Hold On to Your Kids

by Gordon Neufeld, Gabor Maté

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 24, 2024
Hold On to Your Kids
Hold On to Your Kids

Explore the key insights from "Hold On to Your Kids" - learn how to reclaim parental influence, foster stronger family bonds, and navigate modern parenting challenges. Actionable tips to apply the book's strategies.

What are the big ideas?

Peer Orientation as a Central Threat

The book identifies peer orientation—children's shift in attachment from parents to peers—as a fundamental threat to effective parenting and child development.

Reclaiming Parental Influence

Parents need to actively reclaim their role through consistent attachment practices, rather than relying on disciplinary measures alone.

Importance of Vertical Cultural Transmission

The book stresses the need to revive the traditional vertical transmission of culture from adults to children to counteract the negative impacts of peer-to-peer cultural exchange.

Counterwill and Parenting Challenges

Understanding 'counterwill'—an instinctive resistance to being controlled—can help parents navigate and reduce children's disobedience linked to peer influence.

Creating Attachment Villages

A key strategy proposed is recreating 'attachment villages' to foster stronger bonds between children and a network of responsible adults, helping mitigate the loss of traditional community structures.

Parent-Child Relationship as the Core of Parenting

The book centers the parent-child relationship as the fundamental element of parenting, emphasizing connection over correction for effective child rearing.

Want to read ebooks, websites, and other text 3X faster?

From a SwiftRead user:
Feels like I just discovered the equivalent of fire but for reading text. WOW, WOW, WOW. A must have for me, forever.

Peer Orientation as a Central Threat

Peer orientation poses a grave threat to child development and effective parenting. When children shift their primary attachments from parents to peers, it undermines the crucial parent-child bond and derails healthy maturation.

Peer orientation causes children to prioritize conformity with their friends over learning from adults. Instead of looking to parents and teachers for guidance, they become preoccupied with imitating their peers' behaviors, speech, and appearance. This stifles the development of individuality, critical thinking, and a sense of purpose.

Furthermore, peer-oriented children often struggle academically. Separated from their parental attachments, they experience heightened anxiety that impairs their ability to focus and learn. In the short-term, they may appear more confident and sociable, but in the long-run, peer orientation stunts their intellectual and emotional growth.

Reversing this trend requires parents and educators to actively "collect" children, rebuilding strong attachments that empower children to develop into autonomous, thoughtful individuals. By prioritizing these vital connections, we can protect children from the dangers of peer orientation and foster their healthy maturation.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight that peer orientation is a central threat:

  • The study that followed over a thousand children from birth to kindergarten found that "the more time a child had spent in day care, the more likely she was to manifest aggression and disobedience, both at home and in kindergarten." This is attributed to peer orientation.

  • The children who spent more time in day care "exhibited counterwill as indicated by arguing, sneakiness, talking back to staff, and failure to take direction." Their "elevated frustration was indicated by temper tantrums, fighting, hitting, cruelty to others, and the destruction of their own things."

  • These children were also "more desperate in their attachment behavior: given to boasting, bragging, incessant talking, and striving for attention, as we would expect when attachments are not working." This is a result of peer orientation eroding their attachment to parents.

  • The author states that "peer orientation is the major one" cause of "disturbed attachments" in children today, as they connect more with immature peers than with mature parents and adults.

  • The author argues that the "dangerous educational myth has arisen that children learn best from their peers." Instead, children just learn to "conform and imitate" their peers, rather than developing important skills and knowledge.

  • Peer orientation "makes the already formidable task of educating the young all that much harder, taking a heavy toll on teachers in morale, stress levels, and even physical health." It renders students "resistant to the agendas of their teachers."

Reclaiming Parental Influence

To reclaim parental influence, parents must actively foster a strong attachment relationship with their children. This means consistently providing nurturing care, emotional support, and a secure base from which children can explore the world. When this attachment bond is strong, parents naturally hold authority and influence over their children's development.

In contrast, relying solely on disciplinary measures like rules, consequences, and punishments is ineffective. These approaches do not address the underlying need for a close parent-child connection. In fact, they can further erode parental influence by creating an adversarial dynamic.

The key is for parents to prioritize building an attachment-based relationship with their children. This involves being emotionally available, responsive to their needs, and a reliable source of comfort and guidance. With this foundation in place, parents can then effectively guide their children's behavior and values. Discipline flows naturally from a place of trust and mutual respect, rather than coercion.

Reclaiming parental influence is an ongoing process that requires patience and self-reflection. Parents must be willing to examine their own emotional reactions and adapt their approach as needed. By doing so, they can regain the natural authority that comes from being a secure, nurturing presence in their children's lives.

Here are key examples from the context that support the insight that parents need to actively reclaim their role through consistent attachment practices, rather than relying on disciplinary measures alone:

  • The author notes that the "critical issue" with Melanie was that she was "peer dependent", which "delivered a devastating blow to parenting." This suggests that regaining parental influence requires addressing the child's attachment orientation, not just disciplinary techniques.

  • The author states that "to regain the power to parent we must bring our children back into full dependence on us—not just physical dependence but psychological and emotional, too, as nature has ever intended." This directly supports the idea that reclaiming parental influence requires rebuilding the child's attachment to the parent.

  • The author explains that "attachment arranges the parent and child hierarchically" and that "a child is receptive to being taken care of or to being directed as long as he experiences himself in a dependent mode." This highlights how attachment is key to the parent-child dynamic and the parent's ability to guide the child.

  • The author describes the "dance of adaptation" where the parent must represent "a 'wall of futility'" to the child, and then "come alongside the child's experience of frustration and to provide comfort." This illustrates how the parent must actively guide the child through emotional experiences, rather than just imposing discipline.

  • The author states that "to regain their natural authority, they had to displace and usurp the illegitimate jurisdiction of their unsuspecting and unwitting usurpers—their children's friends." This directly supports the idea that reclaiming parental influence requires actively reasserting the parent-child attachment bond.

In summary, the key examples show that rebuilding the child's attachment to the parent, rather than just using disciplinary techniques, is essential for parents to reclaim their rightful role and influence.

Importance of Vertical Cultural Transmission

The vertical transmission of culture from one generation to the next is critical for a healthy society. This means that adults play a vital role in passing down their customs, values, and traditions to children. When this vertical transmission breaks down, children instead form their own distinct culture separate from their parents, often influenced by their peers.

This shift towards a "peer culture" can have serious consequences. Without the guidance and wisdom of adults, children's culture can become disconnected from the mainstream and lead to increases in antisocial behavior, violence, and delinquency. Children's sense of identity and values become defined more by their peers than by their parents.

To counteract this harmful trend, parents must actively work to cultivate deep, multifaceted connections with their children. This allows the natural flow of culture from adults to children, providing children with a strong foundation and model for healthy relationships. Parents must also create structures and impose reasonable restrictions to protect this vital parent-child bond from being usurped by peer influences. Preserving the vertical transmission of culture is essential for the wellbeing of both individuals and society as a whole.

Here are examples from the context that support the importance of vertical cultural transmission:

  • The book states that "the culture our children are being introduced to is much more likely to be the culture of their peers than that of their parents." This horizontal transmission of culture from peers is contrasted with the traditional "vertical transmission of mainstream culture" from adults to children.

  • The book cites a large international study that "linked the escalation of antisocial behavior to the breakdown of the vertical transmission of mainstream culture." This suggests that the loss of vertical cultural transmission has negative societal impacts.

  • The book describes how "peers have replaced parents in creating the core of their [children's] personalities." This shift away from vertical transmission towards peer-driven culture is seen as problematic.

  • The book notes that "the transmission of culture assures the survival of the particular forms given to our existence and expression as human beings." The loss of this vertical transmission is described as "the transmission lines of civilization being downed."

  • The book provides the example of immigrant families, where "the attachment voids experienced by immigrant children are profound" and "peers are often the only people available for such children to latch on to." This leads to "the gulf between child and parent" widening, with "peers ultimately replac[ing] parents."

In summary, the context emphasizes the critical role that vertical cultural transmission from adults to children plays in preserving culture and healthy child development, and the negative consequences when this is replaced by horizontal peer-to-peer cultural exchange.

Counterwill and Parenting Challenges

Recognizing the role of counterwill can empower parents to better manage children's disobedience linked to peer orientation. Counterwill is an instinctive resistance to feeling controlled or pressured. It naturally emerges in children as they develop autonomy, but becomes exaggerated when peer relationships replace parental attachment.

When children are peer-oriented, their counterwill is magnified, leading to behaviors like talking back, refusing to cooperate, and erecting barriers against parental authority. Parents may mistake this as a power struggle, responding with increased force that further provokes counterwill. Instead, understanding counterwill allows parents to avoid this counterproductive cycle.

By nurturing children's attachment and respecting their need for autonomy, parents can channel counterwill into healthy independence, rather than oppositional defiance. This requires patience, as counterwill is an instinctive reaction, not a willful act. With this perspective, parents can better navigate the challenges of peer-oriented children, reducing conflict and preserving the parent-child relationship.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about how understanding 'counterwill' can help parents navigate and reduce children's disobedience linked to peer influence:

  • The context describes how peer-oriented children like Kirsten, Sean, and Melanie instinctively resist even their parents' most reasonable expectations, "balking, 'working to rule,' countering, disagreeing, or doing the opposite of what is wanted."

  • It explains that this counterwill is "distorted and magnified by peer orientation" - the more important something is to the parents, the less inclined the peer-oriented children are to deliver. For example, "The more commanding Melanie's father tried to be, the more rebellious his daughter became."

  • The context contrasts this peer-distorted counterwill with the "genuine drive for autonomy" where a child resists coercion "whatever the source may be, including pressure from peers." In healthy rebellion, "true independence is the goal" rather than just conforming to peers.

  • It cautions that adults who "misread this primitive and perverted form of counterwill as healthy teenage self-assertion may prematurely back away from the parenting role" when the peer-oriented adolescent still needs their guidance.

  • The context emphasizes that understanding counterwill can help parents avoid power struggles and the use of psychological force, which only further provokes the child's resistance. Instead, parents should focus on nurturing the child's attachment and need for autonomy.

Creating Attachment Villages

The core idea is to recreate 'attachment villages' - networks of caring adults who can form strong bonds with children, replacing the community structures that have been lost. This involves deliberately cultivating relationships between children and a 'supporting cast' of responsible adults beyond just their parents.

By fostering these adult-child attachments, children can feel 'at home' with the adults entrusted to care for them, rather than primarily bonding with their peers. This helps realize children's full developmental potential and prevents them from becoming overly 'peer-oriented'.

Specific strategies include valuing adult friends interested in one's children, fostering connections to extended family, and deliberately organizing community activities that bring children and adults together. The goal is to surround children with a web of nurturing adult relationships, mirroring the natural 'attachment villages' of traditional societies. This conscious effort to rebuild these supportive communities is seen as crucial to counteracting the isolating effects of modern, peer-centric lifestyles.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight of creating "attachment villages" to foster stronger bonds between children and a network of responsible adults:

  • The author describes a "little block that can" where parents have deliberately cultivated social relations among the families living on the street. There are benches and picnic tables where parents and kids of all ages gather, and the children have learned to relate to all the adults on the street as "attachment figures, surrogate aunts and uncles."

  • The author notes that in traditional attachment communities, "a child never had to leave home—he was at home wherever he went." The goal is for children today to also "not have to leave home, or at least the sense of being at home with the caring adults, until they are mature enough to be at home with their own true selves."

  • The author emphasizes the need to "value our adult friends who exhibit an interest in our children and to find ways of fostering their relationships with them." This includes cultivating relationships with extended family like grandparents, as well as other caring adults who can fill that role.

  • The author describes socializing in Provence, where "socializing almost always included the children" - meals, activities, and outings were planned with the children in mind, and the adults took the lead in collecting the children. This type of "family socializing" helps connect children to a network of caring adults.

  • The author suggests that in our institutions of childcare and education, there needs to be a "collective consciousness regarding the pivotal importance of attachment relationships" so that caregivers and teachers can intentionally form connections with children.

Key terms:

  • Attachment villages: A network of caring adults who form strong bonds and relationships with children, creating a sense of "home" and belonging.
  • Attachment figures: Adults who serve as surrogate parents or caregivers, providing the attachment and nurturing that children need.

Parent-Child Relationship as the Core of Parenting

The parent-child relationship is the core of effective parenting. This relationship, built on unconditional acceptance and secure attachment, should be the top priority for parents. When this relationship is strong, parents can naturally guide their children's development without relying on rigid rules or harsh consequences.

In contrast, when parents focus solely on a child's behavior or try to "teach lessons," they risk damaging the vital parent-child bond. Children need to feel that they are valued for who they are, not just for their conduct. By making the relationship the priority, parents create a safe foundation from which children can mature and learn.

Parenting is not about following a set of skills or strategies prescribed by experts. It is a relationship-based endeavor that requires parents to tune into their own intuition and compassion. When parents approach parenting this way, they empower their natural ability to nurture their children's growth and development.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight that the parent-child relationship is the core of effective parenting, with connection prioritized over correction:

  • The book states that "No matter what problem or issue we face in parenting, our relationship with our children should be the highest priority." It emphasizes that "Children do not experience our intentions, no matter how heartfelt. They experience what we manifest in tone and behavior."

  • It explains that "Unconditional acceptance is the most difficult to convey exactly when it is most needed: when our children have disappointed us, violated our values, or made themselves odious to us. Precisely at such times we must indicate, in word or gesture, that the child is more important than what he does, that the relationship matters more than conduct or achievement."

  • The book cautions against prioritizing "teaching lessons" over preserving the relationship, stating that "Trying to parent, to 'teach lessons' when we are upset or full of rage risks making the child anxious about the relationship."

  • It emphasizes that "We do not compromise our values when we say that the child is more important than his conduct; rather, we affirm them at their deepest level. We dig down to bedrock and declare what is true."

  • The book highlights the importance of "cultivating connections that are multifaceted and deeply rooted" as the "best prevention for peer orientation", as a child who feels known and understood is less likely to be satisfied with the "poorer fare that peer orientation offers."


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Hold On to Your Kids" that resonated with readers.

Children learn best when they like their teacher and they think their teacher likes them.

A strong, positive relationship between a student and their educator is crucial for effective learning. When a student feels valued and appreciated by their teacher, they are more likely to be receptive to new knowledge and ideas. Conversely, a lack of connection can lead to disengagement and poor academic performance.

Children do not experience our intentions, no matter how heartfelt. They experience what we manifest in tone and behavior.

What matters most to children is not what we mean to do or say, but how we actually behave and interact with them. Our words and actions have a direct impact on how they feel and perceive us. If we want to build strong, healthy relationships with our children, we must focus on being present, authentic, and empathetic in our daily interactions with them.

The key to activating maturation is to take care of the attachment needs of the child. To foster independance we must first invite dependance; to promote individuation we must provide a sense of belonging and unity; to help the child separate we must assume the responsibility for keeping the child close. We help a child let go by providing more contact and connection than he himself is seeking. When he asks for a hug, we give him a warmer one than he is giving us. We liberate children not by making them work for our love but by letting them rest in it. We help a child face the separation involved in going to sleep or going to school by satisfying his need for closeness.

To help children grow and become independent, parents must first meet their deep-seated need for connection and attachment. By providing a sense of security and belonging, parents can empower their children to gradually let go and develop their own identity. This is achieved by showering them with love, attention, and physical affection, rather than making them earn it through good behavior. In doing so, parents create a strong foundation for their children's future growth and independence.

Comprehension Questions

0 / 30

How well do you understand the key insights in "Hold On to Your Kids"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What is the impact of children shifting their primary attachments from parents to peers?
2. How does peer orientation affect a child's academic performance?
3. Why is it important for parents and educators to rebuild strong attachments with children?
4. What behaviors indicate peer orientation in children?
5. What does it mean to 'collect' children in the context of reversing peer orientation?
6. What is the importance of building an attachment-based relationship between parent and child?
7. Why is relying solely on disciplinary measures like rules and punishments not effective in influencing children's behavior?
8. How can parents effectively guide their child's behavior and values?
9. What are the implications of not addressing the underlying need for a close parent-child connection when implementing disciplinary techniques?
10. What ongoing actions should parents take to reclaim influence over their children?
11. What is the primary consequence of children primarily adopting cultural norms from their peers instead of from their parents?
12. Why is it important for parents to actively engage in the cultural education of their children?
13. How does the breakdown of cultural transmission from parents to children affect society?
14. What can parents do to prevent the influence of peer culture from overpowering the parental influence in cultural transmission?
15. What happens when the cultural transmission line from adults to children is disrupted?
16. What is counterwill and why is it significant in the context of children's behavior?
17. How does peer orientation influence a child's counterwill?
18. What common mistake do parents make when dealing with counterwill in peer-oriented children?
19. How can understanding counterwill benefit parenting strategies?
20. What can be done differently by parents to manage a child's counterwill effectively?
21. What is the purpose of cultivating relationships between children and a network of responsible adults beyond their immediate family?
22. How can adult-child attachments benefit a child’s development as opposed to them primarily bonding with peers?
23. What are some practical ways to foster these strong bonds between children and other adults according to the described strategies?
24. Describe the concept of being 'at home' with caring adults in the context of attachment villages.
25. Why is it important to include both children and adults in community activities, according to the strategies for rebuilding supportive communities?
26. What is at the heart of effective parenting?
27. How does focusing on unconditional acceptance affect children?
28. What are the risks when parenting solely focuses on a child's behavior?
29. Why should parenting not rely strictly on prescribed skills or strategies?
30. What does the prioritization of the parent-child relationship over conduct imply about parental values?

Action Questions

0 / 11

"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Hold On to Your Kids". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can parents and educators strengthen attachments to children to counteract the negative influences of peer orientation?
2. What steps can schools take to reduce the negative impact of peer orientation on children’s academic and social development?
3. How can parents incorporate more attachment-focused practices into their daily routines to strengthen their parental influence?
4. What strategies can parents use to transition from primarily discipline-based interactions to building a relationship based on attachment and mutual respect?
5. How can you and fellow caregivers more effectively transmit cultural values and traditions to children?
6. What steps can be taken to mitigate the influence of peer culture on children’s values and identity formation?
7. How can you modify your responses to your child’s disobedience to reduce the influence of counterwill and enhance your relationship?
8. What steps can you take to prioritize the role of parental attachment over peer influence in your child's life?
9. How can you foster a stronger sense of community between adults and children in your neighborhood or local area?
10. What steps can you take to strengthen the relationships between your children and the caring adults in their lives, such as family friends, relatives, or teachers?
11. How can you demonstrate unconditional acceptance to your child in a challenging situation?

Chapter Notes


  • Peer Orientation: The phenomenon where children and adolescents become more oriented towards their peers rather than their parents as the primary source of influence and attachment. This is a pervasive dynamic in modern culture.

  • Undermining of Parenting: Peer orientation undermines the ability of parents to parent effectively, as it diminishes their power and authority, and makes children resistant to parental guidance and discipline.

  • Stunted Development: Peer orientation leads to a range of negative developmental outcomes, including emotional immaturity, aggression, bullying, and sexual precocity, as well as making children unteachable in the traditional school setting.

  • Reclaiming Parental Influence: To counteract peer orientation, parents need to actively "collect" their children by preserving and strengthening the parent-child attachment, using discipline that does not divide, and creating an "attachment village" that supports the primacy of the parent-child relationship.

  • Preventing Peer Orientation: Parents need to be proactive in not "courting the competition" of peer influences, and instead re-create the type of attachment-based village that previous generations could take for granted in supporting the parent-child bond.

  • Relationship-Centered Parenting: The authors emphasize that successful parenting is not about following a set of skills or techniques recommended by experts, but about honoring the parent-child relationship as the foundation for nurturing and guiding children's development.

Why Parents Matter More Than Ever

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Attachment Relationship is Crucial for Effective Parenting: For a child to be open to being parented by an adult, the child must have an active attachment relationship with that adult, where the child seeks contact and closeness with the adult. Without this attachment relationship, parenting lacks a firm foundation.

  • Peer Orientation Undermines Parental Authority: Children are increasingly forming stronger attachments and orientation towards their peers rather than their parents. This peer orientation undermines the natural authority and influence that parents should have over their children's development.

  • Peer Orientation is Unnatural and Unhealthy: Peer orientation, where children take their cues and guidance primarily from other children rather than adults, is an unnatural and unhealthy phenomenon that has become the norm in modern society. It is not the same as natural peer relationships and contact.

  • Vertical Transmission of Culture has been Replaced by Horizontal Transmission: Traditionally, culture was passed down vertically from one generation to the next. However, this has been replaced by a horizontal transmission of culture within the younger generation, where children are learning from and imitating their peers rather than their parents.

  • Parental Influence Matters More Than Ever: Despite the cultural forces driving peer orientation, parents and other caring adults matter more than ever in guiding children's development. Restoring the attachment relationship between children and adults is crucial to counteract the negative effects of peer orientation.

  • Relationship-Based Parenting is the Solution: The solution lies in grounding parenting in a solid relationship with the child, rather than relying on techniques or manuals. When the attachment relationship is strong, parenting emerges naturally from understanding and empathy, rather than having to resort to external approaches.

Skewed Attachments, Subverted Instincts

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Attachment is a fundamental force that drives human relationships and development: Attachment is the pursuit and preservation of closeness and connection, and is crucial for parenting, education, and the transmission of culture. It is an invisible but powerful force that orchestrates our instincts and behaviors.

  • Competing attachments can lead to subverted instincts and peer orientation: When a child's attachment to peers competes with their attachment to parents, the child's instincts and orientation become subverted. The child may become preoccupied with their peers and alienated from their parents.

  • There are six ways of attaching, from basic to complex: The six ways are: 1) Senses (physical proximity), 2) Sameness (imitation and identification), 3) Belonging and Loyalty, 4) Significance (seeking approval), 5) Feeling (emotional intimacy), and 6) Being Known (psychological intimacy). Peer-oriented children tend to rely on the more basic modes of attaching.

  • Attachment has a bipolar nature: Attachment can lead to both attraction and rejection. As a child's attachment shifts towards peers, they may actively reject and distance themselves from their parents, even with hostility and contempt. This is not a character flaw, but a result of subverted instincts.

  • Peer orientation undermines a child's ability to self-orient: Children rely on their parents or other adults as a "compass point" to orient themselves psychologically. When children become peer-oriented, they use their peers as their compass points instead, leading to a lack of healthy self-orientation.

  • Understanding attachment is crucial for effective parenting: To make sense of a child's behavior and effectively nurture them, parents must understand the dynamics of attachment. This knowledge can help parents identify and address the underlying issues when a child becomes peer-oriented.

Why We've Come Undone

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Attachment Voids: The chapter discusses how modern society has created "attachment voids" where children lack consistent and deep connections with nurturing adults. This is due to factors like early placement in day care, parents working long hours, loss of extended family, and secularization of society.

  • Peer Orientation: In the absence of strong adult attachments, children's attachment instincts become directed towards their peers instead. This "peer orientation" is an aberration from the natural order where children's attachments should be with nurturing adults.

  • Competing Attachments: Divorce and remarriage can create "competing attachments" where children struggle to maintain close relationships with both biological parents and any stepparents. This can further drive children towards peer orientation.

  • Rapid Cultural Change: The rapid pace of cultural and technological change in modern society has outpaced the development of customs and traditions that used to support adult-child attachments. This has led to the disintegration of these attachment-supporting structures.

  • Attachment Customs in Traditional Societies: The chapter contrasts the attachment-supporting customs observed in the traditional French village of Rognes, where adult-child connections are deeply embedded in the culture, with the "attachment voids" characteristic of modern North American society.

  • Two Paths of Attachment Formation: Attachments can either arise naturally from existing relationships, or be formed out of necessity to fill an "attachment void". The latter type of attachment is more prone to becoming a competing force against parental attachments.

  • Immigrant Families: Immigrant families experience profound attachment voids as they are transplanted into the peer-oriented culture of North America, leading to rapid disintegration of traditional family structures.

The Power to Parent Is Slipping Away

  • Parental Impotence: The root of many parenting difficulties is not parental ineptitude, but parental impotence - the lack of sufficient power to effectively parent. This power is not about force or coercion, but the spontaneous authority that arises from an appropriately aligned relationship with the child.

  • Power to Parent: The power to parent comes from the child's dependence on the parent. This dependence is not just physical, but also psychological and emotional. When the child no longer looks to the parent for nurturing, comfort, and guidance, the parent loses their natural authority.

  • Peer Orientation: As children grow older, they often become more oriented towards their peers rather than their parents. This shift in attachment and dependence undermines the parent's power and authority, leading to increased conflict and difficulty in parenting.

  • Misdiagnosis of the Problem: When parents struggle with their children, they often seek out labels and diagnoses, such as oppositional defiant disorder or attention deficit disorder, to explain the child's behavior. While these labels may describe the child's symptoms, they do not address the underlying issue of the disrupted parent-child attachment.

  • Restoring Attachment: The key to regaining parental authority is to re-establish the child's attachment and dependence on the parent. This is not about teaching parenting skills or techniques, but about rebuilding the fundamental relationship between the parent and child.

  • Preventable and Reversible: Peer orientation, which undermines parental power, is not an inevitable outcome. It can be prevented and, in many cases, reversed through intentional efforts to strengthen the parent-child attachment.

From Help to Hindrance:

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Attachment Arranges the Parent-Child Hierarchy: Attachment automatically ranks the parent as the dominant, caregiving figure and the child as the dependent, care-seeking figure. When this hierarchy is inverted or flattened, it undermines the parent's authority and makes the child resistant to being parented.

  • Attachment Evokes Parenting Instincts and Increases Tolerance: Attachment behaviors from the child trigger the parent's caregiving instincts and make the child more endearing, increasing the parent's tolerance for the hardships of parenting. When attachment is weakened, the parent's instincts and tolerance are diminished.

  • Attachment Commands the Child's Attention: Attention naturally follows attachment - the stronger the attachment, the easier it is to engage the child's attention. Peer-orientation diverts the child's attention away from the parent.

  • Attachment Keeps the Child Close to the Parent: Attachment serves as an "invisible leash", keeping the child physically and emotionally close to the parent. Peer-orientation redirects this need for closeness towards peers instead.

  • Attachment Creates the Parent as the Child's Model: Children spontaneously model the behaviors, attitudes and values of the people they are attached to. When peers replace parents as the dominant attachment, they become the child's new models.

  • Attachment Designates the Parent as the Primary Cue-Giver: Attachment programming causes the child to automatically look to the parent for cues about expectations, rules and guidance. Peer-orientation shifts this cue-giving role away from the parent.

  • Attachment Instills the Desire to be Good for the Parent: Attachment creates an "attachment conscience" that motivates the child to behave in ways that maintain the parent's approval and connection. Peer-orientation undermines this desire to be good for the parent.

Counterwill: Why Children Become Disobedient

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Counterwill: Counterwill is an instinctive, automatic resistance to any sense of being forced or controlled. It is triggered whenever a person feels controlled or pressured to do someone else's bidding.

  • Purpose of Counterwill: Counterwill serves a twofold developmental function - it protects the child from being misled and coerced by strangers, and it fosters the growth of the child's internal will and autonomy.

  • Counterwill and Attachment: For well-attached children, counterwill is limited and fleeting, as the attachment power of the parent preempts the resistance. However, when children are not actively attached to the adults responsible for them, counterwill becomes magnified and pervasive.

  • Peer Orientation and Counterwill: Peer orientation turns the counterwill instinct against the very people the child should be looking to for guidance and direction, leading to constant resistance and defiance towards parents and other authority figures.

  • Mistaking Counterwill for Strength: The child's oppositionality is often mistaken for strength or willfulness, when it actually denotes the absence of genuine will and independence. The weaker the child's will, the more powerful the counterwill.

  • Leverage and Manipulation: Attempts to use rewards, punishments, or other forms of leverage to motivate the child often backfire, as they trigger the child's counterwill and erode the true power base of parenting - the attachment relationship.

  • Myth of the Omnipotent Child: Seeing the child's counterwill as a power play or a drive for omnipotence is a mistake, as it misses the child's true need and dependence on the parent, even if the child is trying to control the parent.

  • Responding to Counterwill: The best response to a child's counterwill is to strengthen the parental relationship and reduce reliance on force or manipulation, as these tactics only serve to further undermine the attachment and exacerbate the problem.

The Flatlining of Culture

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Tribalization of Youth: Today's teenagers have developed their own distinct language, values, music, dress codes, and identifying marks, creating a "tribe apart" from adult society. This tribalization of youth is a historically new phenomenon that disrupts social life.

  • Flatlining of Culture: The transmission of culture from one generation to the next is being eroded, as the values and culture flow horizontally among unlearned and immature peers, rather than vertically from adults to children. This "flatlining of culture" undermines the underpinnings of civilized social activity.

  • Peer Orientation and Cultural Transmission: When a child becomes peer-oriented, the transmission of culture from adults to children is disrupted. Instead, the child emulates the tastes, preferences, and cultural expressions of their peer group or popular media figures, leading to a culture generated by peer orientation.

  • Characteristics of Peer-Oriented Culture: The culture generated by peer orientation is sterile, unable to reproduce itself or transmit values to future generations. It is momentary, transient, and concerned only with what is fashionable at the moment, lacking any sense of tradition or history.

  • Tribalization within Peer-Oriented Culture: Within the broader peer-oriented culture, smaller subcultures and tribes form spontaneously, often along lines of grade, gender, race, or shared interests. These subcultures reinforce their differences and hostility towards those outside the group, leading to a fragmentation of society.

  • Lack of Universal Cultural Exposure: Many children are growing up bereft of exposure to the timeless creations and universal cultural legacy of humankind, knowing only what is current and popular among their peers.

  • Importance of Healthy Adult-Child Relationships: Healthy relationships with adult mentors, such as parents, teachers, and cultural creators, are essential for children to develop the psychological maturity necessary to appreciate and contribute to the universal cultural legacy of humanity.

The Dangerous Flight from Feeling

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Peer-oriented children lose their natural shield against stress: Attachment to parents provides a protective shield against the stresses and traumas of the outside world. When children become peer-oriented, they lose this natural protection, making them more vulnerable to emotional wounds.

  • Peer-oriented children become sensitized to insensitive peer interactions: Without the buffer of parental attachment, peer-oriented children become highly sensitive to the careless, irresponsible, and hurtful interactions of their peers, which can have a devastating impact on their emotional well-being.

  • Manifestations of vulnerability are shamed and exploited by peers: In the peer-oriented culture, any signs of vulnerability, such as tears, fear, or sensitivity, are often attacked and shamed by those who are already defended against their own vulnerability.

  • Peer relationships are inherently insecure: Peer relationships lack the maturity, commitment, and unconditional acceptance that characterize parent-child attachments. This inherent insecurity in peer relationships makes the vulnerability involved in these relationships unbearable for many children.

  • Peer orientation creates an appetite for vulnerability-reducing drugs: The intense need to escape feelings of aloneness, suffering, and pain drives many peer-oriented children to use drugs as emotional painkillers and to numb their vulnerability.

  • Invulnerability is a flight from the self: The emotional hardening and invulnerability imposed by peer orientation ultimately imprison children in their limitations and fears, depriving them of the capacity for growth, meaningful relationships, and self-expression.

Stuck in Immaturity

  • Maturation is a Predictable Process: Maturation follows a consistent and predictable order, involving first a process of differentiation or division, followed by a phase of increasing integration of the separated elements. This pattern holds true across biological and psychological domains.

  • Attachment is the Womb of Maturation: Attachment is the key to activating the process of maturation. Children need to experience a sense of secure attachment and unconditional love from their parents before they can shift their energy towards individuation and becoming a separate being.

  • Peer Orientation Stunts Maturation: Peer orientation impedes the development of children in five significant ways: 1) Parental nurturance cannot get through, 2) Peer attachments are inherently insecure and cannot bring a child to rest, 3) Peer-oriented children are unable to feel fulfilled, 4) Peer-oriented children cannot let go of futile desires, and 5) Peer orientation crushes individuality.

  • Immaturity vs. Maturity: Immature individuals, like the young children Sarah and Peter, exhibit traits like impulsiveness, egocentrism, and the inability to tolerate mixed feelings or hold conflicting thoughts and emotions simultaneously. Mature individuals, on the other hand, have developed the capacity for integrative functioning, which allows them to mix different perceptions, senses, thoughts, feelings, and impulses without becoming confused or paralyzed.

  • Fostering Maturation: Maturation cannot be commanded or taught directly. Instead, parents and educators need to create the right conditions by satisfying the child's attachment needs, providing unconditional love and acceptance, and making room for the child's emerging individuality and self-expression.

A Legacy of Aggression

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Aggression is a common and escalating problem in children, especially those who are peer-oriented. The chapter cites statistics showing a dramatic increase in violent incidents, assaults, and suicides among children and teenagers over the past few decades. This trend is linked to the rise of peer orientation in children.

  • Frustration is the driving force behind aggression. Frustration arises when our attachments and relationships do not work as we would like. For children, the greatest source of frustration is when their attachment needs are not met, especially as they become more peer-oriented.

  • Peer-oriented children are less able to effectively change their frustrating circumstances. They become desperate to secure their peer attachments, but their efforts are often futile, leading to further frustration and a higher likelihood of aggression.

  • Peer-oriented children are less able to adapt to frustration through feelings of futility and sadness. They suppress these vulnerable emotions, unable to let go and accept the limits of their control. This blocks the healthy transformation of frustration into adaptation.

  • Peer-oriented children have fewer mixed feelings about attacking. They lack the natural ambivalence and alarm that normally inhibit aggressive impulses. Their attachment to peers rather than family removes these mitigating forces.

  • The more peer-oriented a child becomes, the more inclined they are towards aggression, but also the less responsive they are to parental discipline. This creates a vicious cycle that is difficult to break without addressing the underlying issue of misdirected attachments.

The key concepts in this chapter are: frustration as the driving force of aggression, the role of attachment and peer orientation in fueling frustration and inhibiting adaptation, and the self-reinforcing nature of peer orientation and aggression in children.

The Making of Bullies and Victims

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Bullying is a result of a failure in attachment, not a moral failure: Bullying behavior arises when children lack proper attachments to nurturing adults and are instead oriented towards their peers. This leads to a breakdown in the natural hierarchy of attachments and the development of destructive dominance behaviors.

  • Bullies seek dominance without caring: Bullies have a strong drive to dominate others, but lack the corresponding sense of responsibility and care for those they dominate. They exploit the vulnerabilities of others to elevate their own status, rather than assuming a caretaking role.

  • Triggers for bullying behavior: Bullies are triggered to attack when they perceive a lack of deference or submission from others, or when they witness displays of vulnerability. They are hypersensitive to any perceived challenge to their dominance.

  • "Backing into attachments": Bullies cannot directly express their need for attachment and connection, so they instead try to establish relationships indirectly by distancing from and denigrating others. This allows them to avoid the vulnerability required for genuine attachment.

  • Peer orientation breeds both bullies and victims: The shift away from adult-oriented attachments towards peer-oriented relationships creates the conditions for the emergence of bullying dynamics. Both bullies and victims are products of this breakdown in the natural attachment hierarchy.

  • Addressing bullying requires restoring proper attachment relationships: Attempts to simply modify bullying behavior through punishment or moral exhortation are ineffective. The only way to "unmake" a bully is to reintegrate the child into a healthy attachment hierarchy with nurturing adult caregivers.

  • Victims need adult attachments too: Children who are too peer-oriented and cut off from adult support are at greatest risk of becoming victims of bullying. Restoring their ability to depend on and be vulnerable with caring adults is key to protecting them.

A Sexual Turn

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Sex as an Expression of Attachment Hunger: Peer-oriented adolescents often use sex as a means to satisfy their unfulfilled attachment needs, rather than as an expression of genuine intimacy. They seek closeness and belonging through sexual interactions with their peers, rather than through their relationships with their parents.

  • Sexuality and the Flight from Vulnerability: Repeated sexual experiences can lead to emotional hardening and a desensitization to vulnerability in adolescents. This can impair their ability to form deep, intimate connections later in life.

  • Lack of Maturity in Adolescent Sexuality: Adolescents often lack the necessary maturity, impulse control, and consideration for others to engage in healthy sexual relationships. They are more susceptible to exploitation, bullying, and making poor decisions regarding sex.

  • Peer Orientation and Precocious Sexuality: Adolescents who are highly peer-oriented are more likely to become sexually active at a younger age and to engage in sexual behaviors that are divorced from intimacy and emotional maturity.

  • Importance of Adult Guidance and Attachment: When adolescents are not oriented towards their parents or other trusted adults, they are more likely to turn to their peers for guidance and fulfillment of their attachment needs, which can lead to precocious and unhealthy sexual behaviors.

  • Limitations of Focusing on Behavior Change: Attempts to address the hypersexuality of peer-oriented adolescents by focusing solely on changing their sexual behaviors are often misdirected. The root issue is their peer orientation, which must be addressed to make a meaningful difference in their sexuality.

Unteachable Students

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Peer Orientation Extinguishes Curiosity: Curiosity is a luxury that requires energy not being used to pursue safe and secure attachments. Peer-oriented students are preoccupied with peer attachment and become bored by anything not serving that purpose. The "flight from vulnerability" of peer-oriented children also inhibits their own and others' curiosity.

  • Peer Orientation Dulls the Integrative Mind: Integrative intelligence, the ability to process contradictory impulses and see things from multiple perspectives, requires emotional investment and vulnerability - qualities lacking in peer-oriented students. Their immature, singular-minded thinking impairs their ability to solve problems, discern deeper meanings, and learn beyond rote memorization.

  • Peer Orientation Jeopardizes Adaptive Trial-and-Error Learning: Peer-oriented students are unwilling to take the risks involved in trying new things and making mistakes. They also struggle to acknowledge and learn from their errors, as doing so would expose their vulnerability. Their inability to experience futility prevents them from adaptively modifying their learning strategies.

  • Peer Orientation Transforms Students into Attachment-Based Learners: When emergent, integrative, and adaptive learning processes are suppressed, students can only learn through attachment to a teacher or mentor. But peer orientation misdirects their attachments, rendering teachers ineffective and students focused on conforming to their peers rather than learning.

  • Peer Orientation Renders Studies Irrelevant: For peer-oriented students, academic subjects become disconnected from the all-important goal of peer attachment. They fail to see the value of education in opening minds, expanding horizons, and developing as a person.

  • Peer Orientation Robs Students of Their Teachers: Peer-oriented students do not see teachers as mentors or authorities to be loyal to. Instead, they learn from their peers during unstructured times, undermining the teacher's role and power to guide their development.

Key terms:

  • Integrative intelligence: The ability to process contradictory impulses and see things from multiple perspectives.
  • Attachment-based learning: Learning that is dependent on a strong emotional connection to the teacher or mentor, rather than internal motivation or adaptive processes.
  • Peer orientation: The preoccupation with peer relationships and conformity to the peer group, at the expense of attachment to and learning from adults.

Collecting Our Children

  • Collecting our children: The need to draw our children under our wing and make them want to belong to us and with us, as parents and teachers, to compensate for the cultural chaos of our times.

  • The attachment dance: The instinctive behaviors we use to call forth one another's attachment responses, consisting of four distinct steps: getting in the child's face/space in a friendly way, providing something for the child to hold on to, inviting dependence, and acting as the child's compass point.

  • Importance of relationship-building: The primary goal in all our connections with children should be the relationship itself, not just their conduct or behavior.

  • Greeting and reconnecting: The importance of greeting and reconnecting with children, especially after any separation, to reestablish the attachment context.

  • Providing something to hold on to: Offering children something to attach to, such as attention, affection, or physical contact, in a spontaneous and genuine way, rather than as a reward or in response to demands.

  • Inviting dependence: The need to invite children's dependence on us, rather than pushing them towards premature independence, to support their natural maturation process.

  • Acting as the child's compass point: The importance of orienting children to their world and guiding them, even as they get older, to keep them emotionally close.

  • Reclaiming peer-oriented children: Strategies for separating peer-oriented children from their peers and then actively collecting them back into a strong attachment relationship with the parent or caregiver.

Preserve the Ties That Empower

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Making the Relationship the Priority: The relationship between parent and child should be the highest priority, even when dealing with problems or issues. Parents should convey unconditional acceptance and avoid criticizing the child's behavior when upset, as this can damage the relationship.

  • Parenting with Attachment in Mind: The natural sequence of development is first attachment, then maturation, and finally socialization. Parents should address the relationship first before focusing on the child's behavior or societal fit.

  • Helping Your Child Keep You Close: Children attach through different means (senses, loyalty, feeling important, warmth, understanding), and parents should use techniques to help the child stay connected during physical separation, such as providing reminders, recordings, or involving other caregivers.

  • Cultivating Intimacy: The deepest connection is cultivating a profound intimacy where the child feels deeply known and understood by the parent, which can transcend physical separation. This is best done as a preventive measure before the child becomes peer-oriented.

  • Creating Structures and Imposing Restrictions: Parents should establish structures that cultivate connection (e.g., family meals, activities) and restrictions that limit peer interaction, as peer orientation can erode the parent-child relationship. These work best for prevention, not for peer-oriented children.

  • Restrictions on Peer Contact: Restrictions on peer interaction should be indirect and proactive, not punitive. Parents need to have the attachment power to enforce these restrictions, and be prepared to endure the child's frustration and aggression. The goal is to replace peers with the parent, not just separate the child from peers.

  • Confidence and Commitment: Implementing these strategies requires confidence, patience, and a steadfast commitment to the child's best interests, as it may go against prevailing cultural norms and the child's own desperate desires.

Discipline That Does Not Divide

  • Connection before Direction: The principle of "connection before direction" emphasizes the importance of first establishing emotional closeness with the child before providing guidance or direction. This helps minimize resistance and negative reactions from the child.

  • Relationship over Incident: When problems occur, the focus should be on working on the relationship, not just addressing the specific incident. This involves preserving the attachment and restoring calm, rather than confronting the behavior immediately.

  • Facilitating Adaptation: Instead of trying to teach a lesson, parents should help the child adapt to limitations and unfulfilled desires by drawing out the child's tears and letting futility sink in. This allows the child to learn spontaneously through the adaptive process.

  • Soliciting Good Intentions: Parents should aim to solicit good intentions from the child, rather than just demanding good behavior. This involves eliciting the child's own desire to comply, rather than imposing the parent's will.

  • Drawing out Mixed Feelings: Instead of trying to stop impulsive behavior directly, parents should draw out the child's mixed feelings that can moderate the impulse, allowing the child to develop self-control from within.

  • Scripting Desired Behavior: For children who lack the maturity for self-control, parents can script the desired behavior by providing cues and modeling, rather than just demanding mature behavior.

  • Changing the Child's World: When the child's behavior is resistant to other disciplinary methods, parents can try changing the child's environment and circumstances to reduce triggers for the problematic behavior, rather than just trying to change the child directly.

Don't Court the Competition

  • Peer Orientation is Dangerous: Peer orientation, where children replace their attachment to parents with attachment to peers, is a major threat that can lead to various negative outcomes like increased aggression, loss of respect for authority, prolonged immaturity, and emotional hardening.

  • Socializing Does Not Lead to Socialization: The common belief that socializing with peers leads to the development of social skills and the ability to get along with others is not supported by evidence. In fact, the more time children spend with peers, the less likely they are to develop genuine social integration and responsibility.

  • Friendship Requires Maturity: True friendship, based on mutual respect and individuality, is not possible until a certain level of psychological maturity has been achieved. Before that, children need attachments, not friends.

  • Boredom Indicates a Need for Attachment and Emergence: Boredom in children is a sign that their attachment needs are not being met and their sense of self has not sufficiently emerged. Filling this void with peer interactions only exacerbates the problem.

  • Peers Do Not Enhance Self-Esteem: Relying on peer approval and acceptance for a child's self-esteem is problematic, as it leads to a contingent, insecure self-esteem rather than one that is independent and intrinsic.

  • Peers are Not Substitutes for Siblings: While peers can provide social interaction, they cannot replace the unique attachment and relationship that siblings share, which is rooted in the child's attachment to their parents.

  • Emergent Play is More Beneficial than Social Play: Children need time for emergent, solitary play to foster their creativity, imagination, and curiosity, rather than being constantly engaged in social play with peers.

  • Moderation is Key: While some peer interaction is natural and acceptable, parents should be cautious about over-exposing their children to peers, especially in the absence of strong attachments to caring adults.

Re-create the Attachment Village

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Attachment Village: In the past, children grew up in cohesive communities with extended families, mentoring adults, and shared cultural activities. This "attachment village" provided a sense of rootedness, belonging, and connection that supported children's development. However, this traditional attachment village no longer exists in most modern societies.

  • Recreating the Attachment Village: To compensate for the loss of the traditional attachment village, parents must consciously work to re-create functional "villages of attachment" within which to raise their children. This involves developing a supporting cast of caring adults and fostering connections between children and these adults.

  • Developing a Supporting Cast: Parents need to value and foster relationships between their children and interested adult friends, extended family members, and other caring adults who can serve as surrogate parents or mentors. Socializing should cultivate these hierarchical connections across generations, rather than just peer-oriented activities.

  • Matchmaking with Responsible Adults: Parents must take an active role in "matchmaking" their children with the adults (e.g., teachers, coaches, babysitters) who will be responsible for their care. This involves facilitating friendly first impressions, endearing the child and adult to each other, and passing the "attachment baton" as the child transitions between caregivers.

  • Defusing Attachment Competition: Parents must be proactive in defusing potential competition between their own attachment to the child and attachments the child may form with other adults (e.g., divorced parents, stepparents) or with peers. This may involve facilitating positive interactions between the child and competing attachment figures, or actively involving themselves in the child's peer relationships.

  • The Importance of Parenthood: Childhood is a function of immaturity, and true parenthood is a matter of relationship. As childhood extends and parenthood decreases, peer orientation becomes a threat, depriving children of the innocence, vulnerability, and guidance they need for healthy development. Parents must hold on to their children until they can hold on to themselves.


What do you think of "Hold On to Your Kids"? Share your thoughts with the community below.