Being a housemistress is a job that I always thought I would love to do but it wasn’t until this past September that I finally had an opportunity to take up such a role.There has been much to learn but for me the curve was especially steep as I am a Canadian and moved to the UK four weeks before the start of term. After almost a year I am still learning on a daily basis but I wanted to share something that has guided me this year and that I think has helped to make my house a happy and flourishing place.
A few years ago I came across the work of Canadian psychologist, Gordon Neufeld. He has written a book called “Hold On to Your Kids”. The premise of the book is that, in order to be effective at parenting, your child needs to be open to being parented. This is achieved through attachment or, in other words, wanting to be close and connected to the adults in his/her life.
Dr. Neufeld writes that, while humans instinctively have a desire to connect with an infant and will smile and coo anytime a baby is around, by the time a child reaches the toddler stage the primary goal of an adult/child interaction is to give information or to correct a behaviour. Neufeld argues that just as adults in a relationship can start taking each other for granted once the relationship is cemented, the same things happen with children. Parents love their children but don’t always make the time to connect and reattach with them.
Dr. Neufeld believes that in today’s culture and society, there is a lack of appreciation for the attachment bond between parents and children and that, as a result, kids are often more attached to their peers than their parents. His book looks at ways of rebuilding the attachment bond. It makes for an interesting read but the part that I have put into practise is his idea of “collecting our children”.
Dr.Neufeld‘s concept of “collecting our children” means that every time there is a separation between you and your child (read boarders), be it in the morning after they have been asleep or when they come back from school in the afternoon,you need to reconnect with them. Often in our busy lives the first contact with the children in the morning is telling them to hurry up because they will be late and when they come home from school you might be busy on the computer and say hello but not stop to collect them. When you see a child after an absence how much better it would be to look them in the eye, nod and smile. Once you have collected and connected through this simple process you can correct or direct; make sure they have finished their prep, ask for their help with something.
Working with teenagers who often appear not to need or want any adult contact, it can be easy to say that this collection or attachment ritual is unimportant. However I have worked very hard this year to ensure that my team puts this idea into practise every day. In the morning we always go around twice, making sure we call each girl by name and waiting for an answer so that they have a couple of chances to connect with the member of staff on duty before we might need to chivvy them along. After school, and indeed anytime that the girls come back from being out at an activity or on tea leave, we ask that in addition to signing in, that they say hello to whoever is on duty. This gives us a chance to collect them. The house staff ensures that time between the extra-curricular activities ending and supper is dedicated to the girls. It is not a time for doing administrative tasks andour purpose is to be available to the girls so that they know we are pleased to see them and interested in their day.
All of us in boarding intuitively know how to engage and interact with our childrenbut remembering the importance of collecting each of them at least twice a day has been a principle that has become embedded in our house this year.
Jennifer Murray, Housemistress
The Mount School
Reference: Neufeld, Gordon and Mate, Gabor. Hold On to Your Kids, ISBN 9780375760280.