“Hold On To Your Kids”–Chapter Nine

The title of this chapter is “Stuck in Immaturity.”  Without even looking at the chapter, I have to giggle a bit at this title because those of you who have read this blog for a long time have seen my posts lamenting lack of meaningful rituals for American children as they transition into adulthood, how transforming into an industrial society has really prolonged adolescence in many ways, etc.  Yes, a society often stuck in immaturity!

The authors begin this chapter with two scenarios of two different children who are impulsive, unreflective, being rather off-the-cuff, not wanting to finish things, no aspirations.  The authors conclude by pointing out one of the children is only four, where these things are developmentally normal and to be expected, but the child in the other scenario is fourteen and his behavior has not changed remarkably since the preschool years. The authors dub this phenomenon as “preschooler syndrome” (and I giggled again!  Apparently I should have a glass of wine whilst reading this chapter to make it even more fun!)

The authors now make a point worth being serious about:  “Physical growth and adult physiological functioning are not automatically accompanied by psychological and emotional maturation.  Robert Bly, in his book The Sibling Society, exposes immaturity as being endemic in our society.  “People don’t bother to grow up, and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults,” he writes.  In today’s world the preschooler syndrome even affects many children well past the preschool years, and may even be seen in teenagers and adults.  Many adults have not attained maturity – have not mastered being independent, self-motivated individuals capable of tending their own emotional needs and of respecting the needs of others.”

Yup, pretty much sums up what is going on with children today and also some adults that I see.  The authors see the main culprit causing this behavior as peer orientation.  “The earlier the onset of peer orientation in a child’s life and the more intense the preoccupation with peers, the greater the likelihood of being destined to perpetual childishness.”

I agree completely, but what I also see is parents really having a tough time parenting.  Parents having a tough time setting boundaries, slowing down enough to have a family life, really not understanding development or what tools go with what age.  I think in the “olden days’” there were mothers in the neighborhood to help with this, the children all played in  a group of littles down to bigs so you could clearly see a six year old was not like the twelve year old…All the things we are missing in our society right now.

Anyway, back to the book. 

The authors talk about the term “integrative functioning” and how maturity allows one to temper and to balance.  I love this; Waldorf Education is all about balance and finding the Middle Way, so  I find this fits nicely into my personal worldview.   The authors point out that maturity requires a sense of self to be separated from inner experience and how that is completely absent in the young child.  Again, this is a hallmark of Waldorf Education.

The child has to be able to know that she is not identical with whatever feeling happens to be active in her at any particular moment.  She can feel something without her actions being necessarily dominated by that feeling.  She can be aware of other, conflicting feelings, or of thoughts, values, commitments that might run counter to the feeling of the moment.  She can choose.”

To me, the section that starts on page 115 “How Maturation Can Be Fostered” is an important one, the most important part and piece of this chapter.

Dealing with immature children, we may need to  show them how to  act, draw the boundaries of what is acceptable, and articulate what our expectations are.  Children who do not understand fairness have to be taught to take turns.  Children not yet mature enough to appreciate the impact of their actions must be provided with  rules and prescriptions for acceptable conduct….”  but they go on to point true maturation cannot be rushed.  They give the example that to take turns is civil, but until a child develops a sense of fairness behind this action, they are not truly mature.  To say you are sorry in a situation is also civil, but until one understands responsibility for one’s actions there is no maturity.

So, what can we do as parents to foster maturity?  The authors write “The key to activating maturation is to take care of the attachment needs of the child.  To foster independence we must first invite dependence; to promote individuation we must provide a sense of belonging and unity; to help the child separate we must assume the responsibility for keeping the child close.”

Here is another quote: “The first task is to create space in the child’s heart for the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love.”  Very lovely thought to meditate and ponder.

Many blessings,

Carrie

“Hold On To Your Kids”–Chapter Eight

This chapter is entitled, “The Dangerous Flight From Feeling” and discusses how peer-oriented adolescents and children become invulnerable to emotions.  The media has frequently commented that compassion seems to be on the dwindling end for many children in this day and age, and this chapter really explored this topic well.

Children who have been traumatized can manifest defensiveness and emotional hardening.  However, the authors point out that “many children who have been peer-oriented for some time can manifest the same level of defensiveness.”  If a child cannot be vulnerable, then learning is affected because that child cannot show curiosity or joy or passion.  Relationships are affected as the child cannot be authentic.

The authors lay out four reasons that peer- oriented  children are more likely to experience emotional wounding than a child who is oriented toward adults:

  • Attachment with a parent makes the stress of peers  ignoring them, taunting, etc. bearable in many ways; a shield of protection.  However, with this  attachment to the parent also comes the burden and responsibility of the parent knowing that the child will be very sensitive to what the parents says to the child.  Your words matter.
  • Peer-oriented children become “sensitized to insensitive reactions of children”.  Rejection by peers is a huge cause of teenage suicide.  The authors argue that children have always snubbed, ignored, shunned, shamed other children but in these days children do not have the attachment to family to override the impact of peer acceptance or rejection.

The authors write:  “The conclusion reached by some experts is that peer acceptance is absolutely necessary for a child’s emotional health and well-being, and that there is nothing worse than not being liked by peers.  It is assumed that peer rejection is an automatic sentence to lifelong self-doubt.  Many parents today live in fear of their children’s not having friends, not being esteemed by their peers.  This way of thinking fails to consider two fundamental questions:  What renders a child so vulnerable in the first place?  And why is this vulnerability increasing?”

“Studies have been unequivocal in their findings that the best protection for a child, even through adolescence, is a strong attachment with an adult.”  The authors cite studies that attachment to an adult is the best way to decrease a child’s risk for drug and alcohol problems, suicide attempts, violent behavior and early sexual activity.

  • Vulnerability is often attacked by other children who will shame the child who is emotionally vulnerable.
  • Because peer relationships are insecure, vulnerability due to fear of loss is inherent in these relationships.  This causes extreme anxieties:What if I don’t connect with my peers?  Why if I cannot make the relationship work?  What if I don’t want to go along with the things my buddies do, if my mom doesn’t let me go, or if my friend likes so and so more than she likes me?  Such are the ever-present anxieties of  peer-oriented children, never far below the surface.  Peer-oriented children are obsessed with who likes whom, who prefers whom, who wants to be with whom.”

Other sobering pieces of this chapter includes the study by John Bowlby, father of attachment theory, where small children were separated from their parents and the outcomes of this and  also some notes on drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers.

“Peer-oriented kids will do anything to avoid the human feelings of aloneness, suffering, and pain, and to escape feeling hurt, exposed, alarmed, insecure, inadequate, or self-conscious.  The older and more peer-oriented the kids, the more drugs seem to be an inherent part of their lifestyle.”

The chapter concludes with some thoughts about how children don’t need friends but rather adults who love them.  Children who are not vulnerable are ultimately shut down from themselves.  Your attachment to your child can save their feeling life and the way they view the world and how they function in the world. 

Thoughts on this chapter?

Many blessings,

Carrie

“Hold On To Your Kids”–Chapter Seven

We are back with more of our book study of “Hold On To Your Kids:  Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers” by Neufeld and Mate.  I encourage you all to read this book; it will underscore the importance of your work as a parent and that what you do every day really does matter!

We are up to Chapter Seven in this book, entitled “The Flatlining of Culture”.  The authors talk about how teen “tribe”s have no connection these days with adults at all. They remark that “Although we have lulled ourselves into believing that this tribalization of youth is an innocuous process, it is a historically new phenomenon with a disruptive influence on social life.  It underlies the frustration many parents feel at their inability to pass on their traditions to their children.”

I have a few things to add here.  I believe this peer orientation is beginning earlier and earlier, but parents are buying into this process as fact when it does not have to be so.  “Sleep-overs”, something women my age remember happening from their own childhoods in the teen years (ie, junior high and up), are now happening for children aged 7 and up.  There are many more instances of things that used to occur in the teenaged years just some decades ago that are now happening at the earliest levels of the grades.  This should be worrisome and we should be fighting to take the innocence of childhood and being with family back! 

The other interesting thing with this quote is the assumption that parents feel they have traditions to pass on.  I meet many families who do NOT have traditions from their own childhood to pass on.  Many of the parents I meet today are trying to re-create their families’ cultures from scratch with little idea how to start.  We must get very clear with ourselves and with our spouses, partners and other family members what traditions we hold dear, what values we hold dear and work to show this to our children.

When a child becomes peer-oriented, the transmission lines of civilization are downed.  The new models to emulate are other children or peer groups or the latest pop icons….Peer-oriented children are not devoid of culture, but the culture they are enrolled in is generated by peer orientation.”

Another great quote and sobering fact from this chapter:  “Many of our children are growing up bereft of the universal culture that produced the timeless creations of humankind:  The Bhagavad Gita; the writings of Rumi and Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes and Faulkner, or of the best and most innovative of living authors; the music of Beethoven and Mahler: or even the great translations of the Bible.  They know only what is current and popular, appreciate only what they can share with their peers.”

What did you all think of this short but intriguing chapter?

Carrie

“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,

Carrie

“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,

Carrie

“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,

Carrie

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,

Carrie