The August edition of “The Sun” magazine has a long and extremely stimulating interview with Gabor Maté. The whole interview is available in the print edition of “The Sun”. Selections can be viewed at http://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/440/what_ails_us
I found Gabor Maté’s reflections on parenting particularly thoughtful and interesting. Some selections follow.
(nb: I am on holiday. So this is not a post. These are merely a few quotes I wanted to share with a number of people and this is a handy way to make these thoughts available.)
Frisch: How should we raise our children to ensure they become healthy adults?
Maté: First we need to do away with the behavioral understanding of children, which dominates parenting in North America. We insist on looking at the behavior of the child and asking, “Do we like this or not?” If we don’t like it, we try to change the behavior. But we rarely ask, “Why is the child behaving this way?” The behavior is a symptom, a secondary issue. The real task is to understand what is actually bothering the kid. The child doesn’t necessarily understand it himself. It’s not his job to understand it. It’s the parent’s job, the teacher’s job, the doctor’s job, the psychologist’s job.
As long as we restrict ourselves to either punishing or curtailing children’s behaviors, it’s like giving an asthmatic cough medicine: it might suppress the symptom, but it does nothing about the inflammation that’s causing it.
If a child’s “acting out” is a result of a disturbed attachment relationship to her parents, to punish the behavior only further wounds the child, who didn’t deliberately choose that behavior and has no idea why she’s being punished for it.
It’s in relationships that people develop the coping mechanisms that may later make them sick. If my relationship with my parents demands that I become their caregiver because they’re alcoholics, then I’ll likely become a chronic caregiver and will ignore my own needs. The children of alcoholics suffer a lot from anxiety, depression, and physical illness because of how they cope. But they had no choice but to cope that way.
Frisch: You say no one is to blame for a poor attachment relationship between parent and child, but don’t the parents still have to change their behavior to break the cycle?
Maté: Absolutely. The older child’s brain, and even the adult’s brain, has the capacity to develop new executive circuits under the right conditions. Since the child’s most important relationship is with the parents, if the mother and father take better care of themselves and of one another and of the child, the child can significantly grow out of add or learn how to handle it better.
Frisch: Aren’t there cases in which a child’s acting out or add can’t be traced back to a lack of proper attachment to the parents?
Maté: Sometimes the question is not so much of attachment, but of attunement: the capacity of the parent to be emotionally in tune with the child. Many children are well attached to their parents, but the latter are too stressed or too distracted to be attuned to their kids. Stress on parents in this society is why we are seeing so many more kids being diagnosed with disorders.