You’ve Got The First Three Years To Get It Right, Dr Gabor Maté

Dr Gabor Maté is a retired physician who, after 20 years of family practice and palliative care experience, worked for over a decade in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side with patients challenged by drug addiction and mental illness. He is an internationally renowned speaker highly sought after for his expertise on addiction, trauma, childhood development, and the relationship of stress and illness.

Dr Gabor Maté specialises in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology, as well as the study and treatment of addiction.

Dr Gabor Maté specialises in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology, as well as the study and treatment of addiction. He is the author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, and three more books, exploring topics like attention deficit disorder, stress, developmental psychology and addiction.

His ground-breaking parenting book, Hold On to Your Kids which he had co-authored with the eminent developmental psychologist, Dr Gordon Neufeld, provides insight into the environmental factors necessary for healthy child development, how these conditions are increasingly under threat in today’s society, and how parents and teachers can maintain their leading position in face of the multiple challenges posed by modern culture.

In the book Hold On To Your Kids, international authority on child development Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., joins forces with bestselling author Gabor Maté, M.D., to tackle one of the most disturbing trends of our time:  children today increasingly look to their peers for direction—their values, identity, and codes of behaviour.

In the clip below, Dr Gabor Maté is being interviewed by Brian Rose. Brian Rose is the founder and host of London Real. We urge you to watch the clip below. A must. You will be amazed, we promise you. Also available is the full transcript of the clip. Kindly note that the transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.



Interviewer: And you know i know you have a whole book on this, i’m ordering on audible tonight. But things to think about when it comes to my relationship with my children is that first lesson of happiness is the greatest gift i can give them. Those first seven years are very important to their

Dr Gabor Maté: Actually the first seven years are crucial i would say the first three years are are the nub of it. I always say to people you get the first three years right you can relax. If you don’t get the first three year right you’ll be you will be practicing remedial parenting for decades. And that’s just how it works.

Interviewer: First three years, so i got six months left with my first son Gaiden

Dr Gabor Maté: Well i’m sure you didn’t screw it all up

Interviewer: What does screwing it up look like? How would you know?

Dr Gabor Maté: Well first of all, you’d know because that i’m with my son and i’m not finding rest in it. So i don’t know how to be there with him. I don’t know how to be there for him. And I was like that you know and I was already, I was always waiting for my kids to grow older, when I could intellectually engage them, and now we’ll have something in common. But the sheer act of being or the sheer state of being, I could never achieve with them. And it’s interesting because I look at my brothers, they’re so wonderful with little kids. They’re so spontaneously there for them. I never knew how to do that, you know.

Interviewer: So while you’re busy waiting for them to get old enough to talk and engage you’ve already missed the window

Dr Gabor Maté: You missed it because the real relationship doesn’t depend on words. It depends on the capacity to be with.

Interviewer: I can sense just that energy from you I’m just here with you. I’m here.

Dr Gabor Maté: I welcome your presence. And I welcome you to exist in my presence. And i’m overjoyed to have you in my presence. That’s what the child needs from the parents.

Interviewer: And that’s communicated with body language and everything, everything.

Dr Gabor Maté: And to the energy that you’re consuming/emitting?

Interviewer: They can feel it.

Dr Gabor Maté: They can absolutely feel it. They can’t name it but they can feel it.

Interviewer: And that already starts changing their personality right there.

Dr Gabor Maté: They shift their personality

Interviewer: So that’s in the first few years, and so you were waiting to intellectually engage, which makes sense. They always say that mothers form a different bond than fathers. Is that just another way, an anachronism?

Dr Gabor Maté: Mothers form a different bond but only because mothers are present with their kids. Whereas the fathers tend to visit the kids. I mean you know the father goes to work typically and visits at home for a couple of hours and then takes off again next morning. Those fathers who stay home with their kids, they learn how to mother their kids. So it’s not a gender issue it’s a relational issue. The mothers allow themselves to be trained by the kids. Whereas the fathers tend to impose their own expectations on the kid. This is not universal, I’m talking by and large. So those fathers who have the good fortune, like in the civilised countries, where parents are given paternity leave, those fathers learn to relate to their kids in a different way than the Irish father somewhere else. We can be trained, but we have to be present for the training.

Interviewer: I do think of this sometimes, I was in situations where he’s one and two years old and i’m thinking, I don’t know what to do here I don’t want to be here, and as soon as I was just like, just breathe, and just be here for him you know. Even if he’s playing, just be here.

Dr Gabor Maté: What do you mean even if he’s playing?

Interviewer: If he’s doing something that seems like i’m not involved… or

Dr Gabor Maté: You’re involved. It’s your presence that gives him some security that he can play on his own. The anxious child, cannot play it on his own. Or he’ll play on his own as a way of protecting himself. When you actually look at animals play, the young, the cubs play all the time. And play is the preparation for life. but it happens in the protective presence of the parents.

Interviewer: So we’re there to give them that time to develop in that way with other kids and everything.

Dr Gabor Maté: You’re there to give them that space.

Interviewer: So some basic lessons are give them the gift of happiness, be present, if you can’t verbally communicate, that’s not even the most important part, just be there.

Dr Gabor Maté: Not even if you can’t really communicate, because the the two-month-old the three-month-old, the six-month-old doesn’t understand words. anyway. So the communication happens on a much deeper level.

Interviewer: And the name of this book, if people want to get it?

Dr Gabor Maté: The name of the parenting book that I co-wrote is called, Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. The book has been published in over 29 languages internationally. And is it is being published in England in January. What it’s about is that in our culture, the children have a need to attach. They need to connect with somebody. Because without that connection they don’t survive. And in the hunter-gatherer bands where human beings evolved, those attachments were with adults. And not just one adult or two adults, but with a whole set of nurturing adults. In our culture, we’ve deprived the kids of the parental presence for the most part. And a child’s brain can’t handle an attachment void, where there’s no attachment figure. And in the absence of the parent, or the nurturing adult, the child will fill that void with the peer group. Now kids become far more peer attached than it is healthy for them, and now peers become their models and their mentors and their templates for how to be, how to walk and how to talk. And as that happens, the kids push away from their parents. Because they’re more a lot more minded to belong to their peer group, which has different values from the parents. And the kids brain can’t handle that competition, so the brain of the child will actually choose the peer group over the parent group. And where that goes, you can see on Facebook. And you can see it in the teenage gangs. And you can see it in the increasing frustration of parents, who’ve lost a part of parent. Because parents think that they’re part of parent comes from the fact that they have the responsibility and the strength and the wisdom. It doesn’t come from that. The part of the parent comes from the desire of the child to belong to you. When the child is driven to belong to the peer group, because we’ve taken him out of his natural context, we lose the power to parent. What do we do then? We ratchet up the pressure, we become more authority, we lose the authority so we become authoritarian, and the more authoritarian we become, the more pressure we put on, the more they resist. And now we label them with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). And we call them obstreperous and bad and naughty kids. All they’re doing, is, acting out their attachment dynamics. So if you want to discipline kids we actually have to make them our disciples. And the disciple is not somebody who’s afraid of you. Disciple is somebody who loves you and wants to belong to you and follow you. So discipline is the very opposite of punishment.

Interviewer: And how do you do that with your kids?

Dr Gabor Maté: First of all, you realise that the most important template, in fact the essential template, for the emotional development of the child as well as for the brain’s healthy, physiological development is a nurturing relationship with mutually responsive adults. That is the template for physiological brain development and healthy psychological development. That means that anything that you do, that undermines the relationship with the child, will actually undermine the child’s development. Because it makes the child insecure. And kids in state of insecurity are in defensive flight or fight mode in which mode they don’t learn anything. They just start defending. And so that every time I use the relationship against a child, so I have a two-year-old, who’s angry and most psychologists and pending experts will tell you: time out. In other words, what they’re telling you is, withdraw the relationship from the child as a way of threatening the child. And that threat will make the child comply with you. Well the child may temporarily comply with you, but what have you taught her ? You’ve taught her that the relationship is conditional. Yhat they’re only acceptable to you, if they please you. Furthermore you’ve taught them that relationship are unstable and unreliable. And you’ve learned and they’ve learned that you’re not available for them when they’re most upset. Because why is he acting out, why is he showing a tantrum, because they’re frustrated about something. Because they’re angry about something. Because they’re unhappy, and you say to them: “When you’re most unhappy, that’s when I’m least available to you.” And this is how parents are taught to parent. Furthermore, parents are taught not to pick up their kids when they’re crying. Let them sleep it out. Which is utterly noxious. Because the child that didn’t get picked up, what lesson do they get? Their emotions don’t matter, that’s the lesson they get. Just the opposite of what any loving parent wants to teach. So that the parenting psychology in this culture, has become anti-child.

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Editorial Team
We take our responsibilities seriously as a provider of free parenting resources. Our published articles are therefore written based on evidence-based information parents can rely on. Parenthood is hard. But it’s also the most rewarding. Our first goal is thus to make sure our content is concise, accurate and accessible.
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