In a post on ACEsConnection.com last week, Christine Cissy White described an interview with Dr. Gabor Maté that was conducted by Allison Morris. She shared that Dr. Maté is an author and speaker who draws on current research and his decades of clinical and family practice.
Dr. Maté speaks about childhood and parenting, in general, as well as his experiences as a child and father.
The ACESConnection.com post I refer to was entitled: Dr. Gabor Maté & Full-Potential Parenting, Even When It Is Hard.
The article is both powerful and painful in its clarity and honesty. Sometimes it’s hard to read truths that can feel like they put even more stress and pressure on today’s parents; and yet, the information is so important to embrace.
Here are a few things shared in the article:
“In a nutshell,” he said, “if kids get what they need in early childhood, they are going to be okay, (set, in a good way). If they don’t get what they need in early childhood, for whatever reason, they are going to have great challenges.”
Wow! That is difficult to take in. It’s a great responsibility on parents to recognize and then meet the needs of their children. And the consequences of not doing so are severe and longlasting.
When asked to share what children specifically need, Dr. Maté stated the following: An adult who is “able to respond to the child in a way that the child feels seen, heard, understood, accepted, celebrated, received,” he said.
If we slow that down, it means that parents need to be fully attentive and attuned to their children, noticing them, actively listening to them. They need to be understanding and accepting. They need to appreciate their children’s thoughts, feelings, questions, issues and perspectives, which often can be intense.
In addition, children need to be celebrated, cherished and affirmed for who they are as well as for the potential that exists within them.
He says they need to be received, which is an interesting word to describe what parents need to do. To me it means that parents need to take all this in and be open to receiving all that children are extending to them. It’s a lot!
None of these are one time actions on the part of parents.
Maté’s ideal reflects a belief that children need each of these actions on a daily basis, given unconditionally and joyfully (or at least without any hint of resentment).
Dr. Maté then addressed the question probably on most parents’ minds when they hear all this: What goes wrong and why don’t parents provide these things for our kids? Being responsive sounds simple enough, but lots of us know how nearly impossible it can be.
It can be the high-stress way we live, Maté said, in a current culture where kids are separated from nurturing adults and how often we, as parents, are isolated and apart from other nurturing adults, as well. We manage with little or no help from others who might help pick up the slack.
I suspect many reading this blog can relate to experiencing a high-stress lifestyle combined with being isolated and missing nurturing connections with other adults.
Parenting today is often a lonely experience.
Successfully meeting children’s needs is even more difficult for parents in today’s demanding, stressful world. Today’s environment not only pressures parents, but also can interfere with them having the time, energy and ability to focus on connecting with and meeting their children’s needs.
Dr. Maté got very specific on this point. He suggested not introducing technology to kids until they are fully attached to us. He emphasized rebuilding attachment in the time we do have, which might mean not planning play dates or scheduling activities but being more present when our kids are present.
Today’s parents may find it extremely challenging not to introduce technology to their young children because it can be a way to occupy them so parents can attend to all the many tasks that make up everyday life. And it’s true children seem naturally drawn to screens that are filled with exciting figures, music, and opportunities to interact with animation by pushing a few buttons or touching a screen.
Yet, from what science is showing us, children can almost be hypnotized by screens. Viewing them (especially for lengthy periods) can promote release of powerful brain neurochemicals which some researchers claim are similar to and associated with those released during addiction. To take it a step further, all this can interfere with the natural attachment processes of children to their parents and vice versa.
As hard as it may be for parents to read all this…
…It is also important to understand the decisions parents make about managing stress and meeting children’s needs involves embracing the reality that these decisions have long-term consequences.
While simultaneously finding ways to address and reduce stress, parents need to give themselves permission to walk away from many of the demands and expectations that they somehow embrace as necessities. Sometimes it can seem like many of these demands really aren’t choices and yet many parents are caught in the trap of unfair peer pressure, media pressure and images of finding ways to do it all.
Dr. Maté has more wisdom to share which I will highlight in next week’s blog. Brace yourself— it’s important stuff, and for some, it might be difficult to read.
Invitation to Reflect
- What are some of your first thoughts and feelings about the information shared by Dr. Maté? For some it might be eye-opening, for others it might be motivating and for some it might be difficult to read and embrace.
- What are some specific ways you can recognize and meet your children’s needs, especially helping your children feel seen, heard, understood, accepted, celebrated, and received?
- What are some ways you can reduce stress in your life that allows you to be freer and less driven to meet the demands imposed on you by society and even your own inner beliefs that can get in the way of you meeting your children’s needs?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network
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