“You’re not the boss of me!” Are You An Alpha Parent?
Last night I attended a presentation of Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s work, on Developmental Attachment Theory and the importance of being an Alpha Parent. Parent coaches, Colleen and Patti Drobot, did an excellent job of bringing Neufeld’s theoretical work to practical life. As this generation is experiencing an incredible shift in parenting from the traditional authoritarian style of past generations to the connected, authoritative style of parenting of this generation, there can be much role confusion and conflicted messages from societal pressure and our own upbringing. However, the bottom line is that parents have to be the ones in charge! Permissive parenting is not okay. Children need to have confidence that you can handle them and all situations that involve them. Children need to believe that you know what you are doing at all times! This is a tall order, especially when being this confident kind of Alpha parent also means not giving your power away by losing your temper!
What are some of the reasons for a child being Alpha?
- a child who may feel too vulnerable to depend on his/her parents (Eg. a child who is no longer able to cry in front of the parent)
- a child’s way of defending against alarming experiences
- a child perceives the parent as weak or inadequate and not able to take care of him/her
- a child who has lost or never had a strong attachment relationship with the parent
- a child is overcompensating to find control
- a child with a sensitive, possibly anxious temperament, who feels overwhelmed and not heard
What is an Alpha parent?
- a parent who parents from the heart and with confidence (even if you don’t always know how to handle a situation, this parent acts as if he/she does)
- a heart-centered parent
- a parent who can choose to see past the dominant and bossy behaviours of the child, and recognize the hurt and need for attachment
- a parent who can set limits without threats, stick to the limits, and validate the resulting feelings of frustration and upset
- a parent who creates safety and boundaries
- a parent who encourages dependence (this is very counter-culture, yet very effective – and no you won’t be doing it for them forever – this actually helps them grown their wings)
- a parent who seeks out opportunities for attachment and tries to out-do the child’s efforts to attach Eg. “Mom I want a hug” Mom: “I was just thinking the same thing and I want to give you the biggest hug ever!”
- a parent who takes charge and makes the best decisions for the child
What is NOT an Alpha parent?
- a parent who says “I give up, I’m done” – this gives your alpha power away and the child feels even less inclined to depend on you and attach to you
- a parent who takes his/her child’s attacks personally Eg. Child: “I hate you!” Inappropriate response: “That really hurts my feelings” or “Go to your room”. Appropriate response: (recognize that the attack is not personal but a sign of the child feeling hurt) “Oh things are hard right now” and give child a hug or “Come here, we need to have a hug”
- “If you don’t change your attitude, I’m going to take away your…..(list of favourite possessions)” Parent has lost his/her power as he/she grasps at anything that could be taken away and goes into the spiral of punishment
- a parent who creates further separation by giving “time-outs”
- a parent who puts the child in a parent-role
- a parent who never wants to see their child upset and gives-in to everything
- a parent who acts like a victim or an equal
- a parent who lets his/her fear show
How to foster a deep Alpha-attachment relationship which relinquishes the need for such Alpha energy from the child?
- give your child the sense of feeling “known, seen and heard” – listen with your eyes, ears and heart (not with cell-phone in-hand)
- find ways to do things for your child in order that they can feel that they are being taken care of (walk to bed with them, bake goodies for them and their friends, give them a massage, stroke their back and arms as you cuddle in bed, pick up your teenagers in the middle of the night from wherever they call you)
- plan activities where you are in the lead
- go places where they rely on you to orient them
- play with your child and really immerse yourself in their world
- be their anchor, be their compass
- give them more hugs than they reach out for
- find ways to connect meaningfully
- attach through sharing food together (meets primal instinctive needs)
- when they’re sick, go over the top to take care of them
- when you’re sick, you can still be in charge and let the child know what the plan is for the day etc.
- if your child no longer cries, set limits in order that the child hits the “wall of futility” and then be able to hold a calm space for the inevitable temper tantrums which will hopefully be accompanied by tears – this is adaptive and the goal
- find ways to re-frame so you come from an alpha position. Eg. “I’ve changed my mind, I’m going to…”, “I was just thinking about doing that”, “This isn’t working, we’re going to have to do this differently”
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