Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Match-Making...A Neufeld technique

Geoff and I recently had a visit with a Gordon Neufeld consultant who we see fairly regularly about the kids.  She has been absolutely amazing in how she's helped us parent our kids over the past year+ and I credit her with so much of the development we've seen, particularly in Seth and Matthew.  I really cannot speak well enough of her.

At our most recent meeting, one of the things that I was interested in talking about was something she had previously referred to as 'match-making.'  Specifically, now that our whole family has settled so much into our new life, I'm interested in match-making Matthew and Seth, to further grow/deepen that relationship.  They're doing so much better together than just months ago, and I want to capitalize on that progress and be strategic about helping them move even further along in their bond.  This would not have worked even months ago, but Seth is deeply attached enough to Geoff and me and so much more relaxed that a new strategy might now be workable.

She explained match-making by using a few examples from her own family life and I found her ideas very helpful...I'm thinking through how I can apply this to my boys.

In the meantime, I decided to emulate her example of match-making by trying it at the dentist's office last week...between each of my kids and their dental hygienist.  You see, although my kids were totally fine (delighted, even!) headed towards their dentist appointments, I hoped that this might be the first dentist's visit where my kids could go in to their cleaning appointment by themselves, rather than with me, so that I could remain in the (fun) waiting area with the other two kids rather than dragging everyone into the hygienist's room for a couple of hours while they took turns having their teeth cleaned.  It's just hard cramming four of us plus the hygienist into those little rooms...especially when the two not in the chair don't want to be there.

But...I knew my kids would assume that I would be with them, as I have always been, and that their going off with a perfect stranger (ie. the hygienist) to have their teeth cleaned would likely cause some anxiety.  My kids all readily express anxiety when they experience it, and I knew this would be a little testing of that.

So...I tried my hand at a little match-making.  Here's sort of how it went.

The hygienist walked into the waiting room and called out our last name.  I told the kids to continue playing for just a moment and I approached the hygienist by myself, placing myself in a position where the kids could see both of us.  I introduced myself with first and last name and asked her what her name was.  I offered my hand, which she shook, and I said that it was lovely to meet her.  I thanked her for taking care of my children this morning.  I mentioned (because I'd asked at the front desk) that I understood she'd been working there for a number of years and commented that it always seemed like it must be a fun place to work.  She agreed and said that it was usually a fun staff to work with.  I chuckled and said that maybe that was why my kids were (oddly) looking forward to being here.  She looked mildly surprised or confused that I was chatting her up, but given that the whole interchange took about 30-40 seconds, I felt ok about that...though I, too, felt a wee bit strange chatting up the hygienist I didn't know from Adam.  I then told her that I was going to wait in the waiting room with the other two kids while she worked first with Matthew.

I called Matthew over and crouched down beside him.  He had seen me smiling at and chatting with the hygienist and putting my hand briefly on her arm.

"Matthew," I said with a slightly excited tone, "this is Mrs. Malia."  I said it as if she were a very special person to be meeting.

I turned to the hygienist and reached out my hand to her a little and then gestured to Matthew while saying, "Malia, I'd love for you to meet my oldest, Matthew."

"Hi Matthew," she said.  She smiled.

"Hi," he responded.  He smiled.  Eye contact was made and they both smiled at the other.  A little attachment connecting point was made.  Matthew was tentatively ok with her because I was ok with her.

"Matthew," I continued, "Mrs. Malia has been working here for about four years and she loves working with kids.  She's going to be the one looking after you for the next half hour or so.  Isn't that right, Mrs. Malia?"  I turned to her as I said that last bit and, even though I'm sure she thought it was all a wee bit strange, she responded as I'd hoped.

"Yes, that's right, Matthew.  I'll look after you," she responded perfectly, smiling.

Good.  Matthew knew that he was in the hands of someone who was competent and who was going to look after him and who would smile at him.

I continued.  "Matthew, Mrs. Malia is going to take you upstairs to her room and clean your teeth, as you know.  She's the boss up there so you need to listen to her.  OK?"

"Ok," he said.

Then, having had them make a small connection and having had them smile and nod at each other already, I addressed what I knew would be his private fear by saying this.  "Matthew, if, for whatever reason, you want me to come or you need me to be there, Mrs. Malia is going to come right away and get me.  And I'll come right away.  Isn't that right Mrs. Malia?"

Again I turned to her with that last question and she responded right on cue.

"Oh, and Matthew," I continued.  "Just in case you need a bathroom or a drink of water or something, Mrs. Malia also knows exactly how to help you with that, too.  Right?"  (note: I knew that his needing to drink or to use a bathroom wouldn't be an issue, but I wanted to establish one more connecting point where she would nod at him, etc).

Again, Malia nodded and smiled and said "absolutely" to Matthew.  Good.

"Matt, I'm going to wait right here for you and I'll leave you in Mrs. Malia's good hands, and I'll see you shortly, ok?

"OK.  Sure."

He left happily with her.  Happily.  They were chatting as they went up the stairs and I heard her use his name again and ask him how old he was.

I felt a little goofy, to be honest, going through this routine.  But I have to say that I was a little stunned by how beautifully it had worked.  Was it a manipulation?  Yes, of course.  But in a positive way.

Matthew was totally non stressed leaving with her.  He knew her name because I'd said it numerous times and made it personal for him; she wasn't going to forget his name because of the somewhat unusual approach his mother had used (!), and he knew that she was the boss up there and the one who I trusted to take care of him.  He left with her happily and came back with her happily 30-40 minutes later.  When she came for the next of my kids, she said good-bye to him and used his name and he returned it.  By that time I'd seen a number of kids being called for their appointments and Malia was the only one who'd used the name of the child she was with and the only one who'd genuinely smiled at the child and seemed to have made a connection with.  The others were friendly enough, but it wasn't the same warmth that I'd cultivated between Malia and Matthew.

It worked so well that I thought it must surely be fluke.  So I tried it with Seth.  I did the exact same thing, from crouching down beside him, to getting them to connect with eye contact and smiles, etc. etc.  Most of my lines were precisely the same.  And the same result - happy departure and happy return and use of name and connection.  Malia was even more relaxed with the routine second time 'round, given that she was already familiar with my strange ways.  

Huh.  Amazing.  Was it still a fluke?  I thought I'd give it a shot even with Lizzie, who was getting just a wee bit clingy as the time drew a little closer for her appointment.  She'd seen her brothers going off with the hygienist and expressed a desire for me to come with her.  I said that, absolutely, if she wanted me with her I'd be there...I pulled her onto my lap for a quick hug and didn't push the issue any further.

A few minutes later, while Lizzie and I played in the waiting room, I used an indirect approach.

"Huh, she sure was nice," I commented.

"Who was nice, Mommy?" Lizzie asked.

"Oh, Mrs. Malia.  She seemed so lovely.  Did you see her smile?"

"Did she have a nice smile?" Lizzie asked.

"Well, I thought it was lovely," I offered.

"She did have a nice smile," Lizzie seemed to remember.

I changed the subject and we continued to play with the fruit and vegetable stand in the dentist's waiting room.  Three minutes later...

"Did you see how much Matthew was smiling when he came back into the waiting room after his appointment, Lizzie?"  I asked.

"I don't know,' she returned.  "Was he happy or sad?"

"Well, we'd have to ask him to make sure," I said (though I made no move to ask Matthew, who was at the moment watching a movie nearby), "but he sure was smiling when he came back with Mrs. Malia."

"She seemed really nice," Lizzie said.  I smiled to myself.

I changed the subject again and then returned once more with one more off-hand comment about Malia's gentleness and how she sure seemed to love kids.  Lizzie was totally relaxed.

Finally, when Seth was back and it was Lizzie's turn, I went through the exact same routine that I'd gone through with Matthew and Seth, and by this time Malia was a pro at my little routine.  She responded even more warmly to Lizzie than she had to the boys, and by the time the match-making set up was done, Lizzie skipped, skipped, off with Malia to have her teeth cleaned.  She never needed me to come up (and when I snuck upstairs to check on her, she was doing great) and she came home talking about how nice Mrs. Malia was.

Let me say that Malia was not the smiliest person around when I first introduced myself to her.  She actually seemed just the slightest bit dour, to be perfectly if she'd worked there just a little too long.  But with even just that little bit of up-front chatting with her, she brightened up and gave me a few smiles and went along with my oddness. :)

Is it any wonder that my kids were so chatty and happy when they were having their teeth cleaned?  Is it any wonder that the staff thought my kids were terrific?  After all, I'd shown excitement when I was introducing everyone to everyone and I worked to match make not only my kids to the staff but the staff to my kids.  I'd set them up for a good experience and had shown my kids that I was ok with them making a connection to a stranger because this was someone that I was ok with.

When the kids and I left the office that morning, the hygienist used each of my kids' names and she said good-bye to each of them, which was something that I'd been watching for with the other staff working there and hadn't heard even once in the almost-two hours that I was waiting in that office.  It was my kids' names that the staff remembered and used and even now, several days later, my kids still speak fondly of that appointment.

I will be using this technique going forwards whenever my kids start something new:  Swimming; skating; piano; whatever.

Next up:  Match-making my boys!


  1. I must have read something about this in Hold on to your Kids, and while I haven't done it with this much detail (which I love, by the way), using names and helping the kids understand that I'm comfortable with someone new has always worked for me too. I've been amazed at how many times we encounter a situation where the teacher or person in charge doesn't ensure my kids know their name, and how much better things go when they do. Thanks for sharing this today!

  2. Thanks Leanne! I don't remember reading about match-making in Neufeld's book, but it's been several years since I read it. :)

    I was simply shocked at how simple, obvious (in hindsight), and helpful the technique was. I'm sold!

    Thanks again,


  3. I love it. I actually read your post super carefully and tried to imagine myself doing each step - I could sense this might be a real winner in our family of somewhat reticent kiddies. I can see a good testing ground coming up soon at family camp. While I'm sure individual results may vary, I'll let you know how it works for us! Oh, and if you ever get info about Neufeld workshops that are open to the public, please pass the info on to me.

  4. Thanks Tammy. I've actually thought of you recently in this regard. It would be interesting to try it...maybe starting with your younger and working towards the older. :) I wonder if your older is ready for this yet (we certainly had to wait for quite a while for our kids to be ready for this) but it's worth a try and it certainly cannot hurt!

    Yes, do let me know how your experiment works...I would LOVE to hear about it!!!

    Talk soon...we want to get together!


  5. I thought of you this morning as I was at the dentist with the kids myself (must be the week for dental visits!) Interestingly enough, our dental hygienist did not actually tell us her name nor introduce herself to the kids. She was very friendly, and I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't just read your post. I didn't do the "small talk matchmaking" as in truth, I would have felt like a bit of a goof :), and both kids were comfortable going in independently. I do think however, I will make a point of trying it in the future. It is an important social skill for kids to learn the "nice to meet you, Sarah this is Kate, she enjoys reading, Sarah also enjoys reading" ect., As adults, we do this to help each other make social connections and feel included in conversations, and I've never thought of doing it with the kids, but I will! I could see it helping to put them at ease socially and is also a good life skill for them to learn.
    Made me think!!