In the parenting course I'm in, we recently learned the term, "Collect before we direct." It refers to a courtship dance which exists with adults and babies, and then seems to be overlooked as our children grow into toddlerhood and beyond. The collection process has four steps:
1. Get in your child's face (or space) in a friendly way, collecting the eyes, a smile and a nod.
2. Provide a 'touch of proximity' for your child to hold onto.
3. Invite your child to depend upon you.
4. Act as your child's compass point.
We would never verbally command a baby to look at us, but would instead move ourselves into their sight line, smiling like crazy or otherwise making a fool of ourselves to get them to interact with us. Dr. Gordon Neufeld suggests that we do the same with our children, regardless of the age they are at. He suggests that we must collect our kids after any period of separation (like the morning after sleeping, or after school) and invite them into connection with us again.
Our society is built on this kind of connection between adults, but yet we neglect to practice it with our children. When we meet a new adult, we shake hands, smile, nod and make a personal connection using these steps. We don't immediately bark orders at someone we are initially connecting with, but instead we warm them up first by asking how they are doing, engaging in pleasant conversation, and then asking what we intended to ask.
I've been trying this with my kids. Looking at them, smiling at them and trying to get them to respond in kind before asking them to do anything at all. This establishes our relationship connection before I make any demands. The second step involves reaching out in some form of physical touch, and if they are receptive to the connection that has been made, they will reciprocate and not pull away. If they pull away, I must go back to step one and try again to collect their attention, and their hearts.
Steps three and four come as a natural result of collecting them and having them feel attached and connected to me. It's easy to be over-focused on independence, and forget that children are actually designed to be dependent. If they are properly attached and feel that they can rely on the adults they are connected to, they will become independent when they are ready and not before. We can't force them to be independent (as I learned with William last fall) but it comes naturally as long as they have been allowed to be dependent and cared for.
I have learned so much in this DVD course. I love being able to implement it right away with my kids and see a positive change. I always knew that relationship was important, but now I get that it's the key to everything that I do as a parent. If I don't have a working connection to my kids, I have no basis for relationship. Just because I love them, doesn't mean they have to love me. That is earned, and it's based on the quality of our relationship.
"Collect before we direct" is an easy way to remember that our kids need to be wooed into relationship with us. We love them deeply, and sometimes fail to show them that love when we are trying to do everything else required of us as parents. Creating a context of connection is key to establishing trust and safety with our kids. If it doesn't exist already, we can look for ways to create it, and build this relationship up so our kids know that they matter to us, and are invited to exist in our presence.