Category Archives: Unschooling Day to Day

The Angry Child – How Listening Can Deflate Big Emotions

angry_child

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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ASK A VETERAN

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Sue Patterson answers the questions that come in through the Texas Unschoolers‘ website or our Facebook Group or Page. Do you have something you want to ask for the next issue of our TexUns Newsletter? Your questions will remain anonymous.

 

 

 

 

QUESTION:  

What is the best way to go about preparing a transcript for my child if he decides to go to college? How should we be preparing for this?

ANSWER:
Transcript preparations are a big fear for a lot of people. But there’s no reason to worry about it. Unschooling parents can easily look back at their child’s life experiences and translate those into educational language/subjects. If you have collected photos for a scapbook or blog, these will be really helpful with jogging your memory.

With the Texas community college system, admissions staff are primarily looking for a graduation date and a signature. No one is looking at how elaborate your recordkeeping was or the depth of study your child did in any particular area. Many many unschooling teens opt to enter the college path by starting at the community college level and then transferring to a university as a sophomore. For those who want to go straight to a university, filling the teen years with interesting “real life” adventures will help set your child apart – and for paperwork purposes, you can translate those into subjects if you need to.

Here are some links for more info:

QUESTION:
What if my teen isn’t showing any interest in working, driving or preparing for adulthood? Should I be strongly encouraging her to begin thinking about these things? Or should I continue to allow her to just hang out on the computer with her friends and see if she decides to pursue these things on her own eventually?

ANSWER:
Lots of times, we parents project about our own lives onto our kids. We may have been SOO ready to be independent and GET AWAY from school/parents/etc. That we assume that our kids want that same thing. Chances are, living within an unschooling family feels a lot different. There may not be the same rush that we experienced.

“Strongly encouraging” sounds good, but it often backfires. From the sound of your question, I think you may already know that. Continue with your unschooling thinking, if you can.

Having a real need is what spurs changes in behavior.

When they want something they need to buy, and don’t have the money, they’ll move toward getting a job.
When they need to get somewhere and you cannot take them, they’ll consider getting their license.

It’s helpful to have conversations to make sure they’re not creating a story out of some fear they have. This is tricky to do if you’ve made it clear what you want. Give them room to choose something different from what you want/expect – and withhold any criticism you have. Think of yourself as their best supporter. Help them look at what they want to do, see it for what it really is, and remove your own judgements. If the goal is truly to transition into young adulthood, practicing making your own decisions is a step in the right direction.

If you would like to discuss these questions or have more questions, please visit our Alternative Living and Learning Forums here.

Sue Patterson, wife and mother of three grown unschoolers, lives in Pflugerville, just north of Austin. She has been an active homeschooling advocate at the local, state and national level for nearly two decades.

Sue’s book Homeschooled Teens: 75 Young Adults Speak About Their Lives Without School, is an awesome resource for anyone embarking on the teen years!

Sue is a Coach/Consultant and Unschooling Mentor helping families who are new to unschooling or homeschooling find a way to create more joy and adventure in their lives. She has a private coaching practice with a variety of options for helping families on a 1:1 basis, create an educational environment that looks nothing like school.

Sue is the Managing Editor of The Homeschooler Post – an online journal focusing on learning for home educators. She manages Unschooling Mom2Mom, blogs at her website, and speaks at various conferences around the country.

Find out more at SuePatterson.com.

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Unschooling Teens: “All He/She Wants to Do Is…”, by Shannon Stoltz

 

Mom Teen

“All she wants to do is…”  The first time I heard this phrase a friend was lamenting about how she wanted her then 15 year old daughter to get a summer job or do something similarly “productive”.  That was to be the first of many times I’ve heard a parent of a 12/13 year old or 15/16 year old say, “All she/he wants to do is…”    

Parenting and homeschooling, no matter the style, changes around 12/13 and again around 15/16.  The relationship between parent and child, particularly if you are coming from more conventional philosophies, changes.  Our children are more independent, exploring ideas and activities that interests them.  And that doesn’t always match up with our own expectations.

When how our vision for our children’s path is different than what our kids’ are actually doing, fear creeps in and we get statements like:


“All she wants to do is sit in her room reading and writing in her journal.”

“All she wants to do is draw.”

“All he wants to do is hang out with his friends and skateboard.”

“All she wants to do is hang out with her friends and party.”

“All he wants to do is work.”

“All he wants to do is play basketball and hang out at church”

“All he wants to do is play games with his friends on the computer.”

But in reality, what our children are pursuing is actually building a foundation for their future. We just don’t yet know what that future looks like, and that can be scary.

For us as parents, this is a time to let go of our agenda for our kids and embrace their journey in becoming the unique individuals they are. It’s a time to learn how to support our children differently than we have done before, to see them as their own person and support them where they are at. It’s not an easy parental transition, especially if you have had compliant kids or come from an authoritarian background.

For our teens, this is a time of learning who they are as people, experimenting, developing relationships, and testing ideas, forming and discussing ideas and opinions with others outside the family. Unschooling at this age level is fabulous because it is all about trusting the process, building relationships, and supporting the kids where they are at.

My kids have deep dived into interests from 12 and up. We’ve gone through periods of intense focus into manga, anime, robotics, blacksmithing, cake decorating, working, Minecraft, archery, gaming of all types, survival skills, art, writing, digital drawing, herbal medicine, horses, chinese light novels, theater, the list goes on. Weeks, months, and even years of a focus and then it shifts or fine tunes further.

I’ve seen their friends do the same. And their parents, across all styles of education, struggle with the change – that their kids are no longer malleable to what they want them to do – and then have to figure out how to support their kids where they are.

Early on this journey of being a mom of teens, I remember literally sitting on my hands and biting my lip, as I watched my son, then 13, working through a difficult task, approaching it differently than I would. But instead of telling him what and how to it, I restrained myself and honored that he wanted – and needed – to go through the process of figuring it out himself. He knew that he could ask for input, instead he asked me to bring him food and to sit with him as a companion and listen to his thought process, and be there for support. I needed to respect that. Now, at nearly 17, he still often asks me to bring him food, and to be there to listen to him share his ideas, stories, and thought processes.

One of the big differences between unschooling, especially radical unschooling, and other styles of education and parenting is that word RESPECT.  With unschooling, especially in the teen years, it’s not about our kids respect for us and their showing respect to us or other adults. Instead, it’s about us showing respect to them — to their ideas, interests, and needs. It’s another level of giving, of pouring into. It’s about respecting their needs and supporting them.

For a social kid who wants to hang with their friends, it’s about providing an environment to do so. For a kid with an online community, it’s about respecting that’s where their friends are and treating them with dignity and respect, and supporting their collaborations and time together. For a kid who likes to spend hours by themselves (often in the middle of the night), it’s about letting them and making sure they have the resources they need. And when they want to talk and share, to be there for them – to listen, encourage, support, and help them find the resources they are looking for.

For an unschooler, “All he/she wants to do is…”  becomes an opportunity – an opportunity to engage and connect, to encourage and support, and to facilitate your child’s interest – no matter how obscure. And it becomes an opportunity to grow yourself, as a parent and as a individual. At the end of the day, it’s all about trusting the process, embracing the learning as it happens, and, most importantly, building wonderful relationships with your teens.

Want to discuss Unschooling teens? Visit us at the forums to talk more about the ideas in this post here.

 

Shannon Stolz Bio Pic

 

 Shannon Stoltz is an unschooling mom to four fabulous kids, ages 19, nearly 17, 14, and 12.  You can read more from Shannon here at her website.

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Is Unschooling an Experiment?

Most of us grew up in the public school system, and so naturally our frame of reference may be limited to this particular model of education. It’s easy to conclude that since we did it this way, and most everyone around us does it this way, then it must be the best way.

From such a limited viewpoint many people may see unschooling (natural, child-led learning) as a radical experiment: something new, unproven, maybe even a little crazy. But when we take a broader view of history and look at how humans have lived and learned and thrived over many centuries, we can see that compulsory public schooling is actually the “new” experiment—an experiment whose results are rightly being called into question by many people today.

In 2008 Peter Gray*, research professor of psychology at Boston College, published an instructive article titled “A Brief History of Education” where he lays out how public schools came about, how we got to where we are today, and some of the motivations behind the expansion of the public school system. (Hint: the motivations were rarely about the healthy development and well-being of children.)

Dr Gray’s article is really good, I encourage you to read it. Here are a few excerpts:

If we want to understand why standard schools are what they are, we have to abandon the idea that they are products of logical necessity or scientific insight. They are, instead, products of history. Schooling, as it exists today, only makes sense if we view it from a historical perspective.

In the beginning, for hundreds of thousands of years, children educated themselves through self-directed play and exploration.

For various reasons, some religious and some secular, the idea of universal, compulsory education arose and gradually spread. Education was understood as inculcation. […] The only known method of inculcation, then as well as now, is forced repetition and testing for memory of what was repeated.

Employers in industry saw schooling as a way to create better workers. To them, the most crucial lessons were punctuality, following directions, tolerance for long hours of tedious work, and a minimal ability to read and write.

Everyone assumed that to make children learn in school the children’s willfulness would have to be beaten out of them. Punishments of all sorts were understood as intrinsic to the educational process. In some schools children were permitted certain periods of play (recess), to allow them to let off steam; but play was not considered to be a vehicle of learning. In the classroom, play was the enemy of learning.

Read the full article here:
www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200808/brief-history-education

Discuss this post in our Alternative Living & Learning Forums here.


* Peter Gray, PhD researches and publishes on how children learn, with a specific focus on the role of play in the learning and development process. He spoke at the 2015 Texas Unschoolers conference. A video of that talk, called The Biology of Education, can be seen below.

Peter Gray: The Biology of Education

TEDx video: The Decline of Play, by Peter Gray

Peter Gray’s 2014 talk at TEDxNavesink

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Caring for the Introverted Child

introvert

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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