Kids Need Parents More Than Friends: The Genius of Gordon Neufeld

April 07, 2014
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By Lea Z. Singh |

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc
If you are a parent or an educator, here is someone you need to hear about: Dr. Gordon Neufeld, developmental psychologist. This guy seriously needs to speak at TED!!! His insights into today's children and teenagers are so poweful that they should spark a revolution in how we parent and educate in our society.

I came across Dr. Neufeld's book Hold On to Your Kids while I was still working, before I had children. At the time, I thought it made sense but it didn't affect me very deeply. Now as a parent, I have re-discovered Dr. Neufeld at a whole new level. I hugely appreciate his incredible insights into children's behavior and the resulting strategy that he has developed for effective parenting.  

For a taste of Dr. Neufeld's message, view this YouTube talk:

Dr. Neufeld's key message: we should be focusing on attachment. A huge chunk of our children's mysterious behavior can be explained by looking at their primary attachments.

When children are peer-oriented (meaning, they look primarily to their peers for affection and approval) then they will behave in ways that attempt to please their peer group. This will actually impede their maturation process. They will will be subject to the "rule of cool" that is rampant in their peer group, they will be very vulnerable to peer bullying, and they will be difficult to educate or parent, because they will be uninterested in learning from parents or teachers.

On the other hand, when children are primarily adult-oriented, they will be more interested in mimicking adults, and they will be far easier to educate and to parent effectively. They will have immunity to peer bullying, they will be far better socialized, and they will mature into responsible adults earlier.

In our society, peer orientation has become the norm. It wasn't always this way, and Dr. Neufeld makes the point that this development is rather new, but it has been around for a couple of generations, at least in our North American society (in other more traditional societies, this is not true). Here, older generations don't remember life being any other way, and they think that it's normal for their children to ditch them for their friends almost as soon as they start going to school.

I think that a lot of parents find it reassuring when their children are strongly bonded to their peer group, even if they are rolling their eyes at hanging out with adults or giving adults bad language and attitude. Being peer oriented is often mistaken for being well socialized, and parents might see it as a sign of their children being healthy and normal. But Dr. Neufeld throws this completely in reverse, and says that the opposite is true: peer-oriented kids are not well-socialized at all, and their maturation process is actually in distress.

So, as parents and educators, how to set things right? Dr. Neufeld does a lot more than identify the problem: he offers a concrete solution called attachment parenting. Another stroke of genius - he extends the "attachment parenting" of Dr. Sears' fame to children older than infants/toddlers. Here are a couple of Youtube videos by Neufeld that address the topic of parenting with a view to fostering healthy attachment in kids.


Dr. Neufeld has changed my whole attitude to my children. Before I understood Dr. Neufeld's theory, I was in many ways blind to their attachment needs. It wasn't a complete mess, but I wasn't making the most of things. For example, when my children would ask to be held or played with, I would often try to brush them off or distract them into independent activities or playing with each other. Lots of valid reasons on my part: being busy with something else, being tired, needing a break, etc.  

Now I try to really make the time, summon up that extra reserve and give them a bit of my time even when I'd rather be doing something else. I understand that they need it if they ask for it, and I am now consciously trying to foster the healthy attachment that they have to me. I also try to be as available as possible for them during the day, to interact with them and to listen to them. We even moved the two youngest into our bedroom again, and that has created such happiness for these two little peas, who never liked sleeping in their own rooms - they always wanted to be with us at night! We used to think this "dependence" was something to break, but now we know that it is actually a desire for attachment that is healthy.

Dr. Neufeld runs the Neufeld Institute in Vancouver, which presents live and online courses to parents and educators, equipping them to interact with children in light of his truly revolutionary insights on attachment. His Institute also sells some of these courses on DVD. Unfortunately they are quite pricey, so I think that personally, I will be sticking with the free information and videos that are available online. Thankfully, there is quite a bit out there!

By the way, Dr. Neufeld's co-author for Hold On To Your Kids was Dr. Gabor Mate, and he also has some awesome talks on YouTube. Here is a great talk by him regarding peer orientation and parenting:

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