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

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: Why do you strongly warn parents and teachers not to use “timeout” with kids?

Maté: To be clear, I’m talking about punitive separation, where the child is made to go to his or her room for bad behavior. If the parent is really upset and needs to take a timeout and go into another room to avoid yelling at the kid, that’s good.

But when you say to the three-year-old, “If you don’t behave, you’ll go sit in the corner,” you’re threatening to take away the thing that children are most afraid of losing: the adult’s presence. It will get the child to behave, but what are you doing for his or her long-term sense of security and belonging and ease n the world? What are you doing for the child’s sense of what a relationship is all about? You’re sending a message that relationships are conditional on pleasing others.

Frisch: How should parents discipline their kids?

Maté: In North America we equate discipline with punishment, but the word shares the same root as disciple. And what is a disciple? A disciple is somebody who follows, somebody who learns. The question is: How do we get our kids to follow us, so they learn from us? We don’t do it by attacking them. We do it by warm, nurturing relationship in which we set the example. They’ll want to stay on our good side because it’s so great to be connected to us. That’s how you discipline kids.

Frisch: You object to the pathologizing of children’s behavior through the use of terms like “oppositional defiant disorder”. What’s wrong with the psychological viewpoint?


Maté: Child psychology misses the source of the behavior with all these labels. When psychologists say a child is “acting out,” what it really means is a child is expressing through behavior the emotions that he or she doesn’t have the words to express, as in a game of charades, in which you’re not allowed to speak and have to act out to communicate. We should deal with acting out not by controlling the child or somehow blaming the child for the behavior but by understanding the dynamics behind it. What is the emotional reality of that child? What do the child’s actions represent that he or she can’t tell us in words?

Wherever children are, they need emotional support and relationships with nurturing adults… Nurturing adult contact releases dopamine in a child’s brain… Dopamine is the incentive-motivation chemical.