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Response to Critics About Attachment Work

attachment parenting Oct 30, 2022
mom dad and son

Okay, I admit it, I’m not perfect. Whew, it’s out!

After training over 50,000 parents, teachers, and mental health professionals over the past twenty-five years, I have said a lot of things. Some of the things I have said have been taken out of context and misused to allude to the opposite of what my life’s work has been about.

Every single one of my seminars and one-on-one consultations has been focused on healing the heart of troubled children. I specialize in bonding and attachment. I focus on bringing structure, love and laughter – all the necessary ingredients to reach disturbed children. Most parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, working with children who are severely emotionally disturbed, understand what I am talking about.

I have received thousands of thank you cards, emails and phone calls over these many years – not only from parents, teachers, mental health professionals, but also from siblings who appreciate the changes in their lives because of what I teach. My focus is on learning to love. Learning to love can’t happen in an environment of harshness, cruelty or fear. I never teach those things.

I teach ‘old-fashioned’ respect – I have found that a child needs to respect an adult before they can respect themselves. They need to trust before they can love. I have also found that respecting others builds self-respect – which is lacking in our young people – who abuse drugs, alcohol, peers, their parents, and even their own bodies.

Over the years, my parenting techniques have been condemned by an outspoken few individuals as being “controlling”. I do believe that children need leadership in order to develop good self-control, just as an infant needs to be kept safe and kept close – for their protection – until they develop more self-control and are able to keep from tumbling down stairs, falling-off chairs, etc.

Children that are emotionally disturbed need more leadership and boundaries because of their special needs. It is important that we are very clear that I work with, and teach about, children that are emotionally disturbed – not ‘normal’, healthy, emotionally stable, securely-attached children. These children have special needs. And, when their special needs are met, we can make a powerful difference in their lives! They can develop the ability to control themselves, as we slowly relax the limits and boundaries that we must provide – as parents, teachers, and responsible adults, who are caring for them.

Is insisting on holding the hand of a small child near traffic ‘over controlling’? What if it’s a 12-year-old that is developmentally much younger? What if they are 14? Is eliminating the internet from the life of a five-year-old (who doesn’t understand pornography and how to avoid it) ‘too controlling’ or is it wise parenting? What if it’s a 12-year-old who doesn’t have the cause-and-effect area of their brain developed enough in order to make healthy choices? (Or even learn from making poor choices!?) I believe, that as parents, we are responsible to keep our children safe as they develop their brains – so they can begin to make choices – and learn from the consequences of their actions, when that area of their brain is capable of learning. We have found it is successful to start with tight structure. As soon as possible, we reduce the amount of structure to provide learning opportunities – so that the child is prepared for, and able to develop life skills. That tight structure must be balanced with powerful nurturingor the home atmosphere can become somewhat ‘militaristic’. That would not be wise or appropriate. A child needs to be raised in a loving environment, not a cold place with a parent ‘snapping out orders’.

How about “coercion”?! There’s an ugly word that can make something look different than it really is! This is another term that a few critics try to connect with my work. If insisting that children brush their teeth and go to bed is ‘coercion’ — I am all for it! If a teacher insisting that a student sit at his or her desk and work quietly is ‘coercion’ I am for that too!

The numerous books and articles that I have written, and the hundreds of lectures I have given, give ample opportunity for negative, critical people to find fodder for gossip. According to Dr. Foster Cline, “Those who wander through life negative, complaining, and critical are always more vocal, it seems, than the satisfied folks. Thus, there are plenty of ‘complaint departments’ but no ‘satisfaction departments’.”

My critics attempt to somehow connect me with people who have harmed children. My work is always about helping children heal. My work is never about harming, caging, or killing children! I have not met, or taught, any of the families connected to tragic cases that have been gossiped about.

Those same critics critique me for different kinds of therapies. I am not a therapist. I teach parenting and classroom interventions. When I have been evaluated at seminars and teacher trainings, the ratings I have received have been consistently “outstanding”. When participants are asked how the training can be improved the reply is quite frequently, something like, “We loved it and we want more.”

I love the children I work with. I love the amazing, awesome, Moms and Dads who love these challenging children. My heart is also filled with admiration for the outstanding educators that go to the front of the class to help these traumatized youth. I will proudly support any mental health professional who has gone out of their way to develop advanced skills to help severely emotionally disturbed little ones.

I choose to soar with these ‘eagles’ making a difference in the lives of children rather than ‘peck in the dirt’ with the critics. I sincerely hope any of you with questions and concerns will let me know what your concerns are.

 Nancy Thomas


Photo by RODNAE Productions

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