likely to resort to force.  The more power a parent commands, the less force is required in day-to-day parenting.  On the other hand, the less power we possess, the more impelled we are to raise our voices, harshen  our demeanor, utter threats, and seek some leverage to make our children comply with our demands.”

As parents, the authors note, we need to do three things:

1. Command our children’s attention – Carrie’s note:  I think this is directly related to so many parents revolving everything and anything around the  child, and putting the child in an equal relationship with the parent as opposed to considering the needs of the whole family and that the parent-child relationship is one of dignity and respect but not equality as we hopefully do have more experience with which to guide and protect our children, especially our small children.   Small children do not need to be privy to every adult conversation and happening!

2.  Solicit their good intentions – Carrie’s note:  we need to attribute positive intent to our children’s actions, even the more challenging behaviors, and most of all to be calm ourselves and help the child solve their problems and challenges.  We must uplift our children and lead them forward.

3.  To evoke their deference and secure cooperation – Carrie’s note:  We must model what we want to see, we must work together as family and figure out what our vision for our family and our family’s values are.  Without you and your partner getting very clear as to what is most important and demonstrating how the family can work together, the child will not know how.  Reverence and respect and dignity are an important part of securing cooperation, but so is setting boundaries between the world of the child and the world of the adult.  The move from your precious child being “part” of you – a nursing, co-sleeping symbiotic being attached in a sling to a three or four year old with a will and ideas of their own is often a hard shift for many first-time attached parents because there were very few boundaries erected in the beginning and now the boundaries need to be in place for the family to function.  Not in a mean way, but in a logical way!  Children have a need for you to lead and guide them.  They need boundaries to push against that will not fall or crumple. 

Most of all, these things can be done in LOVE if you have an attached, connected relationship with your child; the kind of relationship where your child is part of a larger structure of the family.  The authors point out that the “power to execute our parental responsibilities lies not in the neediness of our children but in their looking to us to be the answer to their needs.  We cannot truly take care of a child  who does not count on us to be taken care of, or who depends on us only for food, clothing, shelter, and other material concerns.  We cannot emotionally support a child  who is not leaning on us for his psychological needs.  It is frustrating to direct a child who does not welcome our guidance, irksome and self-defeating to assist one who is not seeking our help.”

Dependency needs of children do not vanish – they only can shift from parents to someone else:  a peer group.  What looks like a shift to independence is actually just a shift in dependence.  “Since humans have a lengthy period of dependence, attachments must be transferable from one person to another, from parents to relatives and neighbors and tribal or village elders.  All of these, in turn, are meant to play their role in bringing the child to full maturity.”  In other words, children are meant to be able to attach to other responsible adults, but in our society this has too often turned into children transferring their dependence into peers. 

This brings up a question from me to all of you with children is what are you doing to foster a community of responsible adults that you can trust your children with?  This is important, and becomes increasingly important as your children grow older. This is not about dependence of a child just on its mother, but on a responsible community. This, of course, does not negate that the strongest and most critical  attachment  is of a child to its family (not just to an attached mother).

One of the last points I would like to pull from this chapter is that the authors point out that parenting is not a set of skills to be learned and that we must as a society stop thinking of parenting in this way.  “The reasoning behind parenting as a set of skills seemed logical enough, but in hindsight has been a dreadful mistake. It has led to an artificial reliance on experts, robbed parents of their natural confidence, and often leaves them feeling dumb and inadequate…..We miss the essential point that what matters is not the skill of the parents but the relationship of the child to the adult who is assuming responsibility.”

There is more in this chapter, but I will stop there.  Those of you following along with the book, what did you think of this chapter?

Many blessings,


More About Chapter Two of “Hold On To Your Kids”

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.”

Many blessings,


“Hold On To Your Kids” Chapter Three

So we are moving along with our book study of Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate’s “Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers.”

Chapter Three is entitled, “Why We’ve Come Undone.”  The opening premise of this chapter can be summed up in the first sentence:  “How is it that, in today’s world, children so readily transfer their attachments from nurturing adults to each other?  The cause is not individual parental failure but an unprecedented cultural breakdown for which our instincts cannot adequately compensate.” 

So, this chapter essentially breaks down and analyzes the causes of attachment failure.  It is a very interesting read; I encourage all of you to really spend some time with this chapter.

On page 32: “One result of the economic changes since the Second World War is that children are placed early, sometimes soon after birth, in situations where they spend much of the day in one another’s company.  Most of their contact is with other children, not with the  significant adults in their lives.  They spend much less time bonding with parents and adults.  As they grow older, the process only accelerates.”  The authors go on to discuss how most early childhood providers, educators, and teachers are not taught about attachment theory at all (see the work of John Bowlby if you are interested) and how the importance of adult connection is not appreciated or fostered.  They emphasize that the damage is NOT caused by parents who work but caused by the lack of consideration of attachment by society at large.  If we considered attachment, day cares and mother’s morning out programs and such things would have a specific way to foster and nurture children. 

The authors go on to write that after day care and kindergarten, children generally go to school and that this is an environment with even more peer orientation and less adults around. 

The lack of extended family is also problematic.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles often “were better able than parents themselves to offer the unconditional loving acceptance that is the bedrock of emotional insecurity” but now are not frequently in the same place as the children who really need them.  Moving frequently also is problematic because “our children cannot be co-parented by people whose names we hardly even know.”

The authors point out the importance of such figures as the family physician, the storekeeper around the corner and artisans in the village who knew the whole family for generations and how this is also disappearing if not gone.  Also, the attendance of people at a place of worship has declined, so that a community of caring people from church or synagogue may also not be present. 

Whew!  And I am going to stop there for now.  It all is rather depressing, isn’t it?  However, the one thing that gives me HOPE for our children are all the parents I meet just like YOU who are making mindful decisions and trying to get back to the real roots of childhood development!  Thank you all!

Much love,


“Hold On To Your Kids” – Chapter Two

We are back to discuss more of our latest book study “Hold On To Your Kids:  Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.  Today we are on “Chapter Two:  Skewed Attachments, Subverted Instincts.”

The authors begin this chapter with a bit about fourteen-year-old “Cynthia” whose behavior had changed in the last year to the point where she was “obsessive about her privacy and insistent that her life was none of her parents’ business.”  “Typical” methods of discipline – sanctions, groundings, time-outs had failed. 

The authors write, “The cause of Cynthia’s puzzling behavior becomes self-evident only if we picture the same scenario in the adult realm.  Imagine that your spouse or lover suddenly begins to act strangely'; won’t look you in the eye, rejects physical contact, speaks to you irritably in monosyllables, shuns your approaches, and avoids your company.  Then imagine that you go to your friends for advice.  Would they say to you, “Have you tried a time-out? Have you imposed limits and made clear what expectations are?”  It would be obvious to everyone that, in the context of adult interaction, you’re not dealing with a behavior problem but a relationship problem.  And probably the first suspicion to arise would be that your partner was having an affair.”

In a way, Cynthia was having an affair – with the peer group that had become more important than her parents and her family.

(And this is Carrie’s not here: note I do think having realistic expectations, and for teenagers having clear expectations actually is important. It can be important for adult relationships as well.  But, notice what I say is the key to discipline here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/02/22/the-number-one-way-to-discipline-a-child/)

The authors use this scenario to work toward the next section of the chapter, entitled, “Why We Must Become More Conscious of Attachment”. The authors define attachment as “a force of attachment pulling two bodies toward each other.”  They argue that we must become conscious of attachment because economically and culturally our society is no longer geared toward attachment of children toward adults.  Attachment must be known about and experienced.

There is a concept in psychology called “psychological orientation”. The authors write, “As children grow, they have an increasing need to orient: to have a sense of who they are, of what is real, why things happen, what is good, what things mean.  To fail to orient is to suffer disorientation, to be lost psychologically…Children are utterly incapable of orienting by themselves.  They need help……A parent is by far a child’s best compass point—or another adult, like a teacher, who acts as a parent substitute.” 

I love this quote on page 19 in reference to the research of the psychological attachment patterns of children:  “Absolutely clear is that children were meant to revolve around their parents and the other adults responsible for them, just as the planets revolve around the sun.  And yet more and more children are now orbiting around each other.”

The next part of the chapter, the six ways of attaching, is so important that I would like to address it in tomorrow’s post.

Many blessings,


“Hold On To Your Kids”: Chapter One

Well, here we are with a new book study!  Always exciting!

Chapter One of this book is entitled, “Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers”.    The authors lay the groundwork for this chapter in the opening scenario and write, “Children are not quite the same as we remember being.  They are less likely to take their cues from adults, less afraid of getting into trouble.  They also seem less innocent and naive – lacking, it seems, the wide-eyed wonder that leads a child to have excitement for the world, for exploring the wonders of nature or of human creativity.  Many children seem inappropriately sophisticated, even jaded in some ways, pseudo-mature before their time.  They appear to be easily bored when away from each other or when not engaged with technology.”

And what I love about this book is that it  addresses not just the way children are, but they way they can be if we change our parenting assumptions and ways, and how we really can “hold on to our kids.”  We will get into this in further chapters.  I really and truly believe that attachment parenting and Waldorf Education hold good opportunities for helping children be at the right developmental phase for their age (this seems to be something as an American society that we are losing – what happens at what age, what is appropriate to expect for each age, how do we work with children in a holistic way in order to have them grow up and be health adults?)

The authors go on to discuss how parenting today does not seem natural for many parents and how this is so ironic considering “That we have more access to courses and books on childrearing than any previous generation of parents.”

Drs. Neufeld and Mate then go on to lay the groundwork for the importance of attachment and connection in guiding a child. “For a child to be open to being parenting by an adult, he must be actively attaching  to that adult, be wanting contact and closeness with him.” They discuss the movement from physical intimacy to emotional intimacy to psychological intimacy and how our changed culture makes this more difficult than ever.  “Children are increasingly  forming attachments with that compete with their parents, with the result that proper context for parenting is less and less available to us.”  This is taking the form of attachment to peers over family.  This orientation changed around the time of World War II (I wrote about some of the other consequences of how childhood has changed since World War II here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/30/rite-of-passage-parenting-four-essential-experiences-to-equip-your-kids-for-life-heading-up-to-the-nine-year-change-and-beyond/ )  The authors argue that instead of vertical transmission of culture (from older adults to the young), culture is being transmitted horizontally within the generation from peer to peer.  The increased rates of teen suicide is correlated to the increase of peer orientation in our society.

The hopeful part of this is that our children really do want to be part of their own family, and that we can always work to strengthen the bonds of family and our attachment to our children.

I have seen in my work with literally thousands of different families from all cultures as a pediatric physical therapist, as a breastfeeding counselor, as an IBCLC, as someone involved in Waldorf homeschooling circles and such, that healing is possible.  This, to me,  is the ultimate outcome of attachment parenting, especially when combined with Waldorf Education, and what I share so much of on this blog.

But of course, it is easier to not have to work so hard in the years over the age of nine and to lay groundwork for this from the beginning the best we know how with the tools we have at the time.  Parenting is a journey and there really is no perfection, only striving.  As mothers, we all make many mistakes. Some are bigger than others.  But it is never too late to change or to start anew and afresh.  Instead of guilt taking over where you are, let your forward momentum and your plan and vision for your family carry you.

Those of you who are reading along, what did you think of this first chapter?  I would love to know your opinions!

Many blessings,