tv time

The house is so peaceful when I ban the tv, but the minute it comes back on the kids are screaming and fighting and hitting again. Should I just get rid of the tv?

One of the things to keep in mind is that most of us don't come into unschooling with very good skills or etiquette around video media because we don't have the experience. We, the adults, have a learning curve - and that's part of why we end up blaming crankiness on tv and video games, because we don't even realize there are skills to learn.

Take the idea of "tv" out of the picture and substitute some other activity or story or toy and what do you see? What are the Specific issues? And how would you solve those if the kids were doing something you considered valuable or beneficial?

If the kids are fighting, are they disagreeing about what to watch? What would you do if they each wanted to work on a different project on the same table and there wasn't enough space? You wouldn't just take away all their materials, right? You'd look for ways to give them more space - move one to a different table, or onto the floor, or help them organize the space better so they weren't running into each other. Maybe you'd stand and hold things for them, or carry items back and forth to shelves so they could keep working in the limited area. You'd problem solve and figure it out.

You can do that with video media too - set kids up to watch or play in different rooms, or in the same room but using headphones, or in the same room but with the screens (and speakers) angled so they don't interfere with each other. I have a very small house, and we've rearranged the furniture a few times so that people could ignore each other - or so a kid could play a video game, or build, or draw while also watching a movie on another screen.

If they're quarrelling for other reasons, what are those reasons? Does someone need more attention? Do they need an adult on hand to help them communicate and work things out? Maybe you fell into the kind of behavior patterns you learned from your own parents and left the room the moment the tv was on - used the tv as a babysitter. TVs aren't very good childcare providers ;) You know that, so don't set everyone up to fail. Treat it like a set of art supplies - you wouldn't leave a pair of toddlers alone with scissors and glue, right? You'd be there to help.

Maybe the tv isn't in a great location - sometimes when adults are anti-tv they try to make it unappealing by putting it someplace awkward, or setting kids up so they have to choose between watching tv and doing other things. Those sorts of things can create stress that gets expressed in conflict, so it's a good idea to make video media more convenient to the rest of life. Make it easy for kids to eat, play, dance, build, and create with a video playing in the background. Don't set them up to have to be frustrated or to have unmet needs in order to feed their minds.

I definitely want to affirm that sometimes videos for kids can push a lot of buttons for us adults. Some of that comes from thinking about content in terms of lessons rather than experiences - we worry about what various shows are "teaching". But as unschoolers we know that teaching isn't learning - so it can help to touch base with that understanding. Kids aren't simple sponges, soaking up knowledge, they're people interacting with the world. They're active participants in their own lives, their own learning - and a huge part of that is about how they interact with the people close to them. What We do is much more important than anything they see or hear. If we turn our backs on them in disgust when they're doing something they enjoy, they learn some pretty ugly things about human relationships  

Something that can really help is to step back from the idea of "your child" when they're watching something they like and instead think about how you'd watch the same thing with a good friend who wanted to share their joy with you. You might not enjoy the same thing, but you also wouldn't be looking at the program like it's a kind of lesson you need to monitor and correct. That shift in focus can actually change how you see the show! And it can be a kind of "aha!" moment in terms of how you see your interactions with your kids. Shifting your own mindset can change a Lot of things.

It can even change the way we respond to the voices and music we hear on kids' shows. A lot of those voices are pitched high and... "perky" in one way or another, and that can be grating to a lot of adults. It can be helpful to recognize that the reasons those voices are grating isn't just about our different adult auditory apparatus (which is actually less sensitive than a child's), but about the baggage we've picked up along the way, the things we relate to those tones. They're a lot like the tones adults use to coerce kids, or salespeople use to manipulate customers... but they're also the tones friends use when they're sincerely excited about things and want to share them with us. It's not really the tone making us flinch, but the old feeling of "I don't want to and you can't make me." Knowing that, it's possible to step past that visceral flinching and see what's fun and interesting from our kids' point of view.

chores and "bad kids"

Something I really want to affirm and... and celebrate! is that not all of us have kids who live up to the standardized expectations for "helping out". Some of us have kids for whom "we, as a family" and "let's all pitch in and work together" are the wrong messages - they don't fit their needs and personalities. They might have been keen to explore some housekeepery skills when they were toddlers, but by age six they have better things to do with their time and energy and attention. And reading lots of descriptions of other people's children happily helping out around the house and farm with nothing but a little cheerful modeling to prompt them feels like a kind of criticism - we're obviously doing something wrong... only we're not. The reason our kids aren't like that, is that they Aren't Like That. They're themselves, and who they are is just as precious and wonderful and valid - and just as caring and generous.

So this is for the other parents of those kids. If, in your family, everyone's happy and everyone works for everyone else, great - move along. This isn't about you.

Our kids? Given the chance to be who they are, on their own terms, they frickin rock - but you might have to learn to see that, because the usual standardized expectations for "good helpers" don't necessarily apply to them. It's the old "grading fish on climbing trees" analogy all over again. In terms of "helping out" that often means letting go of ideas about what kids "should" be doing and instead seeing what our kids Are doing - where their attention is, what their needs are... and how they're already reaching out to us for connection with innate kindness and generosity.

Sometimes generosity can look like a kid making us a present or writing us a story instead of putting their dishes in the sink. They don't need to be scolded for that, or told that their creativity is less important than a lack of ants - but it could be useful to rethink the way dirty dishes are handled to make it easier on the kid. Maybe a bus tub. Maybe just sweeping through the room, sowing affection and picking up plates as you go. I think Mo was... 11 or 12 before they started putting dishes in the skink, but now, at 16, I can barely set a cup down, myself or it will end up bussed the next time they breeze through the room.

Sometimes "helping" can look like a kid focusing on things that.. maybe aren't so "important" on the mommy checklist, but appeal to them on some level. For younger kids, that might be something like washing windows - I had the cleanest windows for a few years... and the dirtiest child
Or it could be things like arranging all the cans in the pantry just so... and forgetting to put the milk away. Telling them what they've done wrong doesn't help them do better - it just pushes them away from wanting to do more. Being appreciative of what they do builds a sense of connection and mutual support - and eventually they grow into a broader perspective and notice that there are other ways to help, too.

Sometimes it can look like a kid minimizing their very real needs in the moment, and then melting down later!

And sometimes kids are just too busy with their own stuff - and that's okay! It doesn't make them bad people. It doesn't mean they'll "turn out" to be mean or entitled or whatever the latest criticism is. It turns out that giving people a chance to be who they are doesn't ruin them. It doesn't take years - or even days - to learn basic tasks. It doesn't take enforced requirements to develop a sense of responsibility.

Kids don't need to be taught good family citizenship any more than they need to be taught... how to read Kant! Not only does teaching not guarantee learning, they may not appreciate Kant, or agree with his perspectives - and That's Okay Too. Our kids aren't us, and may not Agree with our idea about what makes a perfect family. And promoting our family ideals can push some kids right out - many of us have the experience of having lived in a family and being the "bad kid" - the one who "ruins everything" because we don't like the same things, or share the same values, or otherwise fit into the family plan. Some of us have that one kid who doesn't fit in - and I want to reassure you that that it's Okay to give them the space to be who they are, to shift your expectations to give them that space Within the family.

A big part of the issue with "chores" is that thinking about them gets tangled up in ideas about morality and molding children to a pleasing shape. It doesn't seem that way for families where kids are already mostly the "right" shape, but for those of us with kids who aren't like that, it's good to know that you can ditch those ideas entirely. Yes, there are logistics and tasks, but once you take the standardized thinking about what kids "should" do or "should" learn, they're Just logistical puzzles. There are lots of ways to solve them without "chores". And it doesn't hurt kids one bit to explore those other options.


screen zombies

How are you holding your face right now? Is it set in a "pleasant expression" or is it relaxed? Do you have a "resting bitch face"? Most of us do in unguarded moments. "Zombie look" is a variant of "resting bitch face" - it's the way a person's face happens to relax when they feel no need to literally keep up appearances. It's a sign that someone is too busy with their interior world to stroke anyone else's ego. It's common but less often remarked among bibliophiles because the book hides the non-expression. Often the main differences between zombie look and resting bitch face are: the gender of the person, and whether they're looking at an object or another person. We Expect people to put on a face for our viewing - it's a natural consequence of being social animals. But that doesn't mean we all need to plaster on socially correct expressions all the time.

An interesting aspect of our human wiring is that people love stories. I recommend the book The Storytelling Animal if you want to explore that idea in more depth, but it's just as easy to look around at all the way people enjoy stories in daily life. It's a big, Big part of how children engage with and learn about the world. Videos of all kinds involve stories. It's natural for kids to be attracted to them. And because they're stories, they're also rich in language, imagery, linear sequencing, culture, history, and social information. They are, in fact, full of the things kids need to develop literacy. At the same time, they're full of music and visual art - they're really incredibly rich experiences. It's no wonder kids forget to keep up their company face when watching - there's so much to experience!

One of the really interesting things about the way we process stories is that they're not lessons - we don't take them in as some kind of prescription. We use them as a way to play with thoughts, to bounce ideas around - and that's true for children, too. With kids, you often see that in very tangible terms - kids get up and play out things they've seen. Culturally, we're told that's bad, that it's some kind of detriment to imagination, but in very real terms it is imagination - it's the human mind performing it's greatest trick and acting as more than just an input-output box. So if your kid has favorite shows, be open to talking and playing about those shows. Don't make it a teachy thing - let your child take the lead and follow their natural tendency to form connections and make associations. See where their imagination takes them! It may seem very repetitive, especially at first, but it can be a kind of magic window into what your kid finds interesting and significant. It may surprise you! Little kids can be attracted to very big, dark ideas, like the nature of good and evil, life and death, right and wrong. It's a good chance to really appreciate how wonderful and complex your little person really is on the inside


delay gratification

How do I help support my kid's neurological development so that they learn to delay gratification?

It seems to me that you're making a very common mistake and using "help support" to mean "get a kid to learn what I want them to learn". In essence, you're getting stuck between the ideas of teaching and learning. That's normal for someone new to unschooling! So many of the cultural messages about children are that they need to be "gotten" to learn what we want them to learn or they'll go bad in some way. The whole field of child development has been suborned into education, and that's a massive mistake because learning - always, always, always - comes down to the learner, to their thoughts and feelings, the direction of their attention and interest, their assumptions and perspectives and the unique quirks of their personal development. Unschooling begins with the assumption that all those things matter more and affect learning more than adult desires for kids to learn the right things at the right times

What that means on a nuts and bolts level is that fretting over neurological development and reward centers will distract you from getting to know your child as a person. You're focusing on who your kid could or should be, rather than connecting with them, right now, as they are. That's also normal! As parents, we're wired to project a whole lot onto our kids. A substantial part of the deschooling process for parents is about overcoming that natural tendency to see our kids as extensions of ourselves.

One reason that matters (again, on a nuts and bolts level - I'm not talking about ethics or respect or the human spirit, here, but about unschooling as a purely utilitarian practice) is because human beings are wired to be social animals. People learn from other people. So building a warm, personable relationship with your child increases the likelihood that they will be interested in and value your thoughts and feelings and goals. On the most cold blooded level, unschooling works by manipulating probabilities - but the patterns of probabilities we're talking about are also exactly the kind human beings best understand in social terms. It's Easier, as a human being, to focus on social relationships than to be endlessly doing the math and tracking the neurological pathways. In social terms, that means it's also "more authentic" - actually building a warm, communicative relationship with your kid "feels better" on both sides than being a robot manipulating another robot.

So.. back to delayed gratification. It's developmental. You know that. That means you can't hurry it along - you really can't "help support their development" in that sense. But you can get in the way, and ironically the best way to do that is to try and get kids to delay gratification when they're not ready for it. That makes them frustrated and sets them up to want to avoid it, in the shorter term. In the longer term, because children are egocentric, it seems to them that adults get to demand what they want Right Now (come here! put that down! look at me!) while kids are expected to stop and wait, which builds an expectation of future entitlement based on the power to demand - when I'm big, I'll get to have my way. It will be My Turn to demand. That's actually a recurrent theme in discussions of deschooling - learning to let go of that sense of entitlement and use our adult powers of delayed gratification where kids are concerned.

On a day to day, practical level, that means that, rather than setting kids up to wait when they really aren't wired to do it yet, to think ahead, see things from their perspective, and actively look for ways to help them out. Set things up so they don't have to wait so much. Offer lots of distraction and comfort and reassurance when waiting is inevitable. Being the grownup by letting little kids be as they are, developmentally and as a function of their individual personalities and temperaments.

And it works! Unschooled teens and adults are not grasping, impatient, entitled brats. At worst, they're people, with human failings and foibles. Unschooling isn't a cure for humanity. It's an agreement to work with our kids humanity rather than against it. And it absolutely does work.


meals in general

I am literally in the middle of making dinner and my 3 yo is on his second banana - what do I do?!

If you're attached to the ideas of meals, it can help to think about why - what purpose do you think they serve? There's no physical or psychological benefit to making kids wait to eat, or making them eat on a schedule, or insisting they only eat certain things at certain times - it's fine for kids to eat when they're hungry So make that easy for them, and for you - have lots of good things to eat that are readily accessible to your kids.

One of the things that tends to "throw" parents is that kids tend to eat a lot of one thing, then a lot of another, then a lot of another. If you look at their diets over a month, they do "balance out" but it doesn't look like "three square meals a day." So don't panic They're actually pretty good at listening to their bodies, when we don't get in the way with lots of rules and limits and timetables.

When my kids were younger, my partner and I tended to eat one or two meals together ever day, and the kids were welcome to join us but not required. One is really social and has a high metabolism, so he was pretty much always happy to eat with us, if he was around. As he got older, he'd sometimes cook, too. The other is more of an introvert and doesn't like a lot of foods, but sometimes she'd come and hang out for the company, and maybe have a bowl of cereal or a popsicle or something. But there were always lots of other foods available for both of them. They never had to wait for a meal... unless we went out to eat, but even then, we always had snacks in the car.

If meals are important to you for social or cultural reasons, make them attractive to your kids! I don't just mean make foods they want to eat (although please do that! not only will they be happier, it will spare your ego to have them gobble up things they like rather than push away things they don't). I mean make "having dinner" something more enjoyable than watching adults blah blah blah over boring adult things and not being able to play. Bring play to the table - it's how kids learn, remember That will mean different things depending on your kids personalities. It might just mean involving a very social kid in the conversation rather than talking over their head, but it could be letting kids be the center of attention, or having special meal time games or projects, or involving one of the kids in the cooking, or everyone watching a favorite show or movie together. Think in terms of "family time, plus food" rather than a dull meal waiting to be "excused" back to life.

And if meals don't work for your kids, don't worry about it. Like I've said, one of my kids rarely sits down for a meal - but she's still managed to learn table and social skills. It's not like it's rocket science! And it doesn't have to be a matter of "being a short order chef" - it just takes re-arranging the way you plan and prepare food. Think logistically rather than emotionally, so that you're planning for kids to do what they do, rather than trying to get them to fit into a box that doesn't work for them.

And have fun! Your kid likes bananas? Draw some faces on them - do them up like Minions, maybe. Which Minion will he eat? What are its abilities? Get him talking. It could turn into your dinner conversation for tonight! Or it could just be a moment of food and connections... which is what's important, anyway.

childish things

I feel a personal resistance to the adding of artificial excitement to everything to make it more appealing.

I used to struggle with these kinds of feelings, too. They're totally normal, and working through them is a common part of the deschooling process. One of the side effects of schooling and the efforts of parents to teach kids "right" ways to be, is exactly this kind of cynicism or ennui toward things that light up children. We use the word "childish" as a put down, frown when they delight in the "wrong things" and are instantly suspicious of their interests. One of the truly wonderful things about unschooling can be learning to let go of a few of those layers of hardness and relearn the art of delight from our kids.

It absolutely does take an effort to overcome those ingrained messages that toll "this is stupid, stupid kid stuff" and see that joyfulness and wonder can be about the simplest, sweetest things - a pink plastic pony in a McDs kids' meal can be as precious and wonderful to a child as a bright new beetle or a river smoothed stone. And it's Okay to let our kids appreciate they world as they find it - to love color and sound and motion because that's who they are. To say yes to their delights as we strive to rekindle our own. It feels stilted and fake at first because we've forgotten how to play, told ourselves that playfulness is fake and cheer an advertising ploy to armor ourselves against the years of nos and limits and have tos of our own childhoods. We don't have to teach our kids that armor - they'll grow their own as they need it. We can give them gentleness and appreciation of their enthusiasm, support their delights, learn from them how to look at the world again with wonder and awe, and it doesn't take anything away from them. It lifts them up and lets them hang onto a little more joy for a little bit longer.


coaching and practice

Is there a place for 'coaching' within the unschooling paradigm?
I'm going to reframe the question from an unschooling perspective: how do your kids feel about "being coached"? Is it something that gets them inspired and excited about what they're doing? Does it make hard work into a slog? Does it set them up to weigh and measure their own worth as human beings against a set of external standards? Does it build them up, give them a sense of capability and confidence?

Coaching can mean a lot of things and happen in a lot of different ways, but "good" coaching, like good teaching has to meet the needs of the person being coached, or it's damaging. That means some people are going to have great experiences being coached and others not so much.
I'm also aware that being a musician and performer requires a certain level of attitude and discipline.

Not "a" certain level of anything. People are different. Skilled artists and craftspeople don't all fall out of the same mold or take the same path to excellence. In fact, many very capable, talented, successful artists and craftspeople follow rather eccentric routes. Reading or listening to biographies is actually a great way to wrap your head around how natural learning works in real life! Because for every artist who follows some stock school model there are a handful who fell into art while doing other jobs, or took a break in the middle to try something else, or dabbled until something changed and they took a leap of faith.
As per some experts it takes 10000 hours of practice to become a good musician.

It's tragic that that gets used to promote the idea that to be good at something you have to slog through a lot of shit you hate. In real life, the real take-away of that particular study was this: passion matters. People who derive joy and pride and fulfillment from what they do, do it a whole lot. Thousands of hours. It's not: "work hard and you'll be great." It's: "doing what matters to you is worthy." Talent matters. Personality matters. Luck matters. Feeling like you deserve to take an hour away from your responsible adult life and to make art, that matters, too. The thousand-hour study is a plea to everyone who's ever thrown up their hands and said "why can't you be more responsible instead of playing those damned drums all the time" to chill out and back off and let artists spend the time it takes to feed their art and their souls.
And this is where 'serious' musicians (or sportspeople or business people etc. etc.) hire coaches.

"Hire coaches" is too narrow a way to describe it. When people want to get better, they look for ways to do that. Sometimes that means finding other people to help... but that doesn't always look like coaching. Sometimes it means finding a new friend, or friends, to hang out with and make art with and/or network with. Sometimes it means biting off more than you can chew and asking everyone around "holy shit, wtf am I doing?" and getting lots of free advice. Sometimes it means watching youtube videos or listening to a million old records. Occasionally it looks like traditional coaching, for a little while, but often that's a very little while - long enough to get over a hump, learn one new thing - a workshop, a class, a weekend with someone who's passing through town.
Can an unschooling parent be a coach as well?

Depends. On you, and how much of your ego is tied up in your kids, on how good you are at watching and listening for the cues that say "this isn't helping", on how adaptable you are to the needs of others. It depends on how your personality dovetails with your kids'. It depends on the extent to which your kids are doing what they do out of joy and how much they're doing it because it's what you want - making themselves who you want them to be to get your love. As parents we have a whole heck of a lot of power to hurt our kids by seeing who they could be rather than who they are.

Something to ask yourself is how much it would hurt your feelings (make you angry) if your kid wanted a different coach, or no coach, or wanted to take a big long break from something they were really good at.

Rather than seeing yourself as a coach, try seeing yourself as a friend. Friends learn from each other. Among artists and craftspeople, learning from friends can be a really wonderful part of the process... but it can also be fraught when our personalities and insecurities clash. Often, life involves discovering which of our friends we can turn to for what kinds of help - there are friends I won't call for financial help and friends I won't call when my art needs a kick in the keester. Imposing the words "parent" or "coach" on the relationship can make the input of a particular friend seem more valuable than it really is.