As mentioned in the last article, I recently attended a webinar – an online seminar – presented live from Canada.
The speaker was Gordon Neufeld and the title was “Making Sense of Troubled Kids”.
Many insights, revelations and important information were gathered in these 90 minutes.
In the last article we saw the basics about the metaphor of the iceberg.
In this article we will see the answer to the question “How can I reduce the separation to which my child is exposed”. We’ll be using some practical examples.
Why we should never use attachment as a weapon against our children
During this webinar Neufeld explained to us the importance of this emotional tsunami that breaks out in children when we confront them with separation – like this situation mentioned in the last article where our toddler does not want to come with us when we call him. So we go away, hide somewhere and pretend as if we left without the child.
This will cause an emotional tsunami in the child’s life.
He helped us to connect the points between this everyday story and the theme of the lecture “Making Sense of Troubled Kids”.
Let’s get right to this story:
Imagine a mother on a playground with her 3-year-old girl named Cecilia. It’s time to go home and the mother tells her child:
“We really have to go now; I told you five minutes ago that you only have a few minutes to play before we leave”.
But Cecilia refuses. She loves to play on the playground.
The mother, intuitive as she is, uses her ultimate trump card.
She says to her girl:
“Ok, I’m going! Mommy goes home.”
She walks away and hides behind a tree.
I think we’ve all done this one way or another, and probably most of us know what happens next:
By walking away and hiding, the mother causes an emotional tsunami in her daughter’s life. Cecilia is crying, shouting:
“I am coming, I am coming, mummy, wait!!!” –
The mother comes out of her hiding place, and Cecilia runs to her, holding her tight.
Let’s look at what has just happened here in the light of what we saw in the last article:
By going away and hiding, she has pushed her daughter into exactly the thing that causes the greatest inner stress: she has confronted her daughter with separation.
Neufeld explains why this is so:
“The confrontation with separation is very stressful for all people, because attachment is synonymous with survival. That is our primary need. This is how our brain is created. All of us with a limbic system and an emotional brain are made for closeness and togetherness.”
Cecilia’s mother was satisfied:
“Oh, it worked; I provoked my child very strongly and quickly made her come with me!
Of course, we create big emotions when we confront a child with the feeling of separation. The brain can’t cope with so much feedback and in such moments our brain has a way to protect itself: It stops feeling the vulnerable emotions, we also call it armor. The emotions are there, but they are no longer felt, they are no longer perceived.
Back to the story:
When Cecilia and her mother come home, Cecilia is still very anxious, full of frustration and hectic.
Soon there is a reason to scold Cecilia: she beats her younger sister without any reason! …
(at least that’s what the mother thinks)
Soon it is time to go to bed, but Cecilia is extremely vigilant. For the last six months she has been able to sleep alone in her room, but tonight she doesn’t seem to want to do it. She gets up all the time trying to socialize. She has to pee or wants something to drink – wants to go to mom’s bed or maybe she has a monster under her bed. The mother’s frustration grows: she has had a long, hard day and longs to have a break and some time for herself; all she sees is this difficult behavior.
In such and similar situations we often react with the following kind of discipline:
“If you don’t behave, I will take away your favourite toy.”
We look at what is important to a child, in other words what the child is attached to, and then we confront it with the separation by threatening to take it away for disciplinary reasons.
“Since you don’t behave, I’ll send you to your room!” –
This is based on the fact that we have this idea that isolation is an effective form of discipline.
We realize that what we do, our way of dealing with the child, is very effective.
It actually works. Because we confront the child with separation, because attachment is the most important need, it will do everything to restore closeness. And then we think the child has learned something.
When we say to a child:
“I will take that away from you” or
“Go to your room if you don’t know how to behave”, we’ll frustrate our child even more.
It’s like saying:
“Oh, I see you really have a hard time handling frustration; I give you some more to handle.”
We see here how this doesn’t really make sense. We believe that it would be enough to control the problematic behavior.
But our way of dealing with this problem increases and reinforces the underlying problem.
We are made for attachment. But many of us – and many times with the advice of well respected experts – confront our children with separation to discipline them. This creates increased frustration in the child, more anger, more guilt and shame…and then we punish them because they have “difficult” behavior.
Separation means stress.
There are all kind of invisible ways our children (and ourselves) are facing that separation.
Separation is a normal part of life.
But our task as parent and teacher is to reduce separation to where it’s unavoidable.
In the next article, we will see closer how this can be done.
In the next article we will look more closely at how this can happen.
At the beginning we asked ourselves the question:
“How can I reduce the separation my child is exposed to?
The most basic answer to this question is:
Never use attachment as a weapon against the child.
Using attachment against our children works – and this quite well, as we have seen in the story with Cecilia.
A child who thinks that we are going away without him will come very quickly – and the stronger the bond with the child, the better it works.
Taking away things a child is attached to will also work as a form of punishment.
When we do this, however, we create great anxiety, stress and relentless agitation within the child.
We create more emotions – and less ability to feel. We take the opportunity to reach maturity. However, maturity is the first prerequisite for moving from “difficult behavior” to relaxed and balanced behavior.
The bond with our child is an extremely precious good. It brings the prerequisite that the child is relaxed and can arrive in peace. So let us be careful not to lose this attachment, but to strengthen and nurture it.
In the next article we will see some ways how we can create a place for our children where they can recover after stressful situations.