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Hold On To Your Kids: book recommendation

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers By Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate

Why this book might be good for you This book is about how to have a solid relationship with your children – which is essential for their development and behaviour, and effective parenting and discipline. It talks about how parents can lose the ability to influence their children, what harm that can do to development, and how to get things back on track. There’s also some insight into why this relationship is essential for getting your kids to listen to you – if you feel like you can’t guide your child any more then this is the book for you. A note on the authors Gordon Neufeld is a developmental psychologist from Canada with lots of experience in this area. Gabor Mate is a Hugarian-Canadian doctor with lots of experience in family practice and an interest in child development. For two academically minded guys they’ve created a book that’s easy to understand and is sprinkled with anecdotes and stories to help illustrate their points.

My favourite line from the book:

"You cannot feed someone who is not at your table".

This explains so well how a good relationship with our kids is the key to being able to influence them. What’s it about?

The book is based on attachment theory, and with that the idea that kids need to be oriented to their parents in order to learn and develop within the safe structure of that relationship. Think of it kind of like being ‘oriented’ to a teacher at school – looking at and paying attention to them so you can meet their expectations and learn effectively. Neufeld and Mate then explain how sometimes children become more oriented to their peers than to their parents – sometimes because of what we do and sometimes for other reasons. When kids are looking at and paying attention to other kids their age (oriented to them), their peers become their role models rather than their parents.

When this happens a few things can go astray. One is that the power to parent slips away. What helps kids follow our lead is their view of us as the leader. When that’s not there, there’s not the same motivation to listen to our opinion and be guided by our expectations.

There can be negative effects for kids too. If children are looking to their peers, they don’t have great role models for learning new skills and maturing. Not because their friends are bad kids (necessarily), but because they’re young and immature too! When kids have other kids as role models they have trouble being vulnerable and talking about feelings, which means they can’t learn about feelings. They can have trouble with immaturity, without a mature role model. And they can be frustrated and aggressive because they are missing the true relationship they need – the one with their parents.

If your kids aren’t at this stage yet – there are some tips for preventing this turn towards peers. Some ideas include re-creating an attachment village so that all the pressure for these relationships and mentoring isn’t on you. Another one is to avoid the mistake of inadvertently encouraging peer role models. Sometimes encouraging a lot of peer contact and independence isn’t a helpful thing!

If you think your kids have already made this shift and you’re losing your influence, there are ideas for how to cultivate it back. The first step is rebuilding the relationship through ‘collecting your child’. If you’ve got a rocky relationship with your kids, asking them to hang out is not likely to be popular! If you cut off contact with friends that will also be unpopular (and not effective). So collection of your child involves small little ways to rebuild the relationship, which will allow it to strengthen. Then there are some tips on how to rebuild the relationship once you’ve got a bit of buy in, like keeping connected while you’re apart and balancing family relationships and friendships.

Another awesome part of the book is a how-to-guide for discipline that doesn’t divide. That means, how to use discipline that’s effective but does not erode the relationship – otherwise you’ll be back at square one before you know it. I considered including the ideas here, but I think reading the book gives the context that’s really helpful to understand them.

Of course a good relationship with kids is much bigger than just holding onto them. We also need to let them explore, learn, become themselves and make mistakes – of course within the same safe relationship. I’ll explore this more in an upcoming blog post. The two ideas sit within what is called the parent-child relationship, providing a Circle of Security for the child.

Psychologists often call this the dance of attachment – this is because there’s no prescriptive way to do it, but rather it’s a relationship between two people. I’ll be writing more posts on this and uploading some webinars to guide parents through this too.

Need help? I hope this article has been helpful – if you have any questions please comment or send them through on the form below. If you need help with parenting, the Raising Children website is great. If you want to see a Psychologist for help, click HERE to find a Psychologist.


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