Connecting With Your Unschooler When They Are Awake All Night

For those of us who have a child whose sleep schedule has shifted to being awake all night and asleep through most of the day (this is especially prolific in teens*) – it may feel like we’re disconnected from them. Especially if, before this shift happened, we were able to regularly and consistently connect & hang out with them during the day.

It helps to think of new ways that you can gather and to recognize the “unofficial” ways you may already be naturally connecting. For our son, now 17, he’s spent much of his life as a night person – so we’ve had a lot of time to settle into various routines that allowed for the most connection possible.

I sort of have a morning routine where I come downstairs, let the dogs out, start coffee, unload/reload the dishwasher, make food for dogs, and other random kitchen/downstairs stuff. 17yo would come down and wander around the kitchen and we’d talk about what he’d been doing overnight. He’ll show me YouTube videos (our main TV can be seen from the kitchen). Sometimes he’d set up his laptop to stream to the TV so I could see what he was doing.

It’s a common joke where the first time I see him all day, I say, “What time is it?” And what that means is “where are you in your day?” so he’ll answer with “Just woke up”, “About to go to bed.”, “taking a break for ‘lunch’ and then…”, etc.

Connecting with our 17yo Unschooler while walking our dogs

Lately, the temperatures have dropped, so we’ve been taking the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood. This morning we talked about a new League of Legends character that was released and how he feels about playing her. Some new games that are going to be coming out over the next few weeks, how he’s budgeted for those, and what he’s looking forward to. Spelunky 2 is a newer version of a game we’ve loved to play as a family so we discussed purchasing a bundle if it becomes available.

He asked me about the book I’m currently reading which led to a discussion about forensic accounting and blood diamonds. He was able to connect that with another game he’s played and the discussion moved to Sierra Leone, Northern Africa, child soldiers, and the difference between private military contractors and mercenaries.

Don’t be so quick to ban “tech” during these times. We often use our phones to look up/clarify the things we’re discussing. (This morning, it was to see on a map exactly where Sierra Leone is located in Africa.)

Since the tween/teen years hit – we almost never eat dinner at the dining room table. We’ll watch TV together, take our food to desks and game, etc. All those “studies” about how sitting around the dinner table is necessary are based on: 1. schooled students and 2. parents who don’t know how to connect with their kids. If we eat while we’re all gaming or watching tv together or whatever – then the connection is happening.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Image: Picture is of our two dogs, a brown & white King Charles Spaniel and a grey/silver Schnauzer, walking on leashes ahead of us. (currently our kids don’t want their pics posted to social media, so you get the dogs. 😉)

* For more about how biology impacts when teens sleep, you can read this article (which includes more links): Your Teen Needs More Sleep. However, please keep in mind that this article & the resources are all focused on schooled teens and how to help them work around, adjust, or at worst ignore their nature in effort to function within a paradigm set up against how their body functions. Unschooling makes that unnecessary.

My Child is Having a Hard Time

A common Unschooling question, especially lately, is “What do I do when my child is having a hard time?”  or “How do I respond when they’re melting down?”

It’s so hard to see our kids struggling. It helps me keep calm to remember some things when our kids are having a hard time:

A. They are kids. They are not supposed to know how to handle what life throws at them. They only do the best they can with whatever skills/tools they’ve learned so far. And that’s only if they remember them in a time of crisis (which even adults miss the mark on often enough).

B. Me freaking out/panicking/yelling/telling them to stop/calm down is NOT going to help anyone.

It depends on the kid, the situation, their own triggers, my triggers, etc. Here are some things that can help:

1. Asking them, “Do you want me to do anything – or do you just want to vent?”

If they opt to vent: Safety first. I only physically move them if it’s an immediate danger to themselves or someone nearby. (laying down in the middle of the road) In a case of self-harm I offer options of a physical outlet.  “Your body looks like it needs to express frustration – would you like to punch this pillow, stomp your feet, walk around the block, do jumping jacks, etc.?”

“Would you like to sit in my lap/hold my hand/go someplace else?” (not a punishment or forced “banishment” way but in an escape from people/noise/light/surroundings kind of way – like to the car, their room or mine, a closet, etc.).

I may ask again later once they’ve had some time. “Would you like to look over what happened and brainstorm some ideas to perhaps prevent what happened or ways to try it differently or ???”

2. Remember, when they’re extremely stressed – it’s generally “Fight or Flight” that’s kicking in. Notice no part of “have respectful/meaningful conversation” fits under either the category of Fight or Flight.  You can give soothing words, sounds, etc. However they are not always going to respond well to suggestions and it’s doubtful they’ll process them, remember them, or have them as tools next time. So brainstorming will need to wait for later. And probably be discussed more to be “available” for applying in the future.

3. It’s OK to be disappointed. It’s OK to be stressed. It’s OK to “fail”. It’s OK for things not to go our way. Acknowledging those emotions and giving them the space & time to have them is not a bad thing.

4. 2020 SUCKS. Big time. This has been the absolutely craziest year. Even if our kids don’t seem directly impacted by ALL. THE. THINGS. They are definitely picking up on the emotions and uncertainty of all those around them. As adults, we have a lot of life experience to draw from & freedom to try to cope (even so a LOT of us are also scrambling to pick up new skills during these unprecedented times). Grace for your kids. Grace for yourself.

This loops back to A. and number 3 – I acknowledge when things are crazy to the kids. “Hey, we’re encountering a new situation – even I don’t know how to handle it well. Let’s work together to find some ideas/solutions and try those out and see if they help.”

5. Sort of connects to A. We, as their parent/trusted adult are learning our kids as well. Each time something happens – we have more “parenting data” to work with. Now, I often know which kid is going to be impacted in what way by what situations. I’ve had 17 & 15 years to learn these things. That said, we STILL encounter new situations.

At 2, 3, 4, and when they hit new milestones or were out encountering lots of new things – there were definitely a LOT more instances of them struggling with life. Each situation, age, & stage is an opportunity to gather more data. My goal is to continually pass that data and those coping skills along to them so they can try to apply it in their own lives now and as adults.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Bedtimes

Setting bedtimes is a common discussion point and it seems to be especially polarizing. When parents are ill, pregnant, or just tired from life – it can be tempting to institute strict bedtimes. Here’s a recent reply I gave about how to honor & respect the needs of the parents and our Unschoolers. While specifically replying to an inquiry about pregnancy, some of these are ideas I used during lengthy recovery from surgery. This is not a “how to” – it’s to help readers think of possible solutions.

Asking for quiet or rest times – isn’t the same as demanding a child sleep when they are not tired.

Keep in mind too, that pregnancy is fairly temporary in the scheme of things. Trying to find short term solutions to get you through the coming months is *not* the equivalent of Unparenting.

Are there activities that the kids can do that don’t require a lot of physical input from you – but still might allow them to get their own physical needs met (when our kids were toddlers – dancing/musical-type videos allowed them to jump around while I could stay sitting). A mini (or full in the yard) trampoline?

We have a game called Hyper Dash that has been an amazing investment. The “cones” can be placed in any configuration and as far apart as you want. The commands range from identifying colors or numbers and expand to simple math problems.

Also make sure that the kids are having their “emotional” bucket filled. When awake, are they getting to spend time with you and your partner?

I would always choose to lighten the load in other areas so that the kids were the last to feel the impact of any exhaustion I was feeling. Make simple or prepackaged meals, use paper plates & plastic utensils. Don’t worry about folding/hanging clothes (they can get stuff directly from the dryer or a communal basket) – if they’re wearing clothes at all.

Borrow audiobooks from the library and listen together instead of being the one reading (or FB/Twitter/YouTube, they’re flooded right now with storytimes)

Once you go to sleep or lay down – make sure the kids have whatever they need to quietly occupy themselves. TV, CD player, tablet (this can be movies, music, audiobooks, games, etc.) Night lights, sippy cups of water, etc.

There is a whole swath of options between “connected/active/engaged 24/7” and “it’s bedtime, go to sleep”.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Creating Abundance During Scarcity

“Scarcity” vs “creating abundance” is something we talk about a lot in Unschooling.

Those new to Unschooling often can’t conceive of the paradigm shift to where things are “unlimited”. Where we don’t put *arbitrary* limits on gaming, TV, internet, reading, types of food, amount of food, etc.

I think in the past few weeks, we’ve been witness to an extreme version of what happens when people even *perceive* that a shortage of something is possible. They run, they hoard, they become rude & ruthless, and some even try to find ways around the system to get even more.

It’s a version of this that happens when we *arbitrarily* limit our children. When children feel that their enjoyment is going to be limited or structured or in other ways out of their control – things like hoarding, grumpiness at interruptions or rescheduling, or finding ways to break the rules are likely to happen.

Also, looking at current events – note that despite reassurances from the government, grocery stores, suppliers, etc. that these items aren’t actually in short supply overall and that new stock is arriving daily – people are still buying up to the limit, visiting multiple stores, making multiple trips, etc. to continue to hoard these items.

Any initial relaxing/relenting of your previous rules/schedules/restrictions may take weeks or even months before your child really trusts, at a deep psychological level, that there isn’t a threat to that level of availability.

When there is a scarcity that is NOT arbitrary, work with your kids to find solutions that are as abundant as possible. Also, abundance in other areas (that you may not even realize is of concern) can help alleviate stress about scarcity somewhere else.

Today, our daughter saw ketchup at Costco and asked to buy some. I told her that I was pretty sure we had a full bottle in the pantry at home. I watched a look of concern cross her face and asked, “Would it make you feel better to know for sure that we have ketchup despite other things running out?”

“Yes”

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Why are they watching YouTube all day?

This is a pretty common question, not only among Unschoolers, but parents in general.  There are a lot of reasons our children watch YouTube or Twitch.  For something like watching other kids play with toys, unboxing, or game play ~ it’s often about better understanding the product. Sometimes that doesn’t directly translate to the same product in your home, but they still “file away” that information for later.

I kind of equate it to something like Pinterest. I may “pin” or save ideas or pictures.  Am I going to turn my under-the-stairs-closet into a home library/reading nook? Probably not. However it spurred ideas about creating a nesting spot elsewhere in my house. OR I love what someone did and I can appreciate the aesthetic while simultaneously acknowledging that I’m never going to spend $50K on a “she shed”.

Our kids have been regularly perusing YouTube for 10 years now. Especially when they were younger ~ I sat down with them. I’d ask them, “Why are you watching this?” Not in a judgy way, but to learn what they were getting out of it. “What do you think about this product?”  “Why do you like this reviewer?” Sometimes they were seeing something completely different than I was. We talk a lot about marketing, commercials, paid endorsements, etc. Both kids (15yo & 16yo at the time of this post) are actually fairly savvy consumers, thoroughly check ratings/reviews, shop the best deals, etc.

Also, even if a YouTuber or a product don’t interest me ~ I appreciate it for their interest. Sort of like how I watch Tennis or Football or Car Shows with my husband. Are those things that I’d prioritize to watch on my own? No. But I love him so I enjoy getting to know the things he loves better.

Now that they are older and I’m not always right by their side, it’s interesting to see the amazing things they discover merely browsing on YouTube.  Just the other day our son (16yo) brought up an art restorer he’s been following.  So we, along with his sister, spent an hour watching Baumgartner Restoration.

We had a lot of great conversations about art, history, colors, chemicals, and patience.  (Because WOW, does restoration require a lot of patience and meticulous detail work.)

Any time you don’t see the value in something that your children spend a lot of their time engaged in, I encourage you to find a way to truly observe what it brings to their life.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.

Gaming Addiction

I’ve been participating in discussion groups with Unschoolers for many years.  One of the most popular topics and areas of concern for those new to Radical Unschooling is visual media, specifically gaming.  A common objection to gaming is the potential for addiction.

Clinically speaking, addiction is defined as

a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Do I believe that someone can become addicted to video games?  Absolutely.  Just as someone can become addicted to food, exercise, books, or sex ~ all of which also play a meaningful part in our lives.  For nearly 40 years, since the Rat Park studies of the late 70’s, researchers and medical professionals have repeatedly found that addictions often disappeared when the environment of the addicted was positively changed.  The drugs, alcohol, and video games are a means to producing a euphoric effect combating a perceived miserable situation.  The solution to or prevention of addiction is not to forbid or limit your child from video games (or food, or exercise, or books), it is to facilitate an environment and foster a relationship they don’t feel the need to try to escape from.

Often parents will then share the “signs of addiction” they note in their children.

She gets cranky and rude!  

He throws a fit when I ask him to stop!

That’s all he does all day!

Let’s take each of these statements and find possible solutions that are respectful to our children’s interest in gaming.

She gets cranky and rude!  Is your child hungry?  Bringing snacks to a gamer can help eliminate blood sugar drops and other hunger symptoms that manifest in a short temper. Monkey Platters are a fun and easy way to keep energy up.  Is your child simply venting their frustration at a particularly difficult level?  Sometimes parents will be upset because their child is grumbling about a lost life or a failed task.  A child verbally processing the game play isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  This could be an opportunity for you to ask questions and better understand what they are doing.  You could offer to help them look up a walk-through on YouTube or take a moment to grab a drink of water before sitting back down and trying again.  Have you interrupted their play?  That leads to…

He throws a fit when I ask him to stop!  If I’m in the middle of reading a book and someone interrupts me – I generally ask them to give me a moment to finish the sentence/section/chapter.  I apply the same principle to our gaming children, “I’d like to talk to you about something, when you find a stopping point can we chat?”.  Or setting up the expectation that we have commitments later in the day.  When our son started getting into games like League of Legends where a match could last thirty minutes or more – I made an effort to let him know if we have appointments so that he doesn’t begin something that he can’t finish.  Some servers penalize users for leaving matches/games/rounds early.  Equate it to sports.  Can you imagine if your child was playing football and you walked onto the field in the middle of the 3rd quarter and said, “We’re leaving.  Now.”  It’s frustrating to not only the individual player, but the “team” as a whole.  Work on identifying what led up to their frustration and brainstorm solutions that are respectful to both of you.

That’s all he does all day!  This can have roots in several places.  If you’ve limited gaming (or Television, or food, or pretty much anything) – you’ve likely created scarcity.  Then, when children are given the opportunity they will “hoard”, trying to get in as much as they can in fear that it will be taken away again.  When the restrictions are removed and our children are secure in the fact that gaming is available at any time – they are emotionally free to explore other things.  Though, for some children, gaming IS their passion.  Which means that it isn’t a matter of scarcity, but of interest and they will continue to spend significant amounts of time on it.     Many folks complain that kids can’t “stay on task” or “focus more than a few minutes” – but when a child spends hours/days/weeks immersed in something, parents will complain about how much time is spent on it.  Even if your child wants to spend “all day” gaming, that’s OK too.  It is as valuable an experience as reading, writing, talking, and researching.  If you really pause and watch, you will see that they are doing all of those things as part of gaming.

-Rachel

Learn more about Rachel on our Contributors page.