Communidée’s guiding philosophy: The Attachment-based developmental model
Please note that the purpose of this document is to provide parents with an understanding of how Centre Communidée handles conflict: no parent is perfect and we certainly do not expect Communidée members to parent perfectly at all times. Rather, this approach is one that we strive for and have found helpful in building and caring for working relationships within members of the community.
Neufeld’s Attachment Theory, in a nutshell:
As social animals who need to take care of and depend on others, attachment is the instinct that helps make it all work more smoothly. According to Neufeld, a relationship will work best when one person takes the alpha role (as the leader, the one who takes care of and provides) and the other person takes the dependent role (as the follower, the one who is taken care of and seeks). With peers, friends and couples, the partners can take turns in the roles of alpha and dependent as needed. But in parent-child relationships, the parent is supposed to be the alpha and the child is supposed to be the dependent.
Appropriate attachment cannot be taught. Neufeld believes that children will naturally fall into the dependent role if the conditions are right. Our job is to make it safe and easy for our children to depend on us by assuring that they feel safe from separation, shame and alarm.
Guidelines for getting a child to depend on you:
Collect before you direct.
- Take a moment to connect with a child and get them onside before asking them to do your bidding.
- Comment: “It looks like you’re having a lot of fun in that game.”
- Ask a question about what they’re doing and listen to the answer.
- Wait until the child is looking at you, smiling, and nodding before you direct them.
Bridge what could divide.
- When saying goodbye, focus on see you again, looking forward to next time, holding on. Think of rituals that lovers use to hold on to each other when apart: leave a special object, write notes, etc.
- When there is a problem or conflict, focus on we’re okay, looking forward to next thing.
Convey a strong alpha presence.
- Take the lead. Take charge of situations and circumstances regarding the child.
- Be the answer to their attachment needs, their compass point, comforter and provider. Try to provide basic needs like food and comfort before they ask.
- Make it safe and easy for the child to depend on you: take the lead in the relationship and in taking care of them.
- Meet needs, not demands. If you give in to a demand, make it seem like it was your idea all along.
- Don’t ask too many questions. “What do you want to eat? Do you want a hug?” Be “in the know” regarding them.
- Take the lead in the relationship and in taking care of them.
- Take responsibility for the relationship. Pursue and protect it.
- Take responsibility for your reactions to the child.
- Make decisions you believe are best, even if they are upsetting to the child.
- Take responsibility for keeping the child out of trouble.
- If you can’t control what happens, appear to invite the inevitable. For example, if a tantrum is coming, invite it. Say “You’ll be upset about this, but I can handle it.”
- With regards to attachment, provide more than is pursued. Try to trump the pursuit.
- Give the alpha instincts some room: Matchmake with those in need of his care. carve out some space in which he can take the lead, or indulge alpha instincts when in play mode or in sports.
- Arrange for scenarios where the child must depend on you. Go camping or to a new place where you are clearly in the lead.
The roots of aggression are feelings of frustration, when something is not working for the child (including, but not limited to, attachment difficulties). Ask yourself (do not ask the child) What is not working for him? Avoid asking questions: “What happened?”, “Why did you hit?”, “What were you thinking?”, “What’s wrong?” Often the child does not know how to answer these questions and asking them may create feelings of worry or shame (which in turn, leads to more frustration!).
Often there is no solution to the problem that is causing frustration – the child must come to accept the situation as it is (no cookie before dinner, wasn’t invited to a party, doesn’t want to spend the weekend at other parent’s house, etc.) The best way for acceptance and adaptation (and learning) to occur is through ‘tears of futility’. When the child can have a good cry about it, with the support of an adult that they are attached to, they are then able to adapt and move on (sometimes a few crying sessions over a time period may be necessary). Crying requires vulnerability. Vulnerability requires a good alpha presence nearby.
When a frustrated child can’t be vulnerable enough to cry ‘tears of futility’, they’ll often express that frustration in aggressive ways.
Guidelines for handling incidents:
- Aim to do no harm – don’t try to make headway in the incident. Avoid turning the crises into a learning opportunity. If there is an important lesson in this, then save it for a time when you’re both feeling connected.
- Take control. Remove the child from the immediate environment if they are putting themselves or others in danger. Facilitate safe eruptions of frustration (hitting pillows, ripping up old magazines).
- Address the violation simply (if necessary) – for example, “No hitting”. Using language such as “I won’t let you hit your friend” reminds them of your alpha role, but try to keep talking/explaining to a minimum.
- Name it, don’t shame it. Say “you’re frustrated” rather than “that’s rude/mean”. Accept the frustration as well as the need to express it.
- Never let your child believe that s/he has the capacity to hurt you (either physically or emotionally). You are bigger than him and when they are feeling out of control they need to know that you’ve got this.
- Avoid being angry. This is a difficult one, but try… Anger comes from our own fear and frustration about how to parent in the present moment and children can sniff that out for what it is. Being alpha means keeping our cool and remaining in control of our own behaviour.
- Convey that the relationship can handle it by drawing attention to the next connecting point (for example, “I’m here for a cuddle once you’re done getting all your angry feelings out”).
- Refrain from separation-based discipline (time outs) and consequence-based discipline (taking things they care about away) whenever possible. If separation is necessary for the sake of the group, then the parent can accompany the child to a safe place.