Tuesday, August 20, 2013.  i highly recommend an online search for — “Dr. Gordon Neufeld – attachment” — to locate information on the author of the talk on preschooler attachment that the following text comes from.  There are excellent videos that appear with this search, as well.

Here is a place to start: 

Transformative Parenting and Dr. Gordon Neufeld

Many thanks to my friend Sandy who is transcribing the words  of Neufeld’s preschooler talks for us!  The following is presented here for information only – the purchase link is here: 

This is the first part of Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s Making Sense of Preschoolers talk:

The Making Sense of Preschoolers is the third item down at this link for purchase:



Preschooler Personality Profile

1.         A PURITY of emotion and an innocent belief in MAGIC.

2.         CERTAINTY in their thinking, no room for shades of grey.

3.         IMPULSIVE and given to displaced ‘return of the pendulum’ swings.

4.         SHORTSIGHTED – unable to make sacrifices towards a goal.

5.         UNRELIABLE – know better than they behave and their good intentions are easily eclipsed by the impulse of the moment. (they often have no clue why they do what they do)

6.         TERRIBLE at PROBLEM SOLVING – unable to take more than one factor into consideration at a time.

What’s missing and why

Preschoolers cannot do dissonance. They register only one feeling or impulse at a time. All conflicting impulses and thoughts are momentarily eclipsed.


This is Nature’s way, making it as easy as possible for youngsters to find their dominant feeling by removing any confusing elements or complicating signals.

(eyesight analogy goes here)

As soon as both feelings are present, you have a fundamentally different psychology and person…

We would never get to both of our cerebral hemispheres operating at the same time if we didn’t start off with one at at time.

We will never get to being able to experience all of our emotions simultaneously and to have self-control, and have integrative functioning, and to be well-tempered, as a husband, a wife, an adult, unless we went through this phase and were able to experience one emotion at a time…

so rather than fighting it and trying to get them to hurry up, the problem is, if we try to get them to hurry up, we’re actually sabotaging that time (development). We’re busy trying to make little adults out of  preschoolers. We’re busy trying to figure out how to make them like us, and that is not Nature’s plan. Nature’s plan is that they need to be preschoolers, we need to be adults, and we need to allow them to have that time.

Nature’s solution to being untempered

ADDING the tempering elements by 5 – 7 years of age.

–   once a child can easily find his or her dominant feeling

–           this takes longer with sensitive and intense children, because their feelings are bigger and there are more incoming signals to complicate things

–           children who do not feel their emotions or do not practice their mixed feelings will not develop this capacity

We’re giving rise to very sensitive and intense children, for a number of reasons. Probably there is a genetic drift towards sensitivity that is happening in our society, but also because one of the primary results of any kind of birth trauma is hypersensitivity. And our children are surviving birth like never before; premature babies, etc. And so we’re giving rise to probably the most sensitive preschoolers that ever walked this Earth.

And this means that their feelings are highly affected and are very intense, and it’s pushing the time of transformation further and further back, so that for many intense children doesn’t actually happen until 8 or 9 years of age.

This means they’re fundamentally different from us, and this has HUGE implications for how we’re dealing with them. We’re trying to get them to be nice, and to get along…we’re trying to get them to have self-control; in some cases we’re trying to teach all kinds of reflective and meditative exercises to children who are just 4 or 5 years of age, and we’re getting this all wrong…

Because we have to find a way to work around this, we need to find a way of being able to include preschoolers in our society [as they are, not as we would have them be!].

This is Nature’s solution. But children who do not feel their emotions, who do not practice their mixed-feelings, will not fully develop this capacity.

If a child starts losing his feelings – and many, because of the wounding environment they’re in, and because of their precocious sensitivity, begin to start losing their feelings by 3 or 4 years of age…so we have many children who no longer say “I’m scared.” Children who are losing these feelings. And they are not developing their prefrontal cortex, which is the mixing-bowl of  the brain.

This is where the solution [adaptation & maturation] occurs. What is it that as humans have – that is, mature humans have – that preschoolers do not have? A functional prefrontal cortex.

What is it that humans have that no other mammals have? A functional prefrontal cortex. [I suspect elephants have this]

But the prefrontal cortex isn’t even wired up, the blood isn’t even going to the prefrontal cortex until 5 – 7 years of age. Just like with the eyes, there’s two shunts coming from the Limbic System, the emotional brain…and just like it is with the eyes, it’s only feeding one set of signals – one emotion – at a time. There may be other emotions there, sitting in the Amygdala, but only one emotion is fed to the prefrontal cortex.

So you have a child that’s only operating out of one (emotion). The child may be very afraid, but very frustrated – alarmed, frustrated, and insecure – but you only see one thing.

He’ll either be in pursuit, or he’ll be moved to caution, or that frustration will be there as aggression – but only one thing at a time.

This [the mixing bowl of maturation] is what needs to be exercised. This is the key to our being able to relate to each other in a civilized way.

What our preschoolers need from us

to COMPENSATE for what is missing in them.

–           to assume responsibility for keeping them out of trouble and for not pushing their buttons needlessly.

We’re all to frequently pushing preschoolers’ buttons. If we scare them we get alarm out of them.

If they face separation, we get pursuit out of them. But wait – we’re also getting frustration and alarm – but that doesn’t come until bedtime, when now they can’t sleep.

We’re pushing their buttons to try to get different behavior. But this doesn’t mean that their behavior is changing; it simply means that we’re playing them, emotionally, and that we ought not to be doing that…

–           to refrain from approaches that work because of substituting one emotion for another in the untempered child, as these set the stage for a return swing of the pendulum reactions (eg, ‘consequences’ and ‘time-outs’)

Consequences are a typical example of this. When we use consequences we’re typically using what a child cares about against them. So when we threaten separation from something they care about, we’re pushing a child’s face into separation. And when we push a child’s face into separation, the first emotion you always get is pursuit.

If you have a preschooler and you need to leave, and you give them the warning: “I’m leaving in 5 minutes” and it doesn’t work, so you say “It’s time to go,” and the preschooler is saying: “I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go!”

And so you say, “All right then,  bye bye, see you…” and you walk out of their sight, what you do is trigger off in them high pursuit, because preschoolers can’t do separation.

And so they say, “All right mommy! I’m coming, I’m coming!” And so they come. But what we don’t realize is how impactful it was for the child. We see the pursuit, and so they move towards us –  when we use what they care about [connection] against them, their behavior is to pursue whatever it is that we’re taking away [in this case, connection with us], their behavior is to pursue whatever it is that we’re taking away: “I’ll be good! I’ll be good!”

But what we don’t see is that we’ve triggered other emotions. And the other emotions will include frustration, because something didn’t work for them, and so we’re going to get aggression a little bit later out of the system – and we’ve also triggered alarm…because whenever they’re facing separation they get a little bit scared.

And so now we’ve got problems going into nighttime, at bedtime, in terms of insecurity…and we don’t see that.

So we’re doing things that are very immediate, and pushing their buttons, and we’re not realizing: these are emotional creatures. They have no ability within them to say “on the one hand, and then the other…”

They can’t get it that if you’re frustrated with them, you also love them. You can tell them that until you’re blue in the face – they can’t get it.

They’re not going to get it until 6 or 7 years of age (if they’re lucky), or even 9 years of age. They’re not going to get it because they CAN’T – it doesn’t matter how well you say it. So we need to…

to SET the STAGE for Nature’s ultimate resolution

–           to help them find ALL their feelings and impulses so that Nature has the raw material to work with.

The ultimate resolution is for their feelings to mix; for the prefrontal cortex to work. This is the main difference between them and us: and it’s a biological difference, and it makes a different creature out of them. They simply do not have brain that we have. They simply do not have the capacity to handle the world the way we can.

They are one at a time creatures, and we need to go with them. We need to help them find all their feelings: “Right now you feel this way, right now you want this…” We have to make room for all of their feelings. We have to make room for them to name their feelings, because until they name them, they can’t mix them…

You need to come alongside of them, and move into their feelings [and help them name them]: “Right now you didn’t like my bossy voice…”

It doesn’t mean that you need to indulge all of their feelings, it doesn’t mean that there’s no room for structure or order in their life.

What it does mean is that we have to cut them some slack emotionally.

They only experience ONE feeling at a time; the answer to most of life’s situation is to have two or three feelings simultaneously.

They can only consider one factor at a time. They do not do ‘cognitive dissonance’ –  they cannot disagree with themselves. And the answer, of course, is to be able to do more.

We need a LOT of patience to work around their deficits. They need to start where they are to get to where they need to go.

Discipline is NOT the answer to untempered nature: ‘consequences’ and ‘time-outs’ ONLY work because they push buttons; and when they push buttons, they cycle…

That’s why they never work over the long-run, why you have to start using them a lot – ‘1, 2, 3 Magic’ is just just another way of putting their face into separation. Because the greatest fear of any preschooler is separation.

So when you say: “1, 2, 3… what they fantasize next is some form of separation. It’s the same as saying “Bye, bye then – I’m disappearing…”

Or, all the other ways we do it: “No, you’re going to have to go to your room; I’m going to withdraw the invitation to exist in my presence…”

We push buttons [with those strategies]. We don’t change behavior. Or, we change behavior only because we push buttons; and it doesn’t last.

[Behavior] is not the issue: it’s the character that needs to be changed.

[And because they simply don’t have the prefrontal cortex that is required to do the problem solving with, we’ve simply made things worse for them and us.]

You will know adults with an untempered prefrontal cortex. They’re impulsive and untempered in experience and expression, and that is because they did not grow out of this stage.

In our next sessions we’re going to look at what is required to grow out of this. We’ll be looking at what we call the requisite needs, the irreducible needs of the preschooler to grow out of this period.

But in this session we want to know the character [of preschoolers] and understand them from inside out. And so our next session is also related to the prefrontal cortex…

–           to refrain from cut-it-out approaches as this will sabotage Nature’s ultimate solution

You’ll notice that Nature’s solution to their emotions


The Making Sense of Preschoolers is the third item down at this link



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  1. Wow. This is really powerful. It made me think of an incident 30 or so years ago when my niece was 18 mos. old & she did something she wasn’t supposed to do & my sister scolded her & then when my niece cried, she crawled up into my sister’s lap for comfort. My mother was sitting nearby & nastily said, “She’ll never learn anything if you baby her like that!”. I was appalled because I, and my sister, both realized that my niece’s entire world was her mother at that point, her source of comfort as well as discipline & that my sister did the exact right thing in that moment. Just showed my sister how right she was in NOT taking my mother’s advice on parenting.
    I have a book that I read a couple of years ago that I need to re-read now that I’ve found your website. It’s called Brain Rules. Really fascinating stuff. I bought it because my husband had a stroke, but I think re-reading it now may give more insight. Great book & easily understood.
    Thank you!

    • I wonder if instinct gets overridden in cases such as your mother’s and my mother’s. As Neufeld says how to parent is a natural process that can be interfered with – and that’s when things go wrong. Your sister, and you, did not have interference. Somehow for me thinking in terms of instinct and natural without interference helps me be hopeful!

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