Got Alpha?

Alpha Lioness

Meeting our children’s attachment needs is our number one job as parents. Our number two job is to make sure this attachment is in the correct hierarchical order: with parents in the Alpha* position and children in the Dependent* position.

For many of us, there is a resistance to standing in a place of authority in relationship to our children. There are myriad reasons for this resistance (which we will explore  in depth in Week 2 of Discipline: A New Paradigm) , but one of the main ones comes from negative associations with the idea of authority; that it is harsh, punitive, belittling, domineering or “mean.” Resistance based on these negative associations is both understandable (these days, there is a paucity of models of firm, kind, embodied authority) and loving (we do not want to hurt or overpower our children), but when this resistance leads us to abdicating our natural leadership position (and leads us to try to relate in a way that is more “equal” or “democratic”), we are robbing our children of the place of rest which they need to grow.**

Growth, throughout the natural world, emerges from a place of rest; when plants/animals/children are working to get their basic needs met, growth (physical and, in the case of humans, emotional) does not happen. So in order to support our children’s healthy growth and development, we need to bring them to rest. The best way to bring our children to rest? To embody a warm, loving, and generous Alpha; to infuse them with the knowing that we, their grown-up, has “got this.”

In my own parenting and in the lives of many parents I have had the honor of working with, this rooting into an Alpha stance has been the missing piece; the piece that, when put into place, transformed the parent-child relationship and helped bring the child to rest. When a child is at rest it helps with: anxiety, attention difficulties peer orientation, school conduct issues and a host of other “behavior problems”. Rooting in Alpha is absolutely worth the sometimes arduous journey to getting there: the fruits will be plentiful as you feel your children come to rest in your care.

* “Alpha” and “Dependent” are the words Dr. Gordon Neufeld uses to describe these stances; I find them to be very resonant with parents because we can all picture what an “Alpha” in the animal world looks like.

**This idea comes from the wonderful book Rest, Play, Grow by Dr. Deborah MacNamara.

***This incredible video shows true Alpha in action.


  1. Emily on January 20, 2017 at 5:26 am

    What great insight, I’ve long struggled to make sense of an interaction I once had . A woman came into my business once and stated “I’m into attachment parenting” showed me her wonderful jacket that had a space for her daughter in tow, and asked “are you?” She then proceeded to asked her three year old daughter for permission to use my bathroom before they went to the library- when the daughter yelled “no, we go now” the answer was “mama can hold it.” It didn’t seem to me then, 16 years ago, that this was my definition of attachment parenting -but I couldn’t explain it- this post made it clear. In our home the adult is the alpha that creates safe space.

    • on January 20, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Emily,
      That is a great example of the way the term “attachment parenting” is being used these days; which actually has very little in common with the attachment-based developmental approach of Dr. Gordon Neufeld that informs my work. In Dr. Neufeld’s model, attachment must be adult-led so that the child can be filled up and come to rest. Imagine the inner world of that little girl: having to decide whether or not to give her mother permission to use the bathroom (along with, it sounds like, many other decisions about her mother’s behavior) would be very stressful! Thank you for sharing this illuminating story.

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