Hold On To Your Kids explains what is foundational to what it means to be human, what a child needs to thrive. And if that foundation becomes lost, this book describes how to reclaim it.
As a parent, I wish I had read this before my first child was born.
As a teacher, I wish I had this in my in-service days before my own first day of school.
As an adult who spends their day around kids, I wish Every. Single. Adult. would read this.
“…attachment is the first priority of living things…In plants, the roots must first take hold for growth to commence and bearing fruit to become a possibility. For children, the ultimate agenda of becoming viable as a separate being can take over only when their needs are met for attachment, for nurturing contact, and for being able to depend on the relationship unconditionally” (Mate and Neufeld, pg 113).
Attachment makes sense, really. Just as a coniferous seedling growing at high altitude at the edge of a 3000ft drop does not feel their precarious situation because it is confident the cliff they have attached to will not give way, our kids need to feel an un-moveable connection to the adults around them.
Our kids are living in a precarious situation themselves. Though they are not growing physically at the boundary of a high-altitude free-fall, this is where they grow emotionally. Failure to maintain focus on being that solid place for them to attach in a dangerous position will result in losing our kids.
How does this free-fall of detachment happen?
Kids begin to feel unsafe, unprotected, unpursued around their adults. They feel overlooked and unwanted as this vacuum of human instinct grows in your emotional absence. They fill that void with peers instead. As a result, children are raising children, and those with no real internal moral compass are being the compass for others.
To refrain from pursuing the child is not necessarily a conscious decision on the part of the adult. A divorce, financial trouble, stress, mental distress, and many other situations become an emotional distraction for the adult, and that intentional, periodic focus on their kids dissolves. Sometimes it is just a lack of knowledge on the parents’ part – one generation of detachment between parent and child most likely begets another.
Attachment is foundational. If your kids are not attached to you, they are attached to someone – or something – else. At which point, it drives them to negative behaviors and could be quite a lot of work to collect them again.
What does it look like for a child to be attached to peers rather than adults?
Defiance. Lack of motivation. Ill-respect for teachers, parents, or other consistent authority figures. Fighting for position or control among peers (bullying). Addiction to screens, substances or experiences. Anger. Attitude. Active avoidance of adults.
The child has decided, though perhaps not consciously, that the adults are not in their corner. They no longer feel that preschool freedom to unashamedly be themselves around the adults they are meant to be attached to. They feel they need to hide themselves, and they choose friends to be their mentors and role models instead.
Kids vote for their leader with their time and their eye contact.
How do we get our kids back if we’ve lost them?
Collecting our kids can be time consuming and frustrating. But the decision to put in the effort could be the most important choice you make.
You are winning if you can get on the level of the kid, look them in the eye, and make them respond positively to you, such as a smile, laugh, more conversation, or even that eye-roll kids do to let you know they think you are so weird but they secretly love you anyway.
That is connection. That lets their hearts know without a doubt that they are seen. To do that consistently, daily, is to be the cliff they are growing precariously on the side of.
It takes many times of possible inflammation and outright rejection to get your kid to respond each time.
If your child is severely peer-oriented, or even just in the regular maintenance of attachment, Mate and Neufeld suggest a family or one-on-one extended weekend together. Preferably in a place that is out of their comfort zone. That way you are forced to be their navigation, their compass; as the one with the answers, the map, the know-how, they will eventually relax into your hierarchical position of leader in the relationship.
They also recommend collecting your kids after every period of separation, even after a day of school or an outing to a movie, to maintain the attachment once established.
Why is it necessary for kids to be attached to adults?
Our culture currently cringes at the mention of hierarchy. We call for a dissolving of the stratification of salary, opportunity, gender and authority; there is a general movement towards the evening-out of everyone.
But in the case of children and adults, there must be a hierarchy. The adults must have the authority, and the kids must be subordinate. Kids feels safe in the routine and structure of a caring adult. They feel confident when they know will be taken care of. When an adult is ill, they still long for someone to take care of them. Kids need to be confident they will receive that care.
Further, children can’t actually learn in school if their position is threatened by peers or they feel unattached to the teachers. I know this from being a teacher myself. ‘Problem’ kids would enter my class with a file. I would allow a month or two to breed a sense of security before I started pushing them academically. I defended them from their peers as I would defend other kids being made fun of. I gave them space to make noise and be weird. I made sure to smile at them frequently and let them know that I liked them. I would check in on them. In short, I treated them like any other student.
Other than a vague sense of knowing they felt safe in my bubble, I didn’t know why all students would do relatively okay in my classroom until I read this book. It’s because they felt attached to me, and they knew they were subordinate to me in a nurturing way; I would take care of them. I held an expectation that in my room they would treat each other with respect, and that I was there for them.
The design of nature makes adults in charge of kids. Giving kids the stability of this unshakable hierarchy of nurture naturally allows their brains to focus on differentiating, learning, and becoming confident individuals themselves. They know they are cared for and can move on to tasks beyond survival.
A child’s attachment to at least one adult makes them less likely to succumb to addiction; their void is filled. It makes them less likely to engage in bullying; they are confident in their place. It makes them more likely to succeed; they naturally become sure of themselves as individuals. It makes them more likely to be good partners and parents themselves; they have internalized the template for healthy relationship.
I’m not sure that adults with children in their sphere can afford to NOT read this book and actively put it into action. If I had a bigger bank account, I would make sure that everybody I know, and don’t yet know, could. Let’s start collecting our kids. I dare say we could begin to reverse our culture’s propensity to addiction, to defiance, to disconnection.