Monday, August 9, 2010

Hold On To Your Kids...warning...opinions coming

A couple of weeks ago, an online friend (hi, Joy!) posted about this book on her blog, and it occurred to me that I should put a plug in for this book - which I read about three years ago, and which has profoundly influenced how I parent.

Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate are authors of the book Hold On To Your Kids.  Neufeld and Mate are Canadian doctors (Dr. Neufeld is a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist, and Dr. Mate is an M.D.) who joined forces to write this book about the tendency of today's children to be peer-oriented rather than forming necessary, strong, adult/child attachment (they define attachment very specifically).  Their observations can be troubling, even controversial at times, but they provided insights into child development unlike anything I'd ever read before.  When Geoff and I were considering the idea of homeschooling as an option for Matthew's education, it was this book that put me over the top in deciding that this is what we would do.  It's not that Neufeld or Mate overtly advocate home education; at least, I don't recall anything like that.  And there are so many ways this book might be useful other than with regard to a decision to/not homeschool.  But for me, when I considered the principles and research that they wrote about, the decision about homeschooling became much easier.

In all fairness, not everyone likes this book.  I know a few parents who read part of the book and who put it away, saying that it provoked guilt in them for not doing enough, when they are already trying hard to be the best possible parents they can be.  I respect what these folks say, and totally get that we're all trying to be the best parents possible.  It would also be true to say that I can be a bit over-the-top in reading books about child development and parenting.  My own critique of the book is twofold:  First, I think it could have been organized a bit better than it is; secondly, I wish there were more in the 'how-to' parts of the book.

But none of these criticisms change how important the book has been for me as a parent.  I'll give you an example.  Neufeld spends a lot of time talking about attachment and the various levels/stages of attachment (how the levels are defined; what to look for; etc).  I learned about this at a time when I was taking Matthew to a friend of mine for a morning or two per week while I worked.  I had noticed that when I picked Matthew up after a few hours of being away from him, he would tend to be rather difficult to deal with when we got back home.  I would be preparing lunch, or something like that, and he would be tantrummy, or uncooperative, etc etc.  After reading Neufeld's thoughts about attachment and his recommendation that parents deliberately re-attach every time they've been apart from their child, I started to do something a bit different.  Pursuant to Neufeld's advice, when I re-united with Matthew after just a few hours, I began to look to obtain three things from him:  eye contact; a smile; and a nod/agreement.  So I'd bring him home and, rather than busy myself right away in all of the things that needed doing, I sat down with him on the floor and simply engaged him in play...always looking for these three things.  When I had eye contact with him, and received a smile, and after he had nodded in agreement with me on anything, I knew that I had him again...he had re-attached with me.  Thereafter, I could go about getting done what I needed to get done, and Matthew was back in cheery form.

Other things I've done that are different as a result of reading the book:
  • With one pre-Neufeld exception, I've never snuck away from Matthew when I've needed to leave him; to this day, I tell him when/where I'm going and when he should expect to see me again.
  • I foster the stage of development that Matthew's at in a more deliberate way than I otherwise would have.  So for example, I think it's the fourth stage of attachment that the child has a need to be special to the parent; so I started talking to him about how long we had waited for him, what I valued about him, etc.  Right now, I think Matthew's in his sixth stage of attachment, and I'm hoping to blog sometime about what this means for him...and for Geoff and me as his parents. 
  • Neufeld suggests that there's a notion in today's society that our children are too attached to their parents/caregiver(s), accompanied by a perception that the sooner children are able to function with a level of independence the better.  He counters those notions, claiming that it is impossible for children to be too attached to their parents/primary caregiver(s) and that the deeper that attachment, the less preoccupied the child will be with trying to find it elsewhere.  The implication for me is that I'm not worrying, any longer, about how to make Matthew independent as early as possible...he needs me until he no longer needs me.
  • In keeping with the above point, I don't make Matthew 'go to' other people if he's uncomfortable.  If he needs to stay with me, that's ok; I'm not rushing his independence.  It's also the reason why I haven't left him at day camp until he's been ready for me to go.
  • I'm not worried about socialization or peers.  Though of course it's important that Matthew play with other children, I don't worry that he spends as much time with me as he does and that he's very (sometimes more) comfortable talking with adults than with other children.  I want him to learn his values from Geoff and me, first and foremost, not from other children who are also looking for their own sets of values from people that they attach to.
  • I homeschool (again, not because Neufeld and Mate advocate it but because it makes sense given the research and experience they present).
There's so much I could write about, and there have been so many changes I've made to my parenting as a result of reading this book and hearing him speak on a couple of occasions.

I think what I've learned will also be so valuable as I look to parent a child that I have neither birthed nor lived with from the point of birth; though I have much to read yet when it comes specifically to adoption and attachment, Neufeld's principles will be a guiding force for me in what I look for in my Ethiopian-born child(ren).  Often one reads about children who, after joining their adoptive family, 'regress' for a period of time into behaviours more typical of a (much?) younger child.  I have speculated that one of the reasons for this might be Neufeld/Mate's assertion that children attach intuitively over a series of stages, starting with level one and continuing, in order, through to level six; so if level one of attachment has to do with the child's senses (ie. seeking to be with those to whom they are attaching: by sight, smell, sound), perhaps newly adopted children are pre-occupied by a need to be with the person/people they are attaching to until such time as they are assured of and attached to that presence in their lives; which will then enable them to move to step two of Neufeld's attachment theory.  Does that long, run-on sentence and the speculation contained within it make sense?  According to Neufeld (I think!), if a child is not able to progress beyond a particular level, they are not able to achieve the subsequent levels of attachment, which will have implications for the child as s/he ages.  Anyway, I'm just in the early thinking-this-stuff-through phase as it concerns adoption, and will keep you posted on these thoughts if you wish.

I wish I could take part in Neufeld's in-depth attachment training sessions in Vancouver, but the time and expense is too much for us right now.  But the bottom line for me regarding this book is this:  I think that the authors are forward-thinking, radical in their perspectives (compared to societal norms these days, anyway), and they certainly gave me an alert that has affected our family dynamic. 

How's that for a strong recommendation??!

* Thanks for the comments, friends.  And Darci, in the two times I've heard Neufeld speak, I've not heard him talk about homeschooling (and have never heard his opinion on the amount of time with peers - wow!) - how great that must have been to hear him at a homeschooling conference!! 


  1. Pamela Whyte, here in the city offers courses. She's trained under Neufield. She's also a homeschooler.

    Her web address is

  2. I placed my order last week, and am really anticipating this book! I know it's hard to sort out what might be closest to "absolute truth" in parenting (and many might argue there is no absolute truth - I think there may well be, even if it LOOKS a bit different for each family). I KNOW I have some personal bias in regard to attachment parenting, etc., but so far it sounds to me like these guys are onto something! I have some opinions on parenting and children in today's culture, and where I think we as a society may be off-track and too parent-focused (often in the guise of being child-focused), but I don't yet have the guts to publicly open up that debate, yet, so I'll just keep learning, and maybe parent for a while myself, in the meantime!

  3. I LOVE this book. I heard him speak at my first ever homeschool convention and wow, was he great. He also told us (the group of homeschooling parents) that homeschooling was really the only hope our society has...he toned that message WA"Y down the next day when it was open to the general public. I've never forgotten his words, though, that kids really only need at max an hour a week with their 'peers'..and that they are meant to attach strongly to their parents..we get so much criticism as homeschoolers that we 'shelter' our kids--but as my husband always says, isn't that our job? :)

  4. Great to read your recommendation Ruth. I've read it too, liked some stuff, disagreed with others. But like with all books on parenting, psychology and business, if I can glean and apply a few truths that make sense for our family, then it was worth the read.

  5. Thank for the recommendation, I will try to find this book at my library. I did homeschooling when I was in grade 7 during one year and it was a wonderful creativity experience. My other brothers and sisters did during fews more years (3-4 years) and they adjust well when they start regular school. Homeschooling is a incredible experience and I feel bless I did have this opportunity in my life.

  6. I love this book too! I've seen him talk a number of times at teacher conventions and I've taken his Power of Parenting (or something like that) course.

    Great book!

  7. I love what you have shared here Ruth! I believe this wholeheartedly but I love to hear it echoed somewhere else to validate my beliefs. Thank you. Katie in Ottawa

  8. Ruth -- I've been trying the "re-attaching" after having been apart this week. That really does help with the transition to being together again. I've got two books on kids to get through first, but I will have to pick this one up.