The Only Attachments a Child Needs

Published with Permission

Written by Dr. Brian D. Ray

• Little 4-year-old Tommy needs a play group.

• Mary must have a lot of friends or she will not know how to get along with others.

• Eventual adult psychological autonomy can be had only if teens are with other teens more than they are with their parents.

• Sam is with his family too much; he needs more team sports.

• The most important people in Suzy’s life are her parents and siblings;

that is not normal, and school would be better for her than home-based education.


I have heard all of the above claims and many more as I have testified as an expert witness in dozens of court cases across the nation. And I am sure that many homeschool parents reading this article have heard the same, and probably more extravagant, claims than the ones above. (I have too, by the way.)


I have searched high and low for empirical research that substantiates the claim that children and youth need to spend six to eight hours per day, five days per week, nine months per year together in schools in order to be healthy and successful as teenagers and into adulthood. It seems to not exist. I have testified to such in courts, repeatedly. I have asked psychologists and academics to refer me to the research, but they cannot seem to do so. One might wonder, then, Why do so many people think that children need to be institutionalized in places called schools to “turn out okay socially”?

Then along comes a gem of a book that hits hard at the claims mentioned above. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist, and Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician, both of Canada, published Hold On to Your Kids in 2004 and, unfortunately, I was not introduced to it until a few months ago.1 Reading it, one might think they were some of the founders of the modern homeschool movement in North America.


Consider the following conclusion Neufeld and Maté made about peer-orientation and success, or not, in school.

In the first days of school in kindergarten, a peer-oriented child would appear smarter, more confident, and better able to benefit from the school experience. . . . Thus, in the short term, peer orientation appears to be a godsend. . . . In the long term, of course, the positive effects on learning of reduced anxiety and disorientation [because of being comfortable with peers] will gradually be canceled by the negative effects of peer orientation. (p. 237)

How does peer-orientation affect children and youth with respect to “schooling”?

When children go to school to be with one another, they are primed only to learn enough to not stand out, to remain with those their own age. Other than that, learning is irrelevant and can even be a liability to peer relationships. Anxiety also comes back to haunt peer-oriented learners. Because peer attachments are inherently insecure, anxiety often becomes a chronic condition. Peer-oriented kids are among the most agitated, perpetually restless, and chronically alarmed. (p. 237)

Many North Americans think peer orientation is normal and acceptable. What impact does it have on children becoming adults?

As they discussed in previous chapters of their book, aggression and disobedience are the legacy of peer orientation (p. 239). “Peer orientation is not the only cause of disturbed attachments, but in our children’s world it is the major one. Viewed through the lens of attachment, the findings of the three lines of research could not be clearer in pointing to the risk of our young of [sic] becoming peer-oriented in our day cares and our preschools” (p. 240).

If so many parents, schoolteachers, psychologists, attorneys, judges, policy makers, and grandparents think a lot of time with peers is so important for children and youth, then there must be a lot of research evidence to back up this thinking, right? Consider what Neufeld and Maté write.

The belief is that socializing—children spending time with one another—begets socialization: the capacity for skillful and mature relating to other human beings. There is no evidence to support such an assumption, despite its popularity. If socializing with peers led to getting along and to becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be. (p. 241–242)

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