Although we were all kids once upon a time, as adults it can be hard to remember exactly what it was like. That’s where The Neufeld Institute comes in: They’re all about learning to understand kids through an attachment-based developmental lens.
Here, Tamara Neufeld Strijack shares the core beliefs and philosophies behind The Neufeld Institute, her best advice for supporting teachers hoping to better connect with their students, and how to navigate these uncertain times with kids.
One of our very favorite resources for parents is The Neufeld Institute. Can you share a bit about the institute and the role it fills in the world?
The Neufeld Institute is about making sense of kids through an attachment-based developmental lens. The role of the Institute is to help equip adults (parents, teachers, helping professionals) to read the needs of the children in their care so that they can take the lead in becoming their answer. The key lies in insight: what we do should follow what we see.
Could you summarize the core beliefs and philosophies of The Neufeld Institute in a few sentences?
Relationship and the need for connection is foundational to healthy development. Humans are emotional beings and emotions are the driving force behind our behaviour. We need to feel our emotions — frustration, alarm, sadness, missing, caring (to name a few) — in order to develop to our full potential. It’s not about teaching our children to mature (or be caring or considerate), but about creating the conditions for growth. And maturation and learning take place best in the play mode, when a child feels emotionally safe.
There are so many online courses available, are there a few you would suggest as a starting point?
The Vital Connection (the first eight-session course in the Power to Parent series) is a wonderful entry point. There are some great four-session courses based on different topics, and so depending on your area of interest/need, you could take Alpha Children, Making Sense of Anxiety, Making Sense of Aggression—these are great entry level courses. If you are wanting to dive in and get the theoretical underpinnings (and go on to take more advanced courses), then I would suggest the Intensive Level I: Making Sense of Kids (20
How can The Neufeld Institute support teachers seeking to deepen their relationship with their students?
Great timing for this question! We have just developed a new educators hub through the Neufeld Institute: IDEA Centre for Educators (Insights based on Development, Emotional health and Attachment), which will open the beginning of September and house all kinds of resources related to building relationship and emotional health. (If you want updates on this, you can sign up for the Neufeld Institute newsletter.) Hannah Beach and I are also offering a professional development series this fall around the themes of our book, to help support educators. You can sign up for one or two sessions, or attend all 12 in
the series. (For more information, click here!)
Educators can sign up for Hannah’s newsletter which regularly shares articles and updates supporting educators with relationship-based ideas for the classroom. You can also follow her on Facebook or Twitter for ideas, articles, and to be notified about all our events.
And yet another way is through our Neufeld Institute courses (like the ones I listed above). This fall I am facilitating a brand new course specifically for educators called “Keeping Children Safe in a Wounding World. It runs for five weeks starting in October.
Are there a few simple strategies parents can take today to begin a more heart-centered and deeper relationship with their kids?
One of the keys is reducing the separation that our children may be facing is making sure that there is always a next point of connection, giving them ways to hold on to us when apart, making it safe to depend on us, making room for the natural emotions that are stirred up in them (which can sometimes feel really big!) and providing ways to experience their world through play.
Your book Reclaiming our Students is so very relevant and necessary in today’s world. What were some of the key findings while writing your book and what are your thoughts on the collective emotional body of children today?
We started writing the book because we saw the elevated alarm and troubling behaviours growing in our classrooms and teachers were at a loss to know how to manage this, let alone teach. Hannah and I have seen firsthand what can happen when we create emotional safety for our children and students; by creating the conditions where a child feels cared for and where they are able to experience their emotions in a different way, their own caring feelings can return and alarm can be reduced. This was all observed and written before the pandemic. Now as we find ourselves in the middle of this naturally alarming time, our children need this emotional safety more than ever!
We love that your book infuses many calls to action and solutions. For parents specifically who are seeking a few strategies to support children who deal with anxiety, can you suggest a few starting points?
Relationship, rhythm, release. Relationship — find ways for your child to keep connected with you, so they can rest in knowing they have a safe place to land. Rhythm — developing routines and structures can help a child feel less anxious, like they have something to count on and don’t have to make too many decisions. Release — find ways to get out some of the build up of emotional energy, both frustration and alarm. For more on this, see my presentation from this April: “Surprise — We’re homeschooling”, where I speak to the importance of emotional safety, and about bringing the alarm and anxiety down in a child before learning can happen.
Are there a few ways to best support children returning to school in these unique global times?
My colleague Deborah MacNamara has provided some great suggestions for this through her article: Leading our children back to school. And my co-author, Hannah Beach, also has written about this: Supporting our students as they return to our classrooms. Basically, we need to be their compass point, orienting them to what is happening and what things will look like. We can matchmake our children to their teachers and help them orient to them so that they can feel safer at school.
We can provide extra outlets for all of the emotions that may be stirred up. For more on this, see our webinar (Hannah Beach and myself) on Creating Playgrounds for Emotional Expression.
What can we do as parents to support and hold space for our children when the energy of fear surrounds us in the world today?
I think the biggest thing right now is not to let our fears be picked up by our children. They need to know that we will take care of them, no matter what. As uncertain as everything is, they need to feel that “We’ve got this!” — whether we feel that way or not. We may need to find our own outlets to express our fears and frustrations with our partners or other adults in our community, so that we can then hold that kind of space for our children.
A common belief parents have today is that they are not good enough. Mothers carry much pressure to keep with the perception that they are perfect in all areas of life. What are your thoughts on ways to surrender to this and begin a new journey?
Hmm … that’s a big question. I think we have to sit with our own futility of not being able to do it all — but more than that, I think we need to face the reality that we were not meant to do it all. I actually just wrote a poem about this not too long ago called “Tapping Into The Flow.” It’s not about being the perfect parent; it’s about stumbling our way through trying to be what our child needs us to be for them, as best as we can.
Sometimes we need to dig deep to find that place in us that can hold that space for our children. And some things will need to be let go of in the process. What people think of us, for example. It’s more important that our child see us as being there for them, in all of our quirkiness and with all of our shortcomings. That is what really matters – that we show up and make room for them to be who they are. It’s messy and sometimes loud. And never perfect. And if you haven’t read Ish by Peter Reynolds, go do that now.