If I had to make a general rule for living and working with children it might be this: be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult whose good opinion and affection you valued – John Holt
The thing about unschooling is that very quickly it does flow into other areas of your life.
How can you be respectful about what your child is doing, letting them go on as long as they need, finish when then need, answer their endless questions honestly and clearly and then threaten them if they don’t eat their broccoli?
When you have an honest and respectful relationship with your child that has untold repercussions into the rest of your family life. Radical unschooling is the term often used which describes a life which means complete freedom for all. By that I mean everyone getting their needs met as much as possible. This is the ultimate goal for us all, getting our needs met. We are conditioned to think that this is selfish and selfish is bad. Selfish is good! You are no use to anybody unless you are being fulfilled, your needs are being met and you are happy.
This goes for adults and for children as well. Give your children what they want, help them to meet their needs.
I was just on the phone to a friend, when she said “Oh no!”, her 2 year old was tipping cumin and mustard seeds into all the dirty dishes in the sink. Then she said, he was so happy, so focused, so into mixing and cooking and was having such a great time, so she just left it. She was so happy for him to be in such a great place and grateful to able to let him continue with what he was doing.
Children are people too!!
I so often want to cry this out in the street, at the supermarket (especially there). I imagine a great experiment to do would be to put parents into the position of their children for a day, or longer…So they then experience what their children do. They are spoken to, have the same expectations put upon them, treated in the same way all day. I often think that when I am talking to my kids – Would I like to be told that, spoken to like that? It is a good check for me. It is just “Do unto others…” all over again.
This throws up alot of questions for parents – sleep, bed, screens, going out….
And yes, how do you live respectfully with a bunch of other people?
I am so grateful to know about NVC, Non Violent Communication. A fantastic book/programme by Marshall Rosenburg. This is all about meeting your needs and showing your kids how to meet theirs. Since I have started using even just the basics our communication within our family and consequently the whole feeling in the house, is alot more peaceful and well, respectful. There is no blame, we are all equals, just trying to meet our needs.
Here is an example…. Charlie sleeps with us. I am really keen to be in bed by 10pm. So if Charlie is up playing and busy I will say. “Charlie I am really tired and need to go to bed. If you want to sleep with us tonight I need to you come to bed now to so you don’t wake me up later and we can have time for a cuddle/chapter of book etc.” This is all about me and getting my needs met. No blaming, no shaming, just asking for what I need.
It works so well in every part of everyday – “Hey guys I am really keen to have a tidy lounge floor, ” This is me saying what I need. I would then model kindness and offer to help tidy things away.
I am so lucky to have amazing friends who are all like NVC models so I copy alot of the way they speak to their kids. Just the inflection in their voices, the words they use.
“I am keen to….”
“I need to….”
“I feel like….and would love you to…”
I find if you respect what your children are doing and explain your needs, they are going to respond alot better, plus you are role modeling how to ask for what you want in life and how important it is to go out and get it.
My experience with kids is also that they are amazing problem solvers and think naturally outside the square (some of them live there permanently lucky things!!). So put the challenge out to them….”Right guys, I am really keen to have a bike ride with you all today, I can see you are all playing happily, when is the best time to go?”
And you know what I think? It is fine to resort to blatant bribery and corruption (and humour) . My kids are very used to that and can openly see it for what is it….”Right then (sort of John Cleese inflection here….) there is nothing for it, I will have to get out the big guns and bribe you with fruit leather/chocolate/picnic with chapters of current book being read etc….” That way we all get a walk, a laugh and chocolate!
And what about Respectful Eating? It is so incredibly bad to eat when you are not hungry. Bad for your digestion and can lead to more complicated problems down the track. Children seem to know this. They will say, I am not hungry. And good on them . I respect that . If you have some need to have a family dinner and have children who do not want to eat then tell them that. “I really want to have you come and eat with us, because I want to talk about ABC, would you come and just have a drink and chat? I can put your tea away for later.”
We have always had lovely family meals, with cool ’rounds’ where we all say something, or Wayne doing impersonations, or discussing a political issue. And everything passes. So with older children they have different needs, which I know will pass too (thanks to Kim and Dane for showing me that! – see the post on step parenting).
Hannah very rarely eats with us. I am fine with that. I am happy for her that she is so happy and is able to do what she needs. I will often take her food into her room as a gift (she is a gift person so I love to do this as I get so much love from her it is amazing for me!).
I constantly feed Charlie and his best friend while they play Star Wars Lego or teddies for hours. I just quietly put down plates of food every two, or so hours… There is no point whatsoever asking for preferences as they are so in the zone they will only look through you, I then imagine they are considering peanut butter or honey, but no they just continue their monologue….” imagine Darth Vader blasts…..”
Ollie is growing big time, has been for years now. So he has a huge meal, pudding, then as I am going to bed (he is a night owl) he says he is starving and goes off to get a bowl of Weetbix. I am so glad he can monitor his own food needs.
I enjoy parenting so much more when I am treating my children as people too. As equals, as other member of the family whose needs are just as important as mine. Life just flows well, we are all happy. All is well!