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“It’s the relationship of the child to the adult responsible for their care that is the most significant factor in the unfolding of human potential.” – Dr. Gordon Neufeld

Dr. Gordon Neufeld is a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist with over 40 years of experience with children and youth and those responsible for them. A foremost authority on child development, Dr. Neufeld is an international speaker, a bestselling author Hold On To Your Kids and a leading interpreter of the developmental paradigm.

I recently had an opportunity to listen to him speak on The Great Parenting Show, and what he said is so profoundly important that I want to try and summarize it, because I don’t want this to be the best-kept secret anymore. What is this secret?

It’s the relationship of the child to the adult responsible for their care that is the most significant factor in the unfolding of human potential. 

Attachment, not behaviorist approaches. It’s not the discipline tricks or techniques that we use to try and modify behavior that makes children want to be good – it’s the quality of our relationship! This has the potential to profoundly change the way we parent since much of parenting is still based upon behaviorist techniques that actually erode the relationship.

For example, time-out is a social exclusion technique that is supposed to be emotionally painful enough to deter the unwanted behavior, yet when we exclude children, when we withdraw the invitation to exist in our presence, as Neufeld puts it, the relationship gets damaged. The same is true for removal of items and privileges. When we say to the child, “Whatever it is that you are attached to, whatever you care about, I will take that away from you when you are not good,” this essentially is corroding the very thing that makes them want to be good.

Neufeld outlines the 6 stages of attachment in his book, Hold On To Your Kids, and those have been summarized here. I want to point out for this particular discussion stage 3 – belonging or loyalty.
It is during this stage, which occurs around 3 years of age, where the child begins wanting to be good and do right for the parent if the attachment bond is strong. In stage 5, the child becomes very emotionally involved, giving his heart to whomever he’s attached. Neufeld says, “There is nothing more important to hold sacred than the child’s desire to be good for you…when we have a good relationship with somebody, we naturally desire to be good for them and make things work for them.”

This is where we have taken a dreadful wrong turn in our parenting, because when children begin to test boundaries, we act as though they do not want to be good for us, and we start using tricks and techniques that push them away rather than bringing them close. These techniques – time-out, removal of beloved items, and certainly spanking – make no sense when we understand that the relationship is the most significant factor of all.

This knowledge makes parents then ask the question, “But how do I discipline? If time out and taking things away aren’t good, how to I stop bad behavior?” We ask because we are still looking for tricks! We have been so conditioned to believe that we must do something to the child to stop poor behavior that we cannot rest in the knowledge that a close, connected relationship will cause the child to want to behave.

This, of course, doesn’t absolve us from needing to teach our children how to manage their behavior – that is parenting – but the teaching is done in the context of the attachment. Point the child in the right direction (instill your values, show them what is expected, model well, talk about emotions and behavior) and make sure you have her heart. If you have her heart, you don’t need anything else.
Here is a 3 minute video of Dr. Gordon Neufeld explaining the effectiveness and consequences. There are several other helpful videos found at this link.

This article was originally posted on CreativeChild.com

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.