Category Archives: Alternative Living and Learning

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The Angry Child – How Listening Can Deflate Big Emotions

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I want to tell a story. It’s one that was very pivotal in changing my parenting paradigm and one that has brought me closer to my kids and to myself– closer and more connected than I ever thought possible.

It used to be that when my kids had any kind of negative emotion, I felt as though I had to fix it. As fast as possible! That’s what good mom’s do, right? I might attempt to:

Change his feelings of anger into feelings of friendliness.

 Change his sad feelings to feelings of happiness.

 Change his feelings of frustration into feelings of success.

In any case, the focus was on changing and fixing. Just like putting a band-aid on a cut, I wanted a band-aid for scary emotions. It was entrenched in the fear that if my child is unhappy, I’m doing it all wrong. I was trying to handle the negativity in my child from an equally negative emotion: fear.

When my two boys were younger, the oldest acted out of anger towards his little brother a lot. He would even hit him, call him names and generally belittle him at every turn. I was so alarmed by this. I mean, I wanted a connected family – one in which we all loved each other and enjoyed spending time together. How was it possible that my older son had so much anger towards his own flesh and blood? What was I doing wrong?

At first, I dealt with this by just trying to make it stop! “Don’t hit your brother!” I might yell. “Go to your room if you choose to act like that!” was another. “He’s younger than you! Have a little patience.” I tried taking his beloved items away, putting him in time outs, talking to him about “good” behavior. Nothing seemed to help. The more I tried to make it stop, the angrier he seemed to become.

At this time in our lives I was deeply immersed in self-examination. I was learning about my own trigger points and what outer circumstances seemed to activate my own feelings of anger and other negative emotions. Observing the ways in which I dealt with anger within myself was key to learning how to help my child move through his own.

I began observing how triggered I became when my oldest son was “acting out” with his little brother. His behavior was triggering the anger that lived within me and I was then acting from my own anger by reacting to my older son. I examined this further and realized that sending him to his room and taking his stuff away was just a reaction from my own fear ~ the fear of anger.

Why was I afraid of anger? Anger was just an emotion, not a real thing you could touch or hold. I examined times from when I was a child and remembered incidents where I was the recipient of someone else’s anger. I saw how scary that was and why I had become so afraid of it. It dawned on me that it wasn’t anger I was afraid of but the REACTIONS triggered from anger that scared me to death.

If I was reacting from my own angry feelings by punishing and yelling, then my son must be reacting to his anger by hitting and terrorizing his little brother.

I got to thinking. What if we weren’t afraid of anger? Would we even need to react to it if we weren’t afraid of it? What if the feeling of anger was a message, from our inner self, trying to tell us something about our world or something about our needs? Would anger be scary then? What if we could make friends with our anger? How in the world could we do that?

And this is where my pivotal story begins… I started taking my older son out on “special days.” On these days I turned off my phone and took him any place he wanted to go (within reason of course). The goal was for us to just have fun together. I vowed to be fully present. No distractions from little brother or email or phone calls. I turned off my phone and put my focus on my son.

Many times we went bowling, putt-putt golfing or for a picnic in a park. It was a time for me to BE with him. It was also a time for me to observe myself; my thoughts, feelings and triggers.

On these special days, my son would sometimes start talking negatively about his little brother. At first, I noticed myself trying to change his mind. “But look at the good things about him.” I would say. “He’s not so bad. Remember when he helped you clean up that mess?” I watched as my older son withered when I said these things and it wouldn’t be long before he was ready to go home. He would shut down again. I felt at a loss.

Since one my goals on these outings was to observe myself and my own inner workings, I realized that by countering his negative feelings towards his younger brother with good thoughts, I was trying to change his mind again. I wasn’t doing it by punishing but I WAS doing it by not LISTENING.

I heard what he was saying with my ears but not with my heart. My listening was not validating how he felt. My responses were undermining his feelings. I realized it didn’t matter whether my son’s statements about his little brother were true or not, he just needed me to acknowledge how he FELT.

I asked myself, How would you feel if you were angry about something and were telling a friend about it and she was defending the other side? Would you want to continue telling her things?

Sometimes it feels good to verbalize our feelings. It helps us get to the other side of things; To hash out. To release. To move towards love, understanding and compassion.

So my son wasn’t asking for solutions. He needed someone to witness these strong emotions, in particular his anger that was triggering destructive responses. He needed a safe environment, where he could express how he was feeling.

When we went out again I was set. And my son complained about his younger brother again. I won’t go into the ins and outs of our conversation, however my responses were much different than before. They went something like this:

Yes, little brothers can be such a pain, can’t they?

 I get it! It’s hard to be the older brother.

 I understand why you would feel like hurting your brother when that happened.

 My gosh! I’m sure that is so annoying to deal with!

 As my son talked, I kept reminding myself:

Don’t fix, just observe.
Don’t change, just love.
The anger is not bad; it’s just an emotion.

His frustration came flooding out. He was angry with me too. For “never” listening to him. For “never ever” paying attention to what he needed. He cried and cried. I kept listening and validating. It was a scary moment and one that I was afraid was a never-ending supply of negativity. It was great practice for witnessing an emotion and staying with it without judging it.

I apologized. I kept loving eye contact. I didn’t defend his little brother and I didn’t defend myself. I sat openly with this child who was in so much pain and felt so unheard. I had compassion and empathy. I’d felt all of these things before too. I shared some of those times with him. To witness the emotion in him without judging it or being triggered myself was magical.

Eventually, what I thought would be a never-ending flow of complaints gave rise to a smile. My son was calm. Spent. He told me he loved me so much. And then, something I never expected happened.

He shared some good things about his brother. He talked about some of their good times together. As we continued to talk he said, “I’m a quiet kid, Mom. And my brother is loud and outgoing.” He looked me in the eye and continued, “We’re just so different and sometimes I just need time away from him.”

The light came on for me. He was sharing his NEEDS. The two boys shared a room and my oldest needed a place to be alone.

So we talked about how we could make that happen. Together, we made a plan. We worked out a way for the boys to have their own rooms. We agreed that their rooms were their private spaces and that they could go there any time they felt they needed time to themselves. We agreed to honor each other’s privacy. My oldest son agreed to go there when the angry feelings came, and to talk to me whenever he needed help navigating those emotions.

When we went home, he was excited to see his brother. He was happy again. They played Lego and the oldest helped the younger boy. He was compassionate and understanding, even when his little brother broke his Lego masterpiece on accident!

From that day on, my son felt like he could talk to me. He felt that his feelings were safe with me – good or bad. We were partners and I was no longer afraid of his anger. He didn’t need to REACT to anger anymore because he was learning to witness the anger and with my help figure out what need was not being met. Then he could willingly release the strong emotion.

It’s so easy to allow the emotions of others (including our kids) to trigger something in us that makes us want it to STOP. We want a quick fix. Our society tends to think that consequences are in order when a child is acting out. But does that work? Or does it make an already angry child angrier? If we punish or shut the anger down in some way, does it make the anger go away? Or does in burrow inside of the child (or inside of us) to fester and grow?

Perhaps our emotions, including the negative emotions, are a gift. Maybe they arise in an effort to help us become clearer about our preferences and needs. It could be that when we witness our emotions, without judging them, we come to clarity. Possibly it is better to witness these emotions with love rather than shut them down. It could be the key to more peace in our own lives and in the world.

All negative emotions come from a place of fear. Upon close examination, it’s always a fear of our needs not being met in some way or another. Meandering our way down to the core of the issue gives us choices and power.

When a child is angry, he or she needs love. The child needs someone who is not triggered by his outburst. It’s hard for an adult to do this if they are triggered themselves. If we are afraid of anger or if we want the anger (or sadness or any other challenging emotion) to stop immediately, we forego the gift that the emotion is offering.

As we look at the emotion objectively, as an observer, we open up a world of true possibility, not only for our children, but for ourselves as well. Our needs can then be met from a neutral place and anger is not a necessary vehicle through which we express our needs.

Here are 7 tips that I follow when faced with big emotions in my kids. Perhaps they will work for you too.

  1. Bite my tongue and don’t react. – I try to remember that the anger (or sadness or other negative emotion) is NOT my child. Notice the anger (or worry or fear) that comes up in ME when my child is angry and acting out. I pay attention to that and investigate my own emotions but don’t react to my child’s emotion. (of course if my child is acting out by hitting or destructive behavior, I deal with that in the moment, but don’t shame or punish the emotion).
  2. Look at my child with compassion.  This take practice but looking my child in the eyes with love – seeing the hurt he is feeling underneath the angry emotions – connects me to who my child really is. I become less reactive and it allows me to sink into the next steps.
  3. LISTEN. – When the time is right, I LISTEN but don’t try to change the emotion. I try to listen like my best friend would listen to me when I need support.
  4. VALIDATE – For example, “Yes, I can see why that would make you mad.”, “Wow, I can see what that would make you want to hit your brother.” No words are off limits. This allows the emotion to come out in constructive ways. There is relief when we can vent. Let the tears come and don’t try to make the anger/sadness go away. I try to let if flow out of them. I get to be the witness. I get to be the non-reactor.
  5. LOVE – I love them right where they are. They are NOT this strong emotion. They are beautiful beings have a very human experience. Zero in on the beauty of that child – beneath all of that big emotion.
  6. TRUST – I trust (and by this time know) that the emotion will pass. I give this lots of time. It may take a few times of being with my child before all of the anger has dispersed. When it does pass, I don’t immediately offer solutions. Instead, I ask questions. “How can we make this better for you?” “What steps can we take to meet those needs?” This helps get to the core of the issue.
  7. Take  steps to meet the need. If my child needs alone time, I make that happen. If they need a space to go to when they are feeling overwhelmed, I help them with that. I try to get creative and PARTNER with my child to create an environment in which he can thrive. This builds trust in our relationship and helps my child know how to handle BIG emotions constructively.
  8. REPEAT. This one is tough. It requires us to be willing to BE with those same emotions over and over again. But repeating these steps helps our children to trust that we will walk with them through strong emotions without fear or reactivity on our part. It not only helps them to feel safe but also eventually helps them to recognize strong emotions as they come up and they learn to handle them more effectively, even when we’re not there to help.

 

 

Michelle ConawayMichelle Conaway is mom to three wonderful kids and wife to her supportive husband, Stacy Conaway. She believes that all children deserve the right to evolve into who they were born to be rather than be shaped into something that someone else believes they should be.

Michelle started Texas Unschoolers in 2012 and since then has gone on to host the TexUns Conference held in the beautiful rolling hills of New Braunfels, Texas. You can connect with her on the Texas Unschoolers Facebook page and group. She also started the popular Creative Unschooling Kids Facebook group where children from all over the world share their passions.  

 

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Embracing Life Learning

 

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So many times, people ask, “How do you Unschool?” For me it has been a process of paradigm shifts and a lot of recalibrating what I thought I knew about life and raising and educating kids. Here are some of my processes. Perhaps they will be of benefit to you as well.

Letting go

Living in the moment

Loving life as it comes, the good and the not so good

Not trying to MAKE things happen

Getting into the flow

Letting go of doctrine

Letting go of old beliefs

Believing in the Magic of Life

Allowing myself and my kids to be WHO we are

Allowing myself and my kids to express what is within us (even when it’s uncomfortable for me)

Allowing Life to Unfold as it Unfolds

Letting go of Knowing

Living in the Question

Asking Questions

Being then Doing

Playing More, working Less

Questioning my thoughts, my agendas, my way of looking at things

Seeing from a broader prospective

Letting go of Judgment

Embracing Peace not problems

Embracing Gentleness

Realizing there are NO Problems, only situations

Trusting that life is always as it should be in this moment.

Basically, just finding the joy in life and living THAT with my kids. No judgment. No worries. No threat. Just living and learning freely though it all.

 

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The Traveling Unschooler, by Liza Rumery

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So you have decided not to send your child to school — not because of illness or trouble or family obligation or whatever. Rather, you decided not to send your child to school, because you wanted to do something else instead of it. You wanted to realize what might happen if your child grew and learned in a free environment, in his or her own unique way, on his or her own time. You actually turn your back on school — the system of education — and walk away with your child’s hand in yours and go forth into a completely open realm of endless possibilities of learning, because you can, and you want to see it come to fruition, understanding that it will. You decide that faith and trust and love and respect are enough ingredients for the process to work. You let go of the reins and move out of the way, exhaling all the while as the socially-created pressures of conformity, regiment and expectation melt away from you, making space for a different kind of relationship between you and your child, your child and the family, and the relationship that the child has with the Self.

That is unschooling.

But it isn’t about school anyway, it’s about the child and family first. It is a new road, a new approach. So what would you do if the hours were yours for the unpacking? How would you lead your life? What would your days look like? What might be the things of interest to your child that would last until he or she feels full? What would you like to expose your child to seeing or doing now that your calendar is free? Would you and your child stay home, make play dates, go to museums, go fishing, knit, mold clay, bake cookies, play tennis, draw, watch movies, read, build something, learn a language, learn to weld or, perhaps, do “nothing?” Just hang and be? Relax? Tune out? Sleep in? All of the above? It is fun to consider for sure, being immersed in the things that bring you and your child joy, maybe even finding out something completely unexpected.

That is also unschooling.

Our daughter has never been to school, so essentially she always has been an unschooler, going with the flow of what comes naturally to a child — play, learning and discovery. As she grew up, we did things in our hometown and surrounding areas, occasionally going out of town for a bigger scene. We looked for people and groups that do what we do, but we weren’t always successful. Often, Midwest winter weather created hinderances to gathering, and our rural setting created distance. Eventually, we yearned for more as a family. We wanted to go out in the world.

Now, at the wonderful age of seven, our daughter is a full time traveler. For us, this is unschooling.

Liza Trailer Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the years before having her, my husband and I traveled often, able to pack a small carry-on and fly off somewhere at a moment’s notice. We traveled to Spain and Mexico, Hawaii and Las Vegas. We’d meet friends or family wherever, whenever. But after we had our daughter, we traveled rarely. When we did, the small carry-on became a suitcase full of baby stuff, then kid stuff, and it wasn’t as much fun. In fact, is was work. Like most parents, I was exhausted. Furthermore, having a home and stuff kept us tied to one place, limiting our ability to travel. We missed traveling for pleasure, we missed traveling as lifestyle, and we no longer wanted to be obligated to our things. We wanted to honor experiences, so we decided to do something about it — this time, with kid in tow.

We sold all of our stuff, bought a travel trailer and decided to meander this giant country that is the United States until we’ve had our fill, and then we will head abroad. Because we work for ourselves and we are an unschooling family, we can travel freely, where time and the road are ours and being together is a priority.

Most of the unschoolers/homeschoolers we know stay in once place, because they are tied to job or committed to their communities. It is wonderful to feel rooted and part of something, and we like to meet folks like us in various places across the country living in this way. It’s a great way to become familiar with a region and see how other families live out their lives of doing things more naturally. But we feel that, given the opportunity, traveling as an unschooling family creates amazing bonding experiences and a world view unlike anything we have ever known. Freedom and experience make for a heart-pounding elixir.

Through travel, our daughter has an open mind about the next adventure — the next playground, the next zoo, the next hike, new people. She used to lament that she didn’t want to leave this or that campground or playground, but now she knows that we will find something new and/or unique somewhere else. Amazingly, she doesn’t want to go back to where we have been; she wants to continue going forward. She lives in the moment, which is a such a great aspect of unschooling, and is reinforced through travel.

We have experienced more intellectual conversations with our daughter since we have traveled; she is more mature and aware of the world. Although she sees other kids at campgrounds, she integrates on her time, because she enjoys hanging out with people of various ages or with us or by herself. She ponders what she wants to do, because she can. She is starting to be more self-serving regarding her activities, taking initiatives on creative projects, because she knows there are no time constraints. Her schedule is open. So much of this is true for unschooling families in community settings in a brick-and-mortar home. In fact, it is likely the way of life for most unschoolers. But traveling adds a few more layers to the experiences of the unschooling family, and we continue to witness it firsthand.

Liza and family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no doubt that unschooling found us and it is a path that we chose. It is also something that we strongly advocate now. Add the layer of travel and the unschooling world opens up to you that much more. If you are able to travel as a family, do it. Do it often. It is a wonderful, exciting, grounding, freeing experience to see the world with an unschooling lens. We know that this family is invested indefinitely. Hopefully, we’ll see you on the road!

Would you like to discuss travel and unschooling? Visit our forums here to discuss this post.

Liza Rumary Bio Pic

 

Liza likes to do a lot of things. Currently, she really likes to travel, write, read, swim, practice yoga and meditation and cook. She dreams of Spain and quiet places. She loves spending so much time with her family. And she believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Deepening the Parent Child Relationship

Child-Adult-HandsWe all crave human connection. The parent/child connection is one of the strongest of all.

But how do we really connect with our kids? Let’s explore a few ways we might tighten the bond.

Be In The Here and Now

How many times have you found yourself thinking about your kid’s future? If you’re like most parents, it’s pretty often. Will they be successful? Get a good job? Be in a good marriage? Develop the skills to maneuver through life’s challenges?

Many of us react to these thoughts, attempting to shape children into who we believe they should become and many times don’t even notice who they are – right now, in the present.

What if, for just a moment, we could let go of what their future might look like and be present with them right now? What kind of world could we create if we confronted our own fears and inadequacies and didn’t bequeath them to our children?

Being present with our children means being mindful of what is, today. Resisting the fact that he doesn’t like math for instance doesn’t make him better at math. Insisting that she dry those tears when she’s sad doesn’t magically make her happy. When we notice the “should” and “should not’s” that invade our thinking, we realize that our thoughts have hijacked this unique moment with our child. Perhaps instead of reacting we can ask, “If there were no tomorrow, how would I be with my child right now in this situation?”

What if our kids come with their own blueprint? Could our love and confidence in them be all they need to flourish in life? Can we have faith that what makes them tick now will lead them to the perfect tomorrow? If we challenge their every move and make demands on them because we’re caught up in their future, we lose something very precious; this moment in time, being with them just as they are. Meeting our kids today becomes an opportunity to know them and accept them here and now. It gives us a chance to embrace gratitude and discover gifts in the present. It puts laser focus on what is good today.

When we sincerely see our kids and value this day as it is, they know it. Only when we unconditionally accept them now – their thought processes, their interests, and their dislikes – are we making real connection with them. Connection builds trust. Trust establishes authentic relationship. We all want genuine relationships with our kids. And what’s more, they want it with us. Relationship now equals a future that will take care of itself.

REALIZE YOUR KIDS ARE NOT A REPRESENTATION OF YOU

Every human being is born unique, with distinct thoughts, ideas, creativity, gifts and fears. We may know this, however; many of us unconsciously view our kids as extensions of ourselves.

If we disapprove of their ideas, actions or lack thereof, we are embarrassed or ashamed. We might think, “Where did I go wrong?”

If we’re proud of their ideas or actions, we tend to take a bit of credit for raising them right. “I did good raising that one!”

Why do we do this? Why do we put so much of the focus on ourselves? In our society we tend to view our children as representations of “our” values, beliefs and goals. If our kids project the “appropriate” values, beliefs and goals, we feel we’ve done our job as a parent. If they don’t, we tend to feel that something is wrong with them or that we’ve somehow failed in our parental duties.

But what if our children were born with distinct ways of moving in the world? What if left alone with love and acceptance from us, our kids’ ideas could morph into concepts that change the world for the better? Is it possible that we’re focused on who our kids should be, rather than who they are, in an attempt to appear favorable in the eyes of society, family members or friends?

When we attempt to shape, form and yes, even force our children into certain behaviors or ways of thinking, they tend to shut down. They either comply with our ideals out of fear or the need for our approval or they rebel against them with anger and confusion. We all know that fear and confusion are not the ideal emotions in which to operate our lives. And yet so many children grow up sacrificing their own unique gifts and ideas for the sake of their parents, their peers and their society. Their voice is lost to a confused world.

Our kids are not a reflection of us. It’s okay to let them explore the world and come up with their own unique style, values and goals. Our relationship grows stronger when we accept them just as they are, relieving them of the duty to project a good image of us.

BE STILL AND LISTEN

Parents have more life experience than their children; this is true. But do we know all there is to know about life? Can we be sure that we know what is right for another human being?

We have our perspectives to go on but the buck stops there. When we assume that we know more than our children, that we know what our children should be doing, feeling or pursuing, we cut off communication. If we know, we don’t listen. We shut ourselves off from further query.

Living in the question of life is magical. It sends the signal into the world that we are open to new perspectives, new ideas and unique problem solving techniques. When we listen to our kids, really listen, we are open. Open to the possibility that they know something about their own lives. We shut them down when we already know how or what they should be, act or pursue in life. If we open up to the possibility that they just might know more about their lives than we do, we connect with them on a deep level. We inspire them to look within rather than chase approval or direction from the outer world.

Can our kids teach us if we let them? Perhaps if we find ourselves judging our kids, we can pause and listen. Maybe instead of responding with our own knowledge we can ask open-ended questions. “What excites you about that video game, Johnny? I’d like to learn more.” or “I see that you’re angry, Sara. I’m listening.”  And then listen fully without trying to change what they are doing or what they are saying. If we choose to be present and listen – put the focus on how we can assist rather than change – our child feels heard. He feels as though he has a voice and his most intimate partner, you, is listening. Open dialogue is established and the child feels empowered rather than managed and judged.

Our kids don’t need fixing. They need experienced partners in life who believe in them and value their wants, needs and desires. They need calm human beings who can empower them to find answers within. If we can’t listen honestly and openly, we negate any chance of connecting with them on that deeper level.

Many of us believe we have our children’s best interests at heart. We don’t want them to be hurt, fail or look stupid. We want them to thrive. But sometimes hurt and failures are the springboards to living a life filled with meaning. If we focus on the possibility that our children might be hurt or fail and we stop them from what they are feeling or doing, we rob them of learning how to navigate their own lives. We cut the cord of relationship in favor of fear.

Be present; envision that children are here with their own gifts to present to the world. Listen to what they have to say. True connection will be born and thrive in the parent child relationship if we only dare to let go and trust that all is well. Right here. . . Right now.

Would you like to discuss this blog post? If so, please join us to discuss this in our Living and Learning Forums here.

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Caring for the Introverted Child

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I love this visual about Introverts. Since I have a son that is a true blue introvert, I have learned to interact with him in all of the above ways.

Introverts are such special and gifted people. They usually think long and hard before acting. They can figure just about anything out, given the time and space to do it. When they find someone that is their true friend, they will honor that friendship like no other. They usually don’t like crowds. When they DO speak, they like to be really heard, so pretending to listen doesn’t work with them. THEY DO notice when you’re not really present.

They NEED alone time, much more than an extrovert does. They NEED quiet. They really do need to be given lots of transition time from one activity to the next. When they are rushed they are stressed, more so than the rest of us.

Introverts DISLIKE labels. Don’t label them. Empower them to be exactly as they are.

Honor your introverted child  by respecting his need for solitude and quiet spaces. Honor him/ her by being ultra respectful of his/her needs. If you do, you will have a confident, loyal and thoughtful person in your life. One who might change the world with his introspective nature.

Want to discuss Introverts more fully? Join us at the Alternative Living and Learning community here.

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Introducing Alternative Living & Learning Forums

We have recently added something to the Texas Unschoolers website.

The Alternative Living & Learning forums — at texasunschoolers.com/community.

One thing we have found is that when families begin to question the public education system and ultimately find their way to unschooling or another approach, they often begin to question and reevaluate many other institutions and “standard” practices in our society — work, religion, politics, health care, parenting, diet, technology, and more. Our goal with the discussion forums is to provide a place for people to talk about these topics, share their experiences, and learn about possible new paths of their own.

Registration on the forums is free, and you may use your real name or remain anonymous. An email address is required to verify your account and your personal information is kept confidential. There is a Frequently Asked Questions page to help you learn your way around the site, and you can use the Contact Us link at the bottom of each page to get in touch if you have questions.

We hope you will join in the discussions and be part of a growing community of families seeking a better way.

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