Collecting our children : Reducing frustration and increasing connection every day

I mentioned the idea of collecting our children in a recent post, 22 super simple ways to help our children feel loved. And it’s been on my mind a lot.

Collecting our children is a chapter title from Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Matè. It refers to the idea of reaching out and reconnecting with our children after any time apart. Whether we’ve been physically away from each other, or emotionally distant, busy with our own projects, after a row or even just sleeping.

Collecting our children is about re-establishing connection and relationship. Sounds simple enough?

Well, it is. And it isn’t.

Relationships are complicated, we all know that 🙂 So much joy and happiness. But often accompanied with a great fat dollop of other not so nice feelings.

And never more than with our children.

And maybe never more than right now.

As humans we crave social contact. Some of us more than others, it’s true. But we all want to feel connected and close to the people we love. Social distancing, local and national lockdowns, so much fear and so much of our ordinary lives turned upside down. We need each other more than ever.

As loving parents, we want to be there for our children. To meet their needs. To care and to comfort.

You might be familiar with this quote from Pam Leo’s book, Connection Parenting

The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.

Pam Leo

I love this book and I love this quote. Most of the time.

A wonderful reminder of what matters most, our relationship.

BUT… some days this quote feels like a kick in the teeth. Setting off this sinking, sad feeling that maybe I’m getting it all wrong. Maybe I’m just rubbish at this parenting lark.

Interactions with our children, especially when we can’t seem to get their attention, can stir up all kinds of emotions…

Resentment bubbling up as we silently reel off all we’ve done.

Frustration and rage fuelled by exhaustion. We just wanna move on with our day. Get out the door, get home, get somewhere on time, just once – please tell me we’re not the only ones who seem to be late everywhere 🙁

Sadness as the pain of rejection hits us hard. Old wounds open and raw.

So many jumbled thoughts and feelings, in danger of getting in our own way. Keeping us apart from the ones we love the most and missing out on that connection, closeness and comfort we’re all seeking.

And yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

Be with your children, but don’t expect their thoughts and emotions to be with you.

Just add light and stir.

Lightbulb moment.

Thank you daily dose of unschooling inspiration and encouragement.

This is where the magic of collecting our children comes in.

…if your child (especially a young child) is currently very focused on someone or something else, you do not necessarily have his attachment energy. The relationship is not active in the moment. A child is not meant to take direction from someone to whom he is not currently attached, so you are much more likely to experience counterwill.

Todd Sarner

I love how this quote places the powerful practice of collecting our children in a helpful context.

But there’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it down a little…

First the idea of counterwill. Sounds like something parents might have trouble with 🙂 But maybe it’s not quite what we think it is…

What is counterwill?

Counterwill is described by Neufeld and Matè as ‘an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced’ and ‘is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else’s bidding’.

This is huge. And crucial for understanding all human relationships. But especially when we’re making any demands of our children, for their time, their effort or just their attention.

I’m sure there’s been a time you’ve felt it. The pull of resistance when someone suggests that you should or you must do something. Even when five minutes ago you were more than happy to do it and wholeheartedly believed it was the right thing to do. And the more we feel pushed, the less we feel like doing it.

None of us like being told what to do. And our children, many of whom face this almost constantly, feel this most keenly. Counterwill is ‘a natural, protective instinct’ and a ‘normal human dynamic that exists in all children, even those appropriately attached’.

So healthy counterwill is actually a cause for celebration, protecting our children ‘from being misled and coerced by strangers’.

Yippee, I hear you say? Maybe, maybe not…

Never fear, this doesn’t have to mean we spend our lives locked in perpetual conflict.

There’s more good news, counterwill is softened by attachment. Another protective instinct encouraging us to draw wisdom and guidance from those we love the most.

Neufeld and Matè illustrate this with the example of falling in love, swept away by the thrill of initial attraction, the passion and pleasure of it all, ‘hardly any expectation by our loved ones seems unreasonable’.

But of course, our relationship with our children isn’t like the initial stages of being in love. It lacks some of that excitement and euphoria, for sure. And yet, it has a depth and richness that’s stronger, more secure and longer-lasting.

And this can amplify our feelings of frustration and confusion. We love our children so much. We’ve spent so much time and energy on developing our relationship, but still we can find it hard to get their attention.

Cue, the visuals…

Attachment energy and inactive relationships

Not actual visuals 🙂 But a powerful image for sure.

When our children are unresponsive and we’re feeling rejected and unappreciated, it doesn’t follow that our relationship must be rubbish, that we don’t matter or that we haven’t bonded.

Rather than deliberately ignoring us, being rude and ungrateful, our children’s attention and focus is directed elsewhere and we can’t simply demand they redirect it to us.

Well, of course, we can. But…

Hello there, counterwill.

And when our goal is connection rather than obedience, demanding isn’t gonna cut it.

So, what can we do?

These days, most of us are familiar with group zoom calls. And we all know how hard it is to keep track of all those boxes. Who to look at when? Luckily zoom has a nifty little feature to help us out. When someone speaks, their box lights up.

Let’s get shining them lights 🙂

Collecting our children 

Collecting our children will look different for each of us and for each of them.

It might involve a physical element – offering a hand to hold, gathering them up into a hug, or even a special handshake, à la Parent Trap 🙂

Although it doesn’t have to be physical at all. Collecting our children is much more about the emotional reconnection.

Respecting and acknowledging our children where they are and meeting them there. Taking time to sit with them, to notice what they’re doing. Ask them questions, share our appreciation and delight in their very existence. 

Collecting our children is an invitation to reconnect.

Not at the expense of others, no-one wants us hijacking their zoom call.

Not to spoil their fun or in an obtrusive or demanding way.

This isn’t about control. It’s about connection.

Sometimes we’ll have an end in mind. Maybe we’ve made them a gorgeous meal, we’re sure they’ll love it and they’re bound to be hungry. We want them to down tools, leave their Lego, their drawing, their explorations of Hyrule and take some time to eat, peacefully and without having a row.

Collecting our children can ‘work’ beautifully for this.

But if we see this as the main aim, we’re missing out. Building the ritual of collecting our children into our everyday lives, can transform our relationships, deepening and strengthening them beyond measure.

Check out Lucy’s video on parenting in busy times for more on this.

Have you read Hold On To Your Kids? Are you familiar with the idea of collecting our children? Or was this a new idea? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Look out for a post coming soon sharing my favourite respectful parenting books. Spoiler alert : Hold On To Your Kids and Connection Parenting are both on the list. Any guesses what else might be there? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Thanks for reading x



  1. “And delight in their very existence” … favourite line. I really like this, Hayley, and look forward to a post sharing your favourite books. I was familiar with the idea of collecting our children, and I love your expanded thoughts on it. I gained a lot of perspective from reading Hold Onto Your Kids, but haven’t read Connection Parenting. I’ll have a look for it🙂.

    1. Hayley says:

      Thanks Erin. Connection Parenting is a beautiful book, couldn’t recommend it enough. And it’s quite a quick read too, one of those I go back to again and again. Feeling a bit bad I quoted in a kind of negative fashion but glad that’s not put you guys off 🙂

  2. A really interesting post, connection with my girls is so important to me. I haven’t read Connection Parenting, but it’s now on my list!

    1. Hayley says:

      Thanks Victoria, so glad you’ve put Connection Parenting on your list. I’d love to know your thoughts when you get a chance to read it. Ahhh, connection… what we all need 🙂

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