Articles about unschooling

How do I teach my child to respect me?

This is a question I’ve been asked many times and it’s one that I spent years trying to figure out for myself.

It’s a question that was in my head most days while my youngest son was going through his swearing phase.

His swearing phase lasted many years and gradually became more dramatic as he explored the full scope of swearing and learned new words. His swearing was almost always directed at me and was literally in my face. How do you react when your 14 year old child calls you a “f**king bitch?

Some would regard this as a sign of my “failure” as a parent.
Many would see it as cause for immediate punishment of the child.
But I’ve always chosen peaceful and conscious parenting, so I didn’t go down the punishment path. There were no  “consequences” imposed on him and I didn’t shame or shun him. I didn’t even lecture him.

Instead of punishment I applied the Golden Rule: “treat others as you would like them to treat you.”  I gave to my son what I wanted to receive: respect.

Treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Ancient wisdom

I chose to model respectful communication, even in the face of being called a “f**king bitch”.

But making this choice and actually DOING IT turned out to be very different things. 

Despite my best intentions I still got triggered. My “buttons” were well and truly pushed and experienced some big emotional reactions. I yelled. I swore. I cried.

To model respect I had to unlearn my emotional reactions. I had to get rid of the buttons so they couldn’t be pushed. I was being called into a deeper level of self-respect and awareness.

How do I teach my child respect in a respectful way?

  1. Apply First Aid

When my son swore at me I would sometimes get upset. I would feel hurt. So I practiced applying First Aid to myself by making space to stop and deal with my feelings. I learned to simply “be there” for my own disturbed emotions until they passed. I was aware of the rush of emotional energy, but I discovered that I didn’t have to act on it or even express it verbally. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I said “I’m feeling hurt” or “I’m angry”. 

Quite often I said “I don’t like to be talked to like that.” I made it clear that I wanted to be talked to in a respectful way. I’m sure he understood my dislike of his choice of language. And yet, my child was not able to give me what I requested in that moment.

It was OK to ignore the words and see past what he said to connect with the child that was upset, angry or struggling.

I learned that it is also OK to just walk away without saying anything. This was sometimes the most self-respectful thing I could do.

  1. Remove the buttons

This bit was better done once I’d calmed down and had a bit of time to myself. It wasn’t a quick fix, but rather a process of inner work. Unlearning takes some time.

My practice for removing those inner “buttons” was one of self-inquiry. I investigated what I was thinking about the situation.

I asked myself questions like this one: “Do I believe that I’m a f**king bitch right now?”

The answer is usually a resounding NO!

Once I was clear that I didn’t believe what my son said, it didn’t matter any more. I didn’t want to give these words any power over me. They didn’t have to mean anything to me. The emotional charge that occurred within me when I heard those words started to dissolve.

The other question that I liked to ask myself was “Have I ever been a f**king bitch?”

The answer was a resounding YES!

I could easily find the times that I’d attacked my son with angry words, judged him harshly or put him down. When I was really honest with myself there were lots of times that I’d been a “f**king bitch. If I owned my own shadow rather than protecting or hiding it, the impulse to defend myself or attack was diffused. This made it a whole lot easier to just hear what my son said and to walk away or move on without a big emotional reaction. 

Each time I practiced the First Aid and this self-inquiry I felt more peaceful and clear. The strength of my emotional reactions gradually decreased to the point that I can now handle swearing without any hurt feelings. It’s like water off a duck’s back.

  1. Notice that he’s doing the best he can at this moment. 

Before I’d done the inner work to remove the buttons there were many times that I reacted to my child swearing at me by projecting a judgment onto him. I’d often think “he’s rude” or “he’s being an arsehole”. Occasionally I’d be rude right back at him. I didn’t do this because I wanted to relate to my child in this way. I didn’t ever want to be that disrespectful, but sometimes it happened anyway. The truth is – I was doing the best I could at that moment. It helped to accept that rather than beat myself up. If the inner critic got fired up, the end result was me feeling A LOT worse and usually taking it out on those close to me.

If I could see my child’s outburst in the same way it helped to diffuse the situation. I reminded myself of Ross Greene’s wonderful book “The Explosive Child” which has a whole chapter entitled “Children do well if they can.” 

An explosive outburst – like other forms of maladaptive behaviour occurs when the cognitive demands being placed upon a person outstrip that person’s capacity to respond adaptively.

Ross Greene

When I read this I remembered that both me and my son were still learning how to handle our emotions in the kindest way possible. We were both doing the best that we could and we were both learning and growing.

The result?

I’m very happy to say that as I gradually unlearned my tendency to judge and verbally attack my son, that he gradually learned how to handle and express his feelings differently.

Once I could consistently model respectful communication, even in the face of his swearing at me, I felt so much happier and more peaceful. My emotional reactions were no longer fueling his emotional reactions.

His swearing phase has passed. He’s finally grown out of it.

What is even better than that, is that I have been liberated from my old patterns of reacting. A win – win if ever I heard of one.

Unschooling means letting go of the work ethic

If you choose a path of unschooling and you let your child play and learn by following their own interests it’s almost guaranteed that you will freak out from time to time. During my 15 years of unschooling my two sons I freaked out often. One of the top causes of my stress and anxiety was that my children’s natural learning clashed with the beliefs about work that I’d picked up in my own childhood. 

Natural learning is a wonder to observe. Anyone who has children has seen it in action. It’s amazing to observe young children learn how to crawl and walk. They keep at it until they have mastered it and they care nothing about how many times they fall over or how long it takes them to get where they want to go. They learn in a playful and joyful way that is motivated from within themselves. This natural desire to learn goes on and on as it is applied to all sorts of new knowledge and skills. Until somehow learning becomes corrupted, stressful and hard work.

Did that happen to you?

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Is unschooling turning out different than you hoped?

I hear people say “I see all those unschoolers with kids following their passion for art, science or writing …….. and all my son wants to do is to play video games all day.”

When I began unschooling my two sons 15 years ago, I had no idea about what I was doing or what unschooling was supposed to look like. I was completely clueless, and this turned out to be a blessing. 

When you have expectations about how home education or unschooling is going to look for your family, you run a high risk of becoming frustrated, stressed and anxious when it doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped. 

When you have expectations, you have an agenda. This can feel tight, heavy or pressured – not fun to be around. 

There is also the danger of falling into painful comparisons between your family and those families who make it all look cool and easy.

It might not be video games. It might be that your child likes to watch movies on repeat or endless YouTube videos. Or they might be a daydreamer that doesn’t stick to any interest for long. Or perhaps they really like your attention and involvement in their day and they don’t seem to be “self-directed” enough for unschooling. 

Whatever the problem seems to be, I’d like to invite you to investigate further. I’m not suggesting that you try and “fix” or change your child or your own approach to unschooling. I’d like to suggest that the problem is in the way you are thinking about the situation. 

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I wouldn’t use force to teach my children – so I had to find another way.

I’m writing this in case you don’t want to force your child to do things, but you feel pressure all around you. Maybe you feel pressure to force your child to go to school or to sit down and do schoolwork at home or to take away their iPad – and it doesn’t sit well with you. In your heart you know you don’t want to force. You don’t want to nag, lie or manipulate your children either, but you’re not sure what else to do. I want you to know that you’re not alone in this and that I understand. I felt that pressure greatly at times and I didn’t like it at all. I’d like to give you some inspiration and encouragement to stay true to your desire to live peacefully and respectfully with your children. I want you to know that you can find a path forward that doesn’t require force.

Long before I thought about having children I’d developed an aversion to people using force over others. It was probably all those years I spent studying and teaching Law at university that did it; I was sickened by the many ways that people assert power over others and how the use of force is entrenched so deeply in our culture and legal system. While the use of force and punishments might seem less severe now than they did in the days when flogging and other corporal punishments were common, the society we live in is still largely built around the use of force. It shows up in conventional parenting practice all the time. Physical punishment such as smacking is still common and legal and isolation punishment such as “time out” or “grounding” is widely recommended. Punishment is just one way parents try to make their children comply with what they want.

This cultural acceptance of the use of force means that we often don’t see it clearly for what it is, and we don’t notice how our educational institutions are also built on it. I didn’t see the force used against children in the education system clearly until I had children of my own.

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What is deschooling and why does it matter?

Deschooling is not a clearly defined concept and means different things to different people. I’m going to share my own personal perspective on it after 15 years of unschooling rather than try and pull together what others have said. 

Some people use it to describe the process by which children recover from unpleasant experiences they have had at school and rediscover their natural love of learning. This is usually seen as a short term thing. I’ve also heard it used in relation to adults who want to take their education into their own hands rather than rely on universities or college. 

For others, deschooling is about parents getting out of a school mindset and actively supporting their children in a child-led or self-directed learning process. I recently saw it described like this in a post on Facebook: 

“Deschooling is an important process in the unschooling philosophy- it’s about you moving from viewing school-like activities as valuable learning through to seeing and understanding the value and connection in learning through all aspects of life.” 

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Will my unschooled child ever learn to read?

Do you have a child who is “late” to learn reading and/or writing by school standards? Do you worry about it? 

Do you try and push your child to do more reading or writing? 

Is it a source of stress or conflict in your relationship with your child? 

Are you interested in self-directed learning or unschooling? 

If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, I’d like to tell you a little story. Not to brag. Just to encourage you to question your fears about your child’s learning and to trust in the process of self-directed learning (if that’s what you want to do). 

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If you have sensitive, free-spirited children like I do, then you know that rules and restrictions create problems. 

If you place yourself in the role of the controlling parent whose job it is to make and enforce the rules you create a lot of conflict and emotional pain. You’re also going to be the one inflicting punishments and “consequences” and I bet you know how awful that feels. 

But what happens when you get hemmed in by rules imposed by others? 

We live in a society with law-making processes and enforcement through punishment. It’s stressful to live in fear of punishment, so I aim to follow the law or at least to find a way to live in harmony with it. 

Living in harmony with the law doesn’t have to mean the end of freedom in family life. 

For over 15 years I’ve lived with my husband and two sons in a “family bubble” of freedom, play and learning.

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My deschooling journey: how I came to love home education.

I’ve been a home educator for a long time now. At the time of writing my eldest son is 18 and my youngest son is 14 and they’d both been home educated their whole lives, until my eldest son decided to try out high school when he turned 17. It’s been a very interesting, and a times challenging, home education journey and I’ve done a lot of deschooling over the years. This article is going to be about my process of deschooling over that long period. I’ll also be sharing the tool that I used to question my thinking and to dissolve my school mindset.

Starting from the beginning……..

I have a very “schooly” background because I come from an academic family. My Dad was a university professor, my Mum taught at university and I had a university education myself. I taught at university before I had children. So it was a very academic environment. Obviously, the “academic” type or style of learning was very highly valued in my family. I had kids quite late when I already had a career teaching Law. I had my eldest son when I was 35 and he changed SO much in my life. I’d never been more in love and I’d never been more emotional and sleep deprived.

Things changed even more when my son got to four years old. That was when he dropped out of preschool. He had been enrolled in preschool two days a week and had enjoyed it, but it had always been quite stressful for him. He’d started to have really big meltdowns after preschool and to resisting going and it was getting very stressful. When he was four and a half, he just refused to go anymore. He told me he just wanted to stay at home with me and his little brother. I was left thinking, well, what do I do now? I can’t get him to go to preschool. How’s he going to fit into a school environment?

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