Children: The Heart of the Matter

Our city is hosting the Children: The Heart of the Matter conference this weekend.  Last night was the Keynote address by Dr. Gordon Neufeld.  Dr. Neufeld is a developmental psychologist with 40 years of experience with children and youth and their care-givers.  He has presented his ideas extensively around the world and has written a book entitled, Hold on To Your Kids. In addition, he has trained many who, in turn, practise and teach others about the developmental process and how to help our children when they have difficulties (notice I wrote WHEN, not IF).  In fact, our presenter who I talked about in some earlier blogposts, Colleen Drobot (here, here, and here), was trained by Dr. Neufeld.  So, when I heard that he was going to be speaking in my school district, I couldn’t wait to attend.

I enjoyed listening to Dr. Neufeld’s throughout the evening.  During the first part of his keynote address, Dr. Neufeld talked about the various methods many parents, teachers, and caregivers use currently use to try to discipline children.  He went on to describe why each of these methods work and why (even though they work in the short-term) they do not work longterm. He talked about how each of these methods: spanking, isolation, “cry it out” at bedtime, time-outs, etc… affect children.  These methods, bit by bit, harden a child’s heart and end up distancing them from us.  As a result of this distance, the children then search out their peers to fill the needs that we, as parents, should be there to provide.

It was great having this background knowledge and understanding about what our current practise is actually doing to our developing children. We were all very excited when he started talking about “Now what?” strategies.

Dr. Neufeld outlined 12 Guidelines for Discipline which I would like to share here. These guidelines can be helpful for parents, care-givers and all who work or volunteer in the education system.

1. Whenever possible, use structures and ritual to impose order on behaviour. Children require order, ritual and greeting rituals in order to form strong attachments with us. Structure is good for kids, and necessary. Chaos, or perceived chaos is not at all helpful for these kids.

2. Accept responsibility for doing what is in the best interests of the child and for keeping them out of trouble. What are YOU going to do differently to keep them out of trouble? Dr. Neufeld says it is our responsibility to learn our lesson and to stop trying to teach children a lesson in terms of their behaviour. This should not be the agenda, but learning about how we are impacting the behaviour of the child is what we need to be examining and reflecting upon.

3. Always treat the child as if they want to be good for you.  According to Dr. Neufeld, we only want to be good for those whom we are attached. The desire to be good is a function of attachment.  If our students are not attached to us, then they are not going to want to be good for us.  If we work on attachment and treat our children like they want to be good and are trying to be good, then they will be. If we teach our children that we think they are “bad” then that is what you will get in return.

4. Bridge all problem behaviour and resulting discipline.  Dr. Neufeld talked about the importance of focusing on the connection (and on the return). It is important for the children to know that you care for them and that you will always be there for them. “No matter what, I will always be your mom.” Only when a relationship is there, can a problem be discussed.  When facing separation, preserve the connection by drawing attention to what stays the same or the next point of contact.

If you are a teacher, and you see that a child is having difficulty with behaviour and you feel they need to have a break (with another adult, an administrator, a child care worker, etc…), focus on your connection with the child and focus on their return. You might say something like, “I can see you are having a difficult time. It is important for you to go with ___ to calm down/refocus, etc…  When you come back we are going to ….  I will miss you and hope you will be back soon.”  Can you see how different saying this would be, rather than, “You have done ___ and ___ and I am not going to put up with it anymore. I am calling the principal.  You can just go sit at the office.”

5. Always attempt to Collect before you Direct. Dr. Neufeld said that this is where the greeting ritual is so important, essential really.  There are three parts to this ritual: 1) Eyes (connection) – ensure you get the child’s eye contact. 2) Smile – get the child to smile somehow. It could be that you tell him/her something that you’ve noticed or perhaps you can tell them that they are having their favourite food for dinner. 3) Nod – get the child to nod in some sort of agreement.  When you have had your child (or student) do these three things, THEN you can ask them to do something for you (direct them).  Dr. Neufeld says you will have a much greater chance of success and less of a chance of defiance or problem behaviour if you follow these steps.

6. Defuse counterwill by hiding your agendas and drawing attention to a meaningless choice. It is important to keep our agenda to ourselves.  Our children (and students) do not need to know our agenda, necessarily. I loved the example Dr. Neufeld used about getting a child ready for bedtime: “Would you like your pink jammies or your blue jammies? Would you like to brush your teeth like I would an elephant or a crocodile? Would you like to take alligator steps or bunny hops to bed?”  All of these are meaningless to you, but these questions provide choice for your child and end up getting your child into be with little difficulty (and it’s FUN, which will be discussed later).

7. Script the behaviour of the immature. Scripting is an attachment intervention.  It’s much like playing Simon Says.  You say something and your child would mimic what you are saying.  It’s a way of scripting the behaviour you want from your child.

8. Don’t overwork the incident.  Don’t attempt to do the work in the incident. Instead try to preserve the relationship during the incident.

Dr. Neufeld gave the following guidelines for handling incidents (Instead of trying to make headway, aim to do no harm):

  • Address the violation simply.
  • Bridge.
  • Attempt to change the control the situation.
  • Set a date to debrief or address the problem.
  • Exit sooner rather than later.

9. Infuse fun into the activity you wish to happen. Everyone is more likely do comply or do as you wish, if they perceive it as being fun.  You would too!

10. Walk confrontations with futility all the way to sadness. Don’t back off from saying no, but go all the way to tears. We don’t want stuck tears. Dr. Neufeld explained that the tears actually soften the heart, which aids in forming strong attachments. Always do what is in the best interest of your child. Be agents of futility. Make it easy for children to find tears and confront the reality that they are faced with difficulties and things they are not going to like, and they will, in fact, be able to adapt to these difficulties and be okay.

11.  Solicit good intentions to inculcate values, prime a sense of responsibility, and sow the seeds of self-control. Dr. Neufeld says we should say things like, “Can I count on you to …” If you can’t get order on their mind, you are not going to get order on their behaviour.

12. When capable of mixed feelings, draw out the tempering element in the context of the troubling impulses. 

As Dr. Neufeld pointed out, we need to keep our child’s heart soft.  We need to get them to fall into attachment with us. Once this happens, nature will do its part. Most of us make the mistake of trying to impose order on behaviour without causing problems with attachment, however, often, because of the techniques we use the opposite occurs.  Our children hearts are hardened, they fall out of attachment with us, and the behaviour worsens.  Then, our children begin to seek out attachments with others. Unfortunately, those attachments usually are not the best for our children.

If you are a teacher or other person involved in education, how many of the above 12 recommendations do you use?

If you are a parent or care-giver, how many of Dr. Neufeld’s recommendations do you implement at home?

Will you try anything differently after reading this?  If so, what?

I am looking forward to reading Dr. Neufeld’s book!

Published by Tia M. Dawson

There are many things that define who I am as a person. First of all, I am a mother of 3 wonderful children! I can not express how fortunate we are to have our children in our life! Secondly, I am an elementary educator who recently returned to the classroom after 12+ years as an elementary school administrator. Lastly, I am passionate about helping others, learning about abuse, helping others in abusive relationships, and helping others understand their worth.

5 thoughts on “Children: The Heart of the Matter

  1. Dear Tia:
    Thank you so very much for taking the time to post this. I just googled Dr. Neufeld’ s 12 Discipline Guidelines and I was directed to your blog. He was so inspiring. I am a very recently certified teacher, having just finished my PDP in Dec and am joining the race to try to get on the TOC lists – hugely competitive. Teaching is a 2nd career for me after raising my 4 kids. I just loved how Dr. Neufeld really underscored the importance that the relationship will outlast the incicident, especially with teenagers who are dealing with daily angst, societal pressures, and who still need those minumum of 4 hugs a day as per Charlotte Diamond!

    1. Hi Helen!

      Welcome to the wonderful world of education! Sounds to me like you have gone into teaching as a second career because it is something you will love. This is half the battle (or more). Good for you and good luck. How old are your children? I’m sure you are a great inspiration to them.

      Dr. Neufeld was very inspiring on Friday night. I am so glad I was able to go – both as a parent AND an educator.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      Best wishes,

  2. Hello again – I have 17 year old son (grad year!), 15 year old daughter, and twin boys who just turned 11. Yup – a battle it has been due to resource learning needs and a few health issues thrown in for kicks – but like they say, it takes a community, so all is mending. I volunteered at my kids’ school so much, that several of the teachers advised I should enter the profession, so I went for it. Your Flickr photos are marvelous, both of my FAs are wonderful photographers also and find it therapeutic. Have an awesome day and thank you for letting me explore your site.

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