The Alpha Dynamic

Finding a Playful Lead

Neufeld Conference Aotearoa 2023

The alpha dynamic is present in every human relationship. We take turns both leaning and being in the lead, both depending and taking charge. As parents we invite our children to depend on us in order that they may relax into our caring lead, while also inviting them to discover their own alpha-caring instincts within other contexts.

But what happens when this dynamic gets out of whack? When a child’s drive to lead becomes the default and they get “stuck” in the alpha mode leaving us struggling to guide and orient them?

Alpha children can be bossy, demanding, coercive and even bullying. Alpha children are not only more challenging to work with for us as parents and professionals, but are also predisposed to a number of problems including anxiety, agitation and oppositionality. Many of us find ourselves drawn into an “alpha battle” when confronted with an alpha child. In desperation we  turn to the use of  rewards, consequences or threats  which often make things worse.  Could there be a different way through? Could play present us with some answers to regain a warm, connecting lead with our kids?

This two day conference is hosted by Neufeld Aotearoa and draws on presentations from our own team as well as those from the Neufeld Institute based in Canada.

Conference Schedule

For full details on each presentation click the Schedule Details link below.

Day One: June 9th Day Two: June 10th
Session 1:
8.30 - 10.45am
Gordon Neufeld
The Wisdom of Dependence
Deborah MacNamara
Addressing Bullying
Session 2A:
11.00 - 12.30pm
Adrienne Wood
A Caring Lead with Teens
Colleen Drobot
You're Not the Boss of Me
Session 2B:
11.00 - 12.30pm
Jule Epp
A Playful Lead with ASD
Sandy Hitchens
A Playful Lead with Troubled Kids
Session 3A:
1.15 - 2.45pm
Tamara Strijack & Hannah Beach
Emotional Playgrounds
Rosie Griffiths
A Playful Lead with Pre-Schoolers
Session 3B:
1.15 - 2.45pm
Marriene Langton
A Playful Lead in the Classroom
Eva de Gosztonyi
A Caring Lead with School Systems
Session 4:
3.15 - 4pm
Q & A with Neufeld Aotearoa
Q & A with Neufeld Aotearoa

Our material is directed at all who care for children and youth as either a parent or a professional. However, Strand A (Sessions 2A and 3A) is targeted more towards parents and Strand B (sessions 2B and 3B) is targeted more towards professionals*.

Note: All Sessions above will be recorded and you will have access to these on our Eventbrite platform until July 31st allowing you to catch up on sessions you missed on the day.

*A certificate of completion will be provided to registrants upon request. Certificates will be emailed once conference is over.

Schedule Details


Immediate Access!

Registration allows you access to five Bonus Presentations. These recordings are taken from previous Neufeld Institute conferences and supplement the ideas presented on this conference. You will get immediate online access to bonus presentations on our Eventbrite platform as soon as you buy tickets to our event. With 5+ hours of viewing it's worth buying your ticket early to get viewing in preparation for Conference. Enjoy!

Bonus Sessions

Mathieu Lyons
Alpha Children: Dancing your way into the Lead
Mathieu Lyons

Mathieu Lyons is a Clinical Social Worker registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. Mr. Lyons worked within the child and family mental health field for ten years before becoming a College Teacher in the field of child and youth services. Since 2010 he has also provided part-time services through his private practice (, where he strives to provide direct and accessible quality clinical services.

We have so many children who are taking the lead, often bossing even their parents around and unable to allow anyone else to have the last say. This certainly can add to the challenges of parenting and can cause many parents to become unsure of how to find their way though. In this presentation, Mathieu will provide some insight into this alpha dynamic and offer some hope for parents in how to get back into the lead.

Gordon Neufeld
Bouncing Back From Stress to Strength
Gordon Neufeld

Dr. Gordon Neufeld is a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist with over 50 years of experience with children and youth and those responsible for them. A foremost authority on child development, Dr. Neufeld is an international speaker, a bestselling author (Hold On to Your Kids), and a leading interpreter of the developmental paradigm. Dr. Neufeld has a widespread reputation for making sense of complex problems and for opening doors for change. While formerly involved in university teaching and private practice, he now devotes his time to teaching and training parents, educators, and helping professionals. His Neufeld Institute is now a world-wide charitable organization devoted to applying developmental science to the task of raising children. Dr. Neufeld appears regularly on radio and television. He is a father of five and a grandfather to six.

In his anchor keynote address from last year’s Neufeld Institute Conference 2022, Gordon Neufeld described the brain's role in helping us to recover from stress and trauma. When it comes to children, it is the adult's job to provide the recovery "womb" for our children, so that essential feelings, such as sadness, can return.

Dr Gordon Neufeld will help us understand how the stress we experience today can be converted into the strength we need to face our tomorrows. The focus will be on the children in our care, but the principles apply to all ages. The good news is that everyone possesses the human capacity to bounce back from stress and trauma.

Deborah MacNamara
Emotional Defence
Deborah MacNamara

Deborah MacMamara is a clinical counsellor and educator with more than 25 years’ experience working with children, youth, and adults. She is on faculty at the Neufeld Institute, operates a counselling practice, and speaks regularly about child and adolescent development to parents, child care providers, educators, and mental health professionals. She is also the author of the best-selling book Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (Or Anyone Who Acts Like One), which provides a 360-degree developmental walk around the young child, and The Sorry Plane, a children’s picture book. Her new book, Nourished: Connection, Food, and Caring for our Kids (and everyone else we love), will be published September 19, 2023. Deborah resides in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and two children.

The greatest threat to emotional health and well-being is being stuck in emotional defence. While the construct of emotional defense has been around for more than a century, it was largely dismissed by experts as an inventive inference. Now that the mechanism of defense has been discovered and described by brain science, the construct is being restored as the most significant issue in emotional health and well-being. While most of us become emotionally defended from time to time, especially when distressed, our challenge is to recognize the signs and not get stuck in this place. This is true for ourselves but especially for the children in our care.

Tamara Strijack
Play and Emotional Health
Tamara Strijack

Tamara Strijack is a Registered Clinical Counsellor working on Vancouver Island, academic dean of the Neufeld Institute and co-author of Reclaiming Our Students: Why Children Are More Anxious, Aggressive, and Shut-Down than Ever—and What We Can Do About It. She has worked with children and adolescents in various roles over the last twenty years – as mentor, counsellor, youth leader, program director, group facilitator – and is herself a mother of two wonderful young women. She also works as a parent and teacher consultant, helping adults make sense of the children in their care. Connection, relationship, and attachment continue to be central themes in all of her roles, both personally and professionally.

Emotions are stirred up in us on a daily basis. Frustration. Alarm. Disappointment. What do we do with it all and how do we keep it from spilling out in unsuspected places? It turns out that our usual go-to’s, working harder or pretending the emotions don’t exist, aren’t the answer to our emotional health. Rather, our greatest ally comes in the unexpected (and undemanding) form of PLAY. In this keynote session we will look at the conditions needed for play to do its ‘work’, the natural places that emotions come out to play, and what get’s in the way.

Catherine Korah
The Child Who Acts Bossy at School
Catherine Korah

Catherine Korah,Coordinator of CEBM and Behaviour Consultant

For over 15 years Catherine has worked in a number of educational settings with both elementary and secondary students with challenging behaviour problems. She has been actively involved in providing professional development, consultation, and liaising with various health and social service agencies. Catherine is very adept at finding developmentally friendly and trauma-informed solutions for students at all levels. Catherine is trained to provide professional development in the Neufeld developmental paradigm. The Centre of Excellence for Behaviour Management (CEBM) is a provincial service, funded and mandated by the Quebec Ministry of Education, designed to offer support and expertise to the English School Boards across the province in order to help them increase their capacity to implement best practice approaches with students who have challenging behaviours.

Bossy, commanding, demanding, insatiable, frustrated, restless, and resistant are just a few of the words used to describe the behaviour of children who act like they are in charge of their teachers. These characteristics are not genetic, learned, nor can they be punished out of a child. They are the result of emotions and instincts that are fueling a child’s behaviour, making taking care of them difficult and exhausting. Without understanding the roots of how the relationship has become upended, adults are left to chase down rabbit holes and ineffectually focus on the myriad behavioural symptoms. This presentation will explore what CEBM has to offer teachers in terms of resources and practical materials to help support the Child Who Acts Bossy in a school setting. CEBM (Center for Excellence in Behaviour Management) has strong ties to the Neufeld Institute and its programmes.



Get in quick for Earlybird pricing! Available before June 1st.

Before June 1st
Single $100 $120
Group (3 or more) See details below*

*Agency or School Groups: As there is so much value in being able to attend conference with your colleagues, we would love to support this to happen. Please email to enquire about team prices.

Buy Tickets

Click on the link to Eventbrite below to purchase tickets.


Conversations with Neufeld Aotearoa

Connect with Neufeld Aotearoa in our regular gatherings online. These events are free and profile Neufeld Institute Faculty speaking on a diverse range of topics. You will get the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the Neufeld Aotearoa team in person. To keep up to date on the next Conversations event visit our Facebook page.

To view previous Conversations events, click on the link below. These events form a valuable free resource for those wishing to further their understanding of the paradigm.


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