Unschooling Ourselves: Re-Thinking How We Interact With Our Kids

As a parent I DO have the right to:

Lead by example…

If there is one thing I have learned it is that my children learn by what I do, not what I say. It’s my own behavior they follow, not the list of “house rules” dutifully pinned on the bulletin board. If I speak in a tone of constant irritation, soon enough I start hearing this tone echoed all over my house.

As parents, it is easy to think it is our duty to control our children’s behavior. When really, all we can control is our own. We must model for them the tone and behavior we hope they will emulate. When I start to hear and see unkindness or impatience or quick-temperedness in my children, I have learned to turn my eyes inward and examine myself. They are my mirrors.

When we start to see things this way, parenting can provide the opportunity for endless personal growth.

I’ve found it to be helpful, when faced with a defiant or melting-down child, to change my thinking. Instead of asking “how do I change this behavior?” I think “thank you for this opportunity to practice patience”. This instantly swaps out the lenses through which I’m viewing the situation.

When I start to hear and see unkindness or impatience or quick-temperedness in my children, I have learned to turn my eyes inward and examine myself. They are my mirrors.

Keep my child and others safe…

Violence. It’s one of the most difficult things to know how to react to when one is trying to parent non-punitively. But let’s face it: the old paradigm of hitting a child for hitting is about as nonsensical as it gets. As is any kind of violent reaction on our part.

So what do we do instead?

When my children fight (and they do…but only every hour on the hour!), first I remind them simply “we don’t hit/pull hair/pinch/stick one’s fingers up your sisters nose”. But usually, if a child has gone as far as to lose their temper, then words are like using a spray bottle on a bonfire. One has to intervene. So I calmly remove the offending child to someplace where they can’t cause harm. I might tell them “sorry, I won’t let you hurt your sister. Take a minute to calm down.”

This is my line in the sand. Violence is not allowed. It’s good to try and communicate this firmly, with as few words as possible, but then let it go. Shaming, berating, and preaching at the offender only causes them to internalize their embarrassement. Instead, focus on comforting the child who was hurt.

When the offender returns, assume they are there to be sweet and make amends. Allow them to do so.

Get my own needs met…

We cannot pour from an empty cup. We hear it all the time, but so often we still try and attempt it! If we are running on empty, it is important to find ways to meet our own needs. This is our responsibility to ourselves, and to our children. Part of modeling is showing them how to prioritize self-care. What self-care means to you will probably look entirely different than for me or someone else. It is doing whatever makes you tick, whatever brings you joy, whatever makes you feel grounded and creative.

When I care for myself, I naturally have more patience for my children. When I don’t, I feel irritated with everyone. Prioritizing our own needs as well as theirs can do wonders for our parenting.

Say no…

Let’s face it parents, sometimes, because we are so used to meeting the needs of others, we unwittingly start to martyr ourselves. In an effort to be giving, we end up sacrificing our own authenticity. One cannot live harmoniously in relationship with any other human being if one does not feel able to say no. “No” is how we draw boundaries. Modeling healthy boundaries for our kids is very important.

When one is trying to parent gently, it’s easy to become uncomfortable with saying no. Why? Well, because often “no” is not a welcomed word. We try to so hard to make our children happy, that sometimes we forget that it is ok for them to experience unpleasant emotions. We naturally do, as humans, if our will is thwarted. Them having unpleasant emotions, even if they only have the capacity to express them in a flailing puddle on the floor, should not rouse our frustration. If anything, it should rouse our empathy.

But we still have to say no, even if we know it will cause a puddle. We are still the leader.

Let me toss in here the caveat that there are also a million moments in every day in which we can probably say “yes” instead. You want to wear your cinderella dress to the grocery store? Why not. You want to take off your clothes outside and smear you and your brothers from head to toe with mud? Sounds fun (and yes, my children do this. Don’t laugh, it’s called “mud monsters”, and we have a hose!). You want to eat three bananas in a row even though I’ve planned a gourmet dinner in a hour? Maybe you need the potassium.

But for all of those moments when we, for whatever reason, have to correct our children, or turn down a request, or insist they perform a task, or tell them to stop something they are doing, we should do so confidently and kindly, providing empathy for whatever emotions fly back at us.

Discipline (‘to teach’)…

And this leads us to the idea of discipline. Often we confuse the word discipline with punishment, when really they are very different concepts. Punishing someone means to make something unpleasant happen to them in payment for a wrongdoing. While discipline literally means ‘to teach and instruct’.

This pretty much sums up our job as parents. We are here to be their gentle guide, their teachers, instructing them (mostly by example!) in what is good, and right, and fair, and kind.

You can read more of Amanda Sharma’s beautiful work at her blog www.raisingunschoolers.com

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