Sometimes I have these A HA! moments in life. I wonder – why haven’t I seen life this way, or this certain piece of food this way, before?!? And how can I make this a more regular part of my life?
Take broccoli for example. Add generous amounts of olive oil and salt, massage well for a few minutes… and I kid you not, it will taste incredible. I absolutely HATE the taste of raw broccoli. I never eat it. And yet, 3/3 of my kids, plus me (the raw-broccoli-hater) will GOBBLE this up. And I mean gobble. It is hard to divert their attention to any other type of food on the table.
After 5 hours of live Gordon Neufeld this weekend, it will be hard to divert my attention from anything other than his epic look at children and child development in 2014. He is so practical, so knowledgeable, so bang-on, and his delivery is so engaging that these hours just FLEW by for me. What a gift. Strap yourself in for some Coles notes…
If you are not familiar, his parenting suggestions are all about preserving the parent-child connection and attachment. Parenting is a relationship, it is not “incident management”. SO MUCH of parenting literature today is just about incident management. Neufeld believes we must do MOST of our parenting when we have the WILL and the impulse to connect. This is usually not “in the moment”. At those (more messy) times, we ask “What is stirring the child up?” and we put the clutch in and just buy time… until we can go back later to the incident (and especially the FEELINGS!).
He started off today talking about how our world is so centered on cognition. People want their children to “perform” well. Pop psychology also claims if we think right, then we will FEEL right. Neufeld’s picture is the opposite. He wants children to be emotionally healthy and have soft hearts, and to FEEL. He claims we are not scared because we see a monster, but rather we first FEEL afraid, and then create the monster. The feelings are the base of everything we do as humans. They are what separate us from mammals (who have emotions, e.g. pets, but not feelings which require consciousness).
He started off his career in correctional facilities where he found (through research) that children had 80% less FEELINGS, on average, than typical children. The most criminal (serial killers) had only 1-2 of hundreds of possible feelings. He wants our children to be human. And, to be human is to be humane = to FEEL.
Well his take home message, since I don’t have time to transcribe 16 pages of handwritten notes… feelings, like bowel movements, must be expressed. “Even the queen shits” was his statement. The longer feelings are pressed down (e.g. 4 days without a bowel movement) – the bigger the explosion once they come out. You get the picture. We must INVITE our children’s emotions. Accept them. Invite them. Assist them to get them out (in channels that don’t hurt others).
When children have a FIT – and we tell them “snap out of it”, “get over it”, “don’t x y or z”, “enough already” – we are basically withdrawing our invitation. We are saying “you can only exist in my presence when…”. We are prematurely preoccupied with imposing ORDER on the uncivilized behavior. We say “don’t be sad, be happy, be cooperative, be calm, be loving, get along….” because we don’t want to deal with the MESS. But “getting along” is the outcome of emotional health, not the roots. The root = emotion needs to be felt and expressed. Feelings, just like s**t is messy (his words, not mine!).
He says as adults we are designed to be momentarily defended against our feelings so that we can function. This is not a mistake. It is meant to be situational, so we are equip to function in wounding environments… but home needs to be a place of safety for our children! A place where tender feelings pop up and are welcome. If not, the wounding never stops. The tender feelings are pushed down. Once a child is “missing” their tender feelings, they don’t notice them (missing)… and they are very hard to get back. Hence the “don’t care” “doesn’t matter” attitude of our youth. Defended against vulnerability.
Such a child can LOOK very “good” on the outside… but at what cost? I think this man is genuinely sad about the emphasis in our culture on outward appearance of children, and afraid of where it will lead us. Kids are 40% less empathetic today than when we grew up (longitudinal research spanning 2 generations!). Today our culture is more peer oriented than ever. And not just our kids. Pushing our children out into the world, outside of their safe village (of attachment) at younger and younger ages, he says is becoming more and more necessary. Because where parents used to rely on generations above (grandparents) for help, he says (with a lot of feeling!) that even those generations are becoming so peer oriented they are joining retirement villas that do not even ALLOW children in them. So where do parents turn? Throw out children into the world of adults TO WHOM THEY ARE NOT ATTACHED, to situations that are wounding – for which they need to be defended against (they cannot afford to feel – just like Gordon cannot afford to feel when presenting, it would not be adaptive). And yet they “perform” better than we did!! Get it?? They become masters at pushing down feelings (fear, sadness, loneliness) in order to function WELL in wounding environments.
I think he finds this genuinely disturbing. So disturbing in fact, that he has made his life work out of something that used to give him diarrhea (public speaking!). He said after thousands, and thousands, and thousands of lectures…. YOU GOT NO MORE DIARRHEA, so you just get on with it!!
Oh man, this guy is messy, and I love it. Three more “take homes”:
1. He advises parents – if you want to clean up the ACT (behavior) of the child to avoid the “mess” then YOU are in trouble. Children who feel, and express their feelings in messy ways, are not in trouble.
2. His measuring stick of how your child(ren) are doing? Watch and see if they can say “I miss….”. Because he says if they can’t feel emptiness, they can’t feel fullness. And THEN they are in trouble.
3. We as adults also need to sit in the middle of our feelings, because the more we sit there, the more we develop the capacity for SELF-CONTROL… and that is how we journey to become the parents our children need us to be.