Canadian psychologist Gordon Neufeld has this to say about the mindset of socialization : “The belief is that socializing—children spending time with one another—begets socialization: the capacity for skillful and mature relating to other human beings. There is no evidence to support such an assumption, despite its popularity.” That sounds like the beginning of a well-written answer to the perennial question every homeschooler hears, “what do you do about socialization?” Though the book he authored with physician Gabor Mate, Hold On To Your Kids, does not mention homeschooling, the ideas will feel incredibly validating to many homeschoolers. Their take on the question of how children interact with peers and the importance of a nurturing family situation is a wake-up call to all parents.
By definition, our children’s peers are immature. That fact alone should be enough to give us pause before we let peer relationships become a primary influence, Hold On suggests. Though Neufeld does not encourage parents to eliminate all peer interactions, he does recommend we assure peer relationships are of a certain type: “The friendships we can welcome for our children are the ones that don’t draw them away from us.” Peer attachments are not the problem per se; it is when they compete with adult attachments that the problems emerge.
The authors suggest parents do three things for effective parenting :
1. Restore the context in which children are meant to be raised.
2. Collect your children in each interaction.
3. Find meaningful activities to do together.
Restore The Context: Our Relationship
In an interview with Sil Reynolds, Gordon Neufeld expounds on the life blood of parenting, “Many people think that discipline is the essence of parenting. But that isn’t parenting. Parenting is not telling your child what to do when they misbehave. Parenting is providing the conditions in which a child can realize his or her full human potential.” What a surprising definition of parenting! What does it take to help a child realize their full potential? Attachment, Neufeld answers, emphasizing senses, feelings, sameness, identification, belonging, and our significance. Our connected relationship provides the context for effective parenting.
To “collect” your children means that you get in their space in a friendly way. “At the very top of our agenda we must place the task of collecting our children—of drawing them under our wing, making them want to belong to us and with us.” Collect your children after any time of separation. Take the time to smile, nod, and make eye contact. “If we have a twinkle in our eye and some warmth in our voice, we invite connection that most children will not turn down.” Children must know that they are wanted, special, significant, valued, appreciated, missed, and enjoyed. In our family, we use this greeting, “here she is…and aren’t we glad…and isn’t she beautiful.” Who doesn’t want to smile after a greeting like that?
Find Meaningful Activities to Do Together
Above all, the authors recommend building a connection with your child that supersedes the mundane, everyday chores and responsibilities. Have something to talk with them about, something that brings you both excitement. Provide something for the child to hold on to. “Our challenge as parents is to provide an invitation that is too desirable and too important for a child to turn down, a loving acceptance.” Work on a project, go for a walk, play a game, cook together, read. Employ bedtime rituals like stories and songs. Build structures to protect the things that are most important to you, and curb the things that would take your children away from you. Safeguard family outings and holidays from interruptions. Set aside time to be with your children as you develop rituals to celebrate, play, and enjoy each other. An easy time to engage your family is at meals. “Attachment and eating go together. One facilitates the other.” Plan to have meals together. When you are engaged in or anticipating pleasurable time with one another, it can carry you through the momentary challenges of the day.
Neufeld and Mate maintain some cautions about peer-orientation:
1. Getting along with others does not automatically arise from peer contact
2. Childhood friendships can pose problems
3. Peers are not the solution
4. We need to re-create an Attachment Village
Getting along with others does not automatically arise from peer contact
If a child is having trouble socially, some expect the child to improve with more social contact. “The real challenge is helping children to grow up to the point where they can benefit from their socializing experiences,” Neufeld argues. Once they are ready, it won’t take much to help them be “socialized,” he advises. “Very little socializing is required to refine the raw material once it is at the state of readiness.” The best answer is to have children in a loving relationship with their parents, he maintains.
Childhood friendships can pose problems
It’s not just that peers can be troublesome, they actually can hinder natural maturation. The book notes that too many “peer-oriented relationships, like too much TV watching, interfere with developing a relationship with oneself. Until the child manifests the existence of a relationship with himself, he is not ready to develop genuine relationships with other kids. Much better for him to spend time interacting with nurturing adults or in creative play, on his own.” Perhaps by freeing up the time that would’ve been spent with peers, we are able to allow more of our child to emerge. “In our urgency for our children to socialize, we leave little time for our kids to be with us or to engage in the solitary, creative play…. We fill up their free time with play dates—or with videos, television, electronic games. We need to leave much more room for the self to emerge.”
Peers are not the solution
Sometimes we begin to imagine that having a good group of peers will cure our child’s problems. This attitude is what we need to avoid. “In our peer-crazy world, peers have become almost a panacea for whatever ails the child.” Have confidence in the child’s ability to develop as they come to know and understand themselves. Remember that peer interactions are not the cure for boredom. Nor do peers cure eccentricity. Most importantly, parents should not rely on peers to sustain a child’s self-esteem.
Re-create the Attachment Village
As parents, we need a strong supporting cast, and this is especially true of homeschoolers. We need attachment relationships with our children, and an “attachment village” for them to live in, which includes good peers without displacing parents. “We need to value our adult friends who exhibit an interest in our children and to find ways of fostering their relationships with them.” This kind of community is essential to creating our success.
Neufeld argues beautifully for a sustained, continued relationship with our children to continue well into the teenage years. “We need to hold on to our children until our work is done. We need to hold on not for selfish purposes but so they can venture forth, not to hold them back but so they can fulfill their developmental destinies. We need to hold on to them until they can hold on to themselves.” This is what homeschooling is, at its heart, isn’t it? Creating a safe place to allow our children to reach their full potential.
For more information about Gordon Neufeld and his ideas:
Neufeld’s interview with Sil Reynolds, Gordon Neufeld explains more of his ideas as quoted on the Omega Website: http://www.eomega.org/article/putting-parents-back-in-the-drivers-seat-an-interview-with-gordon-neufeld-part-1
originally published in 2016 May issue of VOICE