by: Hajera Blagg
Dr. Gabor Mate, a Hungarian-born Canadian physician, has written several best-selling books about a host of health-related topics, especially early childhood development. His two most important books geared toward parents, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers and Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You can do About It, are engaging reads that emphasize the importance of parental support in a child’s physical and mental health.
Unlike many modern Western physicians, Mate emphasizes the connection between the mind and the body. Backed by a growing body of research, Mate has hypothesized in a previous book, When the Body Says No, that stress resulting from repressed emotions, especially anger, makes the body more vulnerable to diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis. In his two books intended for parents, Mate continues in this holistic vein, paying special attention to the child-parent connection in warding off disorders like ADD.
In Hold on to Your Kids, Mate argues that a developing child in a modern, industrialized country, who spends several hours a day with peers, is being influenced to an enormous degree by others who are also in a similar stage of development. The strength of this influence grows from a child’s innate need for attachment. When a parent does not provide this sense of attachment, a child will turn to friends to fulfill this need. The problem with children seeking attachment from peers is that, unlike a parent’s unconditional love, peer attachment is particularly contingent. Acceptance is granted only if the child assimilates to the group’s behavior. A child who is dependent on peers for emotional support will grow to be self-doubting, immature, timid, and will thus be ill-adapted to expressing healthy emotions and asserting boundaries. Co-written by clinical developmental psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the book concludes that a parent focusing on a strong parent-child bond is vastly more critical to a healthy child’s development than focusing on a child’s specific behavioral problems.
In Scattered, Mate explores ADD research and takes the alternative view that the disorder is more strongly developmental than it is genetic. He also contends that while pharmaceutical drugs like Ritalin can certainly be effective, in the end, they only serve to alleviate symptoms and do nothing to address the disorder’s underlying cause. Just as in “Hold on to Your Kids,” Mate argues that a child’s environment plays a significant role in her development later on in life. On the book’s website, Mate summarizes his hypothesis:
“In attention deficit disorder the chief physiological problem appears to be located in the frontal lobe of the brain, in the area of the cortex (or gray matter) where attention is allocated and emotions and impulses are regulated. Just as the visual circuits need the stimulation of light, the circuits of attention and emotion control also need the appropriate input: a calm, non-stressed connection with a non-stressed and non-distracted primary maternal caregiver. Stresses on the mothering adult-or disruption of contact with her, as in adoption-predispose children to ADD because they directly affect the developing electrical circuits of the infant’s brain. The very chemistry of the infant’s brain is affected.
Although there is in ADD an inherited predisposition, a heightened sensitivity, the condition itself is rooted in social factors that have placed nearly intolerable burdens on the parenting environment. It is not bad or unloving parenting that is the problem, but stressed parenting. The erosion of community, the breakdown of the extended family, the pressures on marriage relationships, the harried lives of nuclear families still intact and the growing sense of insecurity even in the midst of relative wealth have all combined to create an emotional milieu in which calm, attuned parenting is becoming alarmingly difficult. The human brain being a social product, so is attention deficit disorder.”
While many in the medical community have criticized Mate’s work, his parenting books give mothers and fathers living in our modern, constantly stressed world, very specific advice that will be sure to resonate with those who feel that their connections among their children are less than ideal.
Bio: Hajera Blagg is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She often contributes content to OnlineUniversities.