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Q: I understand your guidance not to praise my child's achievements and to validate his expressed self-appreciation instead. However, can I praise him when he helps me, and, can I give positive feedback when he practices his music?


A: We want to let a child know that we appreciate his help, and we wish to give useful feedback when asekd for it. Praise is an evaluation and so it misses these intentions; anytime we give our opinion or judgment (no matter how great) on the behavior or accomplishment of another, we appear as though we are one up, which is the reason it is perceived as patronizing. Such praise is likely to elicit annoyance, shoulder shrug or rolled eyes - because it does not meet the need of the child for respect and equality. If such praise is accepted, it can lead to dependency and insecurity as explained in part one of three article series.

When your child serves your needs...

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We need not hold our awe inside. Appreciation and love (not praise - which is evaluation), can be shared abundantly. Ask yourself what touches you more, when someone says to you, "You are great" or when she says, "I feel inspired by your words." It is the emotional impact that we make on the people we love that matters to us the most. Express your love and appreciation unconditionally when one-on-one with your child, or, when a child shows a need for recognition in her worth, (often through disturbing behavior.)

Use those precious moments when you feel a deep bond. Share whatever is present and real for you at the moment; a smile, a hug, an action and/or words. Instead of vague expressions of praise share how you feel and how her presence inspires you. While taking a nature walk together you can say, "I feel joyful walking with you," or, "Your interest in nature inspires me." while helping your child wash his hair, "I love washing your hair, I feel so close to you." Giving full attention is one of the loudest ways to express love and recognition of your child's importance in your life. Do so by listening, watching and serving her with joy (rather than annoyance).

When you don't mean it, don't say it. Finishing a phone call with a mechanical, "I love you," or "You are great," lacks respect and drains the meaning out of these words. If your child rolls her eyes or seems annoyed when you say something wonderful about her, you are probably not respectful of her preferences ("not here Mom," or, "not now") or, you are dishing out praise instead of sharing your feelings.

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Dahlia was running around the house screaming and crying. "I hate her! I hate her! I will never play with her again!" Finally, her steps slowed, and she told her father what had happened. He listened attentively. When she stopped, he asked, "Is there anything else?" Dahlia added more details and resumed crying bitterly. Father listened. When Dahlia stopped talking, he acknowledged, "I understand and I love you very much." Dahlia accepted her father's embrace and support as she sobbed some more in his arms. Then as suddenly as the storm of tears began, she was finished. She got up and cheerfully announced, "Daddy, did you know that tomorrow Tina and I are going together to the beach? We are building a log house there with Adam and Tom. I will tell Tina before we go that I won't ruin her work again, and I am sure she will be nice to me."

Why was this encounter so successful? How did Dahlia get over her upset so completely and become aware of her responsibility in the matter on her own?

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Our son Yonatan came home last Christmas from the theater and related an observation. On the way from the theater to the lobby he noticed that parents were instructing the children to ask the Santa Claus for candy with a "please", and after getting the treat say "thank you". Yonatan went to the lobby and was surprised and puzzled. He found that the children indeed said "please" and "thank you", but that their parents came along and took their own treats, saying nothing.

"The parents of these parents must have told them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, yet they didn’t seem to learn it." He said. "Do you think these children are also going to stop saying "thank you" when they grow up?"

What do we expect a child to learn when we tell him: "Say thank you to your friend"? Most parents believe that the child will learn to be grateful, and to express her sense of gratitude. But do children learn these things by being told to do them? How did we feel as children when told to say "thank you"? When did we really develop a sincere sense of gratitude? Did saying "thank you" before we had the feeling to match the words make us grateful? Or did we develop a sense of gratitude later on in no regard to those instructions? Is it possible that some of us feel resentful when needing to thank someone, share, or apologize, because as children we hated doing these things?

Maybe we are dealing with our inability to trust. Is it possible that gratitude is not likely to be felt by a child or at least not in the way adults feel and express it? Could it be that when childhood needs are fully satisfied, gratitude will naturally develop? Perhaps we need to allow children to observe gratitude, generosity and kindness, rather then teach these behaviors to them.

What do they learn by being told?

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As a parenting guide, I often get calls from bewildered and confused parents who say, "My baby was so angelic. Then one day the "monster" came out. I did everything right. He was born peacefully, he is still nursing on demand, still sleeps next to me, and I carried him all of the time. Why is he becoming so difficult now (at age 2, 3, or 4)?"

What has happened is actually a wonderful result of a relationship of trust and a deep bonding fostered by healthy attachment. The young child trusts her parents absolutely, and in that trust she rightly assumes that they are on her side and that she is safe and welcome to spread her wings. The way young humans spread their wings, however, is not always convenient to adults.

It is not convenient when the toddler needs to play with mud, experiment with water, take things apart, exert much energy or when he needs to be watched, held, and read to for hours. Most attachment parents do accept inconveniencing with love when the child is an infant and a baby. It is not convenient when the baby drools on us, gets us wet, messes the floor with food, or wakes us up seven times a night - yet in our trust we can see that those are her needs, and in our commitment to provide attachment, we accept those needs with love and without judgment. We don't try to teach our baby to stop drooling or to stop crying for her needs to be met. The transition from helpless baby to active toddler can mislead parents into a change in approach, from one of total trust and acceptance to one of teaching and struggle.

One father confessed to me that he regretted the attachment approach he and his wife had practiced with their daughter. At age four, she was "wild and demanding" while their friend's child, who "grew up in a crib" and attended day care, was "so cooperative"...

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Question: My baby is two months old and cries a lot every evening. I offer to breastfeed but he pushes me away. I have a snugly and carry him a lot. What can I do to prevent his crying?

Answer: I am deeply moved by your question. It used to be that mothers were told to let their baby cry. Today, more and more parents understand the need to respond to the baby and take his crying seriously. Like you, many feel heartbroken when their baby cries in-spite of constant holding and care. Yet babies often cry even when

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An academic DRAFT document provided for the symposium on the Representation of Childhood in Arizona State University, March 2009. A proposal by Naomi Aldort.


Representation of childhood in modern western culture is based on seeing children as flawed and needing to be shaped into adults. The child is seen as failing to be an adult and therefore represented as inferior and cannot be trusted to unfold correctly on her own. Her basic needs are held as “wrong” and are constantly fought against.

Based on this representation, children are not seen; they join society when they have been turned into “adults.” The child is taught adult manners while her childlike ways often elicit scolding, leaving her feeling failing and dependent on external guidance. She spends much of her young years with peer groups controlled by adults.

This view shapes who children are in their own eyes. They grow up to believe that someone other than they should guide their way (the media, peer pressure etc.) The result is a culture of seekers of approval; humans whose depression and dissatisfaction lie in looking outside for cues and for acceptance, while often missing the joyful confidence that comes from being guided from within.


Just a few examples of the manifestation of this childhood representation:

·     Birth: Mothers have been shaped to believe that a doctor should “deliver” their babies.

·     Feeding: The baby learns to ignore her own cues and surrender to mom (who follows the doctor).

·     Learning: Being corrected and taught, the child loses faith in herself and becomes dependent, insecure and needy of approval.

·     Manners: Seeking approval becomes the top priority at the cost of honest relationships. Parent-child struggles start when a child rebels against being controlled, leading to the many difficulties and disabilities we witness today.

·     Sleep: Babies and young children are denied their basic need to sleep next to their mother, learning to ignore self and obey other.

·     Schooling: The invention of an institution for the control of education is the ultimate in modern western representation of children. The child is raised in “herds” of compliance to the adult view of her and how she should be.

The following are some of childhood practices and result of this representation of childhood:


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