Monday, May 6, 2013

Unschooling, part 9: How schooling/force/control affected me (and probably other parents)

When, as a parent (or a teacher), I felt like my job was to control or force (as necessary) Maggie (or my students) to comply, it made me feel and act like a freaking jerk. And it made Maggie and I adversaries. I was fighting to get her to do x and she was fighting me basically on principle. No one likes being controlled or forced. And because I had it in my head that's what a good parent does, it made me feel angry at Maggie. I didn't see Maggie as defending herself but as a bad kid trying to screw with me. What a horrible way to think about my daughter.

I don't want to fight with Maggie and when I stop trying to force, manipulate, and control her, she makes better choices. She chooses to help me clean up or to do something nice for me.

When I first heard about unschooling and not forcing or controlling kids, I thought it couldn't possibly work because of course kids won't eat their vegetables or choose books over TV or whatever. But the truth is they will. Or not, that's not even the point. It's this negative opinion of your kids as someone who must be controlled because they aren't capable of thinking or deciding anything. If you have equal access to candy, cookies, veggies and fruit, what does it matter which you pick? If you only see candy twice a year, hell yes, you will binge on the candy.

In the end, for me, I will not be the obstacle my daughter must get around (usually, at any cost) to get what she wants. The more I restrict, the more she will want whatever is restricted.

So what if instead, I model making (what I consider) good choices. I talk about why I make the choices I make. And then I let her make her own choices. If I notice she's complaining about a stomach ache after eating a ton of junk, I could talk to her about how that food tastes yummy but often leaves us feeling like crud. Or if I eat junk, talking about it makes me feel like crud. How much better I feel when I eat good, whole foods.

Unschooling, Part 8: Discipline

When I think of discipline, I definitely think of punitive measures: spanking, time out, losing privileges/toys. I spanked Maggie one time. She was almost two and I hadn't decided yet what I thought about spanking. One night Maggie and I were laying in bed in the dark, she reached over and hit me in the face. I don't remember why she was upset (nor did I particularly care at the time) but it hurt like hell (because it was dark, I didn't realize it was coming and didn't flinch or move or anything). So I reached over and spanked her twice hard. She immediately started crying and saying she wanted someone to protect her. That was a bad moment. I apologized to her and I decided then and there I would never spank again. As they say on the unschooling boards, I took it out of my toolbox.

Then I primarily used time out. At first it seemed successful but eventually she didn't care. I've tried various counting and revoking privileges and taking away toys.

When I think about all of this, I see the same problem with every one of these tactics. None of them deal with the problem. Why was Maggie hitting me in face? Why was acting up or out? What did she need that I wasn't providing? Attention, food, drink, sleep, affection, understanding? And how much more distance was I putting between us by punishing her for trying to get her needs met?

What I do now is try to remove her from the situation (if possible or necessary) and talk to her or hug/hold her or just sit with her. I try to tell her I love her.

My main observation of needing discipline is this: when I'm engaged with whatever Maggie is doing, she rarely acts up. When I've got my head stuck in my lap top, she tends to act up. That's definitely something I can change.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Unschooling, Part 7: Respect

I saw an acronym on one of the unschooling pages. It is RATS: Respect, Acceptance, Trust, Support.

I love that. The respect thing is huge. When I step back and really look at it, I realize how often I was/am so disrespectful to Maggie. I say things that I would never say to another adult. I drag her all over with no explanation and tell her she's not allowed to touch anything or wander off. I control her entire day with no input for what she wants. Wow. I never really thought about it before because that's just parenting, right? But I don't think so anymore. Just making small changed I am already seeing a huge difference in her behavior. She is so much more affectionate with her words and actions.

I am trying to be very respectful in my words. If/when I mess up, I apologize without a but (ie, I'm sorry but. . . ). I talk to her about what she wants to do, while offering her a wide range of choices. When we go to a store, I tell her she can buy one thing and I explain why I need her to stay in my line of vision, although I am trying to let her wander a little more. I'm planning on having her work on lists with me when we go to stores.

I am trying to let her lead. I lay out several options and let her pick. I talk about what scheduled things we have but I don't force her to even go to those. I'm not sure where I'm eventually going to stand on this. If we are signing up for classes she picks, should I insist on her going? I feel like no but I'm not really sure. She might be too young to make that decision and I just go unless she seems resistant to the actual class (like she was with ballet).

Acceptance. So this means a few things to me. One is to stop projecting what I want Maggie to be/do/etc. I want her to be interested in the same things I'm interested in but that's silly and it's not fair to her. She likes things I don't like and I need to accept and respect that. Beyond that I'm not sure. I feel like I'm very accepting of her.

Trust. This one is huge and has changed so, so much for me. One, trust that Maggie is a good person and is doing her best and wants to make good choices and be helpful. Don't assume she'd never help out/watch TV 24/7/eat only junk if I didn't force her to do otherwise.

Another is to trust that learning WILL happen without my interference or trying to teach her. This is so freeing. I have a huge list of things I want to do with her and show her and take her to. I don't have to constantly look for the educational moment in everything. She gets what she gets and she's learning every second of every day. I don't have to force reading lessons on her or math or writing. She'll learn those things when she needs them. There is so much more to be said about this but honestly this was one of the easier things to accept. I've seen this in my life as a student, a teacher and a mom. I didn't teach Maggie to talk or crawl or walk. She did those things because they were useful to her.

Support. This one's easy and really hard. Just support what she's interested in. Support her when she's sad or angry. Don't be punitive or mean. Don't control. Don't LEAD. Support.