Eating, Alarm and Attachment

Neufeld Aotearoa

Making Sense of Today’s Feeding and Eating Problems

This full day event offers a morning keynote with Deborah and an afternoon of workshops with the Neufeld Aotearoa team focussing on addressing attachment and the separation complex from a Neufeld perspective.


Keynote by Dr Deborah MacNamara

We have never known so much about food and what our bodies need to survive yet we face ever increasing feeding and eating issues in our kids and teens. What has come undone and what do we need to do to get back on track? What if it wasn’t just about food, or the table, or sitting beside each other to eat? We have missed something more critical to well-being that was meant to go along with eating. This issue couldn’t be more urgent with eating issues mounting in our kids and teens.

Course Objectives:

  • Understand the connection between attachment issues and feeding problems
  • Deconstruct the role of emotional defence in eating challenges
  • Provide a developmental and relational lens on the roots of eating issues from picky eating to a myriad of eating disorders.


Workshops put on by Neufeld Aotearoa members:

  • Dr Ruth Lawson-McConnell on The Separation Complex: triggering alarm, frustration and hyper-caution.
  • Sandy Hitchens on From Theory to Practice.
  • Adrienne Wood on Using Play to Address Alarm and Attachment Issues.
  • Kaye McKean on The Alpha Child.


When: Sat, 9 Mar 2024 9am – 3:pm



Q Workshop A: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE - Sandy Hitchens

From Theory to Practice: Considerations when working therapeutically from an attachment perspective. Understanding that attachment/connection is our brain’s pre-eminent need and at the very core of everything, can sometimes cause us to question how we are best to work therapeutically with children and young people. What does an attachment perspective turn our eyes towards and what are some of the aspects that need careful consideration in this area? This seminar will highlight key theoretical aspects before turning our discussion to what this might look like in our practice so that we can best support the children and youth in our care.


When working with kids with a history of emotional wounding and alarm, there is so much scope for relational defence. Building a close relationship with the tamariki and rangatahi in our care is our first priority. However, often kids push back or resist relationship and connection when parents or caregivers try to provide it. Play provides a surprisingly simple yet effective answer to these problems. Play can melt defences, invite attachment, release emotions and tend and nurture kids with wounding experiences. This workshop makes sense of alarm and separation from an attachment-based, developmental model using insight from the Neufeld Institute.

Q Workshop C: THE SEPARATION COMPLEX - Ruth McConnell

Our children are facing more separation from mature caring adults in their lives than ever before. Closeness reduces children’s alarm, bringing them to psychological rest, but when we look at the anxiety statistics in our tamariki/rangitahi populations we realise that something big is going on under the surface. In this session we will examine the multiple factors in modern life which contribute to this growing separation crisis leading to high levels of anxiety/alarm. We will address the underlying emotions triggered by too much separation, as well as look at intervention points to strengthen the attachment by giving children more ways to hold on to connection, even when apart from their caregivers. Making sense of the Separation Complex will enable us to prevent our children experiencing too much alarm, by bringing them to deeper psychological rest.

Q Workshop D: THE ALPHA CHILD - Kaye McKean

Some alpha children present as bossy and prescriptive, dominating and controlling and compelled to take charge. They are most comfortable when in the lead and when giving the orders. Other alpha children are like mother hens, inclined to take care of others, especially the weak and the wounded. Yet another manifestation of the alpha complex is having to be first or the best or in the know. Still another face of alpha is characterized by the drive to establish dominance through exploiting the weaknesses and vulnerability of others. In this workshop we will learn about the antecedents to the Alpha complex and how to help a child reverse out of this and into a healthy, well attached RIGHT relationship with those charged with taking care of them. Opportunity to share, seek feedback and discuss case studies will be given. Links between eating disorders, bullies, and Alpha children will also be drawn on.