Many parents may be troubled by the angry out-bursts by their kids. This is exactly what happened to the author Gabor Mate. When Gabor Maté’s eldest son was eight, his angry outbursts troubled his parents so much that they took him to see the renowned developmental psychologist, Gordon Neufeld. He talked to Maté and his wife, Rae. Then he talked to their son, Daniel. He told them that instead of having “this troubled kid” on their hands, Maté and Rae needed to address their own behaviour – a revelation that was both “daunting and empowering”, Maté says.
Nearly 20 years later, Maté, an author and physician based in Vancouver, teamed up with Neufeld to write a book based on the latter’s ideas,“HOLD ON TO YOUR KIDS:WHY PARENTS NEED TO MATTER MORE THAN PEERS”. It has been translated into 15 languages and is now finally published in the UK.
From screen time to teenage rebellion, it’s easy to feel that children are slipping out of your grasp. Trusting your instincts can help.
The authors’ sense that children are slipping from adult grasp, becoming a sort of lost generation, will resonate with parents, especially those battling with excessive screen time or teenage estrangements. But what parents need to understand, Maté and Neufeld argue, is that challenging behaviours are in fact “not behavioural problems, but a relationship problem”.
At the heart of this relationship problem is something Neufeld and Maté call “peer orientation”. Some may view an increasing attachment to peers as a sign of maturation. Not so, Maté says, if that attachment supplants the primary one to caregivers. And what should you do if you have lost your child to their peers? Reclaim them, he says.
This is what Maté did with his own daughter when she was 15. He decided that he will simply reclaim her. He wanted to be with her and she liked the idea of eating out, so once a week they went for dinner. For years, they kept their date. Sometimes the dinners went badly, but the next week they’d be back again. Those evenings became a sacred space. It took years for his daughter to turn to him for advice.
By the time he wrote Hold On To Your Kids, Maté says, he had made every mistake in the book.
Some of these mistakes are specific, such as using time out, a technique Maté rejects as “based on fear”. Others include using a nagging, angry or cold voice, wielding adversarial discipline or neglecting to spend sufficient time with your children. If you have listened to yourself, as I have recently, command a child to brush their teeth or put on shoes, and flinched at the terseness, discourtesy or despair in your voice, Maté’s book will make you examine your behaviour in a new light.
So what can parents do to reconnect with their children? The key, Maté says, is to reconnect with intuition and ignore the sort of books that portray parenting as expertise to be acquired.
If that sounds rich coming from someone who has co-authored a parenting book, Maté says his and Neufeld’s mission is simply “to validate parenting instincts” in the face of a cultural onslaught against them. The advice to leave a baby to cry at night, to isolate a child who has misbehaved are examples of “parenting practices [that] ride roughshod over a parent’s instincts.
When you get down to the nitty-gritty, instinctive parenting sounds pretty straightforward: speak nicely to your kids, treat them as you would any loved one, be ready with a hug, avoid overuse of your phone in their company, spend time with them, solicit their good intentions. Essentially, think of yourself as in a relationship with them.
But as children grow, these parenting instincts become harder to notice, let alone follow.
To any parent wishing to hold on to a child or win back a “lost” one, he advises: “Evaluate how the architecture of your life supports that intention.”
We may assume he means work fewer hours; but since the book is all about honing instincts, he will say only, “You need to make a decision as to how much of that working life is essential and how much is discretionary.” Even slivers of time help: a parent who comes home late can pop into a child’s room for a quick catch-up if they are awake.
It helps to clear time at weekends to spend with your child. Above all, create an atmosphere at home that is inviting. If older children respond coolly to this assault on their affections, “Stay patient,” Maté says. “You don’t take the rejections personally. You hang in there. You are wooing the child back into the relationship.”
Parents have to retain control without seeming too controlling. A strong relationship provides caregivers with the authority to limit unhealthy attachments. Tell your kids-‘You can do this, but only for half an hour a day.’
How to reattach:
‘Collect’ your children: Spend time with them when they wake up, when they come in from school, at family meals, when they go to bed. It’s the intention and awareness that makes a difference. Even two minutes can provide “a dose of fulfilling connection”.
Parents set the rules: You’ll know when some negotiation is advisable and when it isn’t.
Check your attitude: Instead of shouting or texting when it’s dinner time, walk up stairs and speak to them. If that requires more energy than you have, Maté insists this is not an energy issue, but “an attitude issue”.
Don’t try to control. Try to lead: If you find yourself always getting into a standoff with your child, “you’d better not force the issue, because you are just going to create conflict”. Don’t try to control, Maté says. Work on rebuilding the relationship.
Hold off giving your child a mobile phone for as long as possible: Maté is reluctant to be prescriptive as far as technology is concerned.
This article was compiled by Paula Cocozza and first appeared in ‘The Guardian’.
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