spitting 3yo

I have a 3yo who spits and makes the most obnoxious mouth noises. I've tried all kinds of consequences but nothing stops it! Help!

Totally normal developmental stage, so it won't do any good to try and teach/punish it out of a kid - you can't make them grow any faster. What you Can do is find appropriate and fun ways to enjoy this stage, rather than fighting it. Make up games - spit things at targets, spit for distance, get different colors of candy and gum and "paint" with spit. Obviously, do this in places that are either easy to clean or you don't mind At the same time, think of other things that use the same kinds of muscles - blow bubbles, blow up balloons, blow whirligigs, slurp things with straws, lick things off plates (make designs with... oh something fun.. ketchup! or sprinkles, or yogurt with food coloring in it - and Lick Them Off. Yum!).

Play with interesting mouth sounds - I don't like general mouth noises either, so I totally sympathize, but don't stop at "yuck" find Other things to do. Figure out how many tongue clicks and clucks you can make. Find some recordings of languages that use those sounds! They're super cool! Make animal noises, bird noises. Imitate sounds. Sing. Sing in a funny voice. Talk in a funny voice. Get a helium balloon and Really talk in a funny voice! Make sound effects. I don't just mean tell him or teach him - do it together. Have whole conversations that are goofy sounds. It's a Blast! and it turns a kind of annoying developmental state (totally with you there!) into a fun, light bonding experience you'll remember fondly, rather than with a shudder.



Does your family have family rules? I talk to my kids (oldest is almost 5) about not hurting others, but we don't have any set family rules. I'm wondering how that might look for a radical unschooling family. If you have them, what are they and how did you decide on them? Or do you find that it just doesn't jive with radical unschooling?

Here's the thing about rules: they only work when they work. The trouble comes when they Don't. When they don't you have to decide on a "what next" and that gets amazingly fraught amazingly quickly because part of the natural social wiring package is this: it feels really good to retaliate. That's important to recognize because we also have these backup systems to defend our egos by creating justification for things. And rules make a Great justification for retaliation. They broke the rule, gotta do it, it's only right. It's one of the reasons people cling so hard to ideas like "consequences" that are really just veiled punishment - or to punishment itself. It feels reeeeeeeeeally good to hurt back.

So if a rule isn't working, the way to get around the urge to retaliate is to take a great big step back from the rule and connect with the actual person breaking it. What's going on? What problem are they trying to solve? What do they want to communicate or what need isn't getting met? How can you help them with whatever it is that's so important?

Unschooling doesn't so much have a no-rules rule as a basic premise that people do things for reasons Getting into the reasons and building human understanding reduces rules to what they are at their best - a little shorthand code for when everyone wants to be on the same page without thinking about it. When rules work, that's how and why they work - they make it easy not to think. And when everyone's basically on the same page in general, that's great - energy can go to thinking about other things, more interesting things.

I talk to my kids (oldest is almost 5) about not hurting others

5 is still pretty young - young enough that a rule like "no hurting" can run into a whole lot of problems. Developmentally little kids really aren't very aware of where they end and other people begin - it's something they're both growing the wiring system for and learning to comprehend at the same time. At the same time, they're still developing language skills, social awareness, social skills, impulse control, and trying to understand their own feelings and their bodies' needs all at the same time. Having a rule - or even saying "be gentle" - doesn't change any of that. Now you have a little kid, trying to learn a whole lot of things at once, maybe overwhelmed... do you see where this is going? Kid's don't set out to break rules and be bad, they have a lot going on! They don't need rules so much as assistance in dealing with all that complexity.

Sometimes that assistance can take the form of information or reminders that can "look" like rules, especially if you're looking through that particular lens: hey, don't hit! or: come and get me next time! or: stop means Stop! I think sometimes when people hear "no rules" they think unschoolers must not (or should not) say things like that - but sometimes that's exactly the kind of thing kids need to help them focus their attention in a useful direction: oh... yeah, I have options, cool. What's important to keep in mind is that when that's Not what kids need, it's up to adults to exercise our magic adult superpowers and be creative and thoughtful and flexible - because they sure as heck can't be those things very well yet. They need us to do the adulting For them, to help them out in the moment, and to show them some better options for the future. It helps them learn! Much more effectively than taking revenge on a kid who's just melted down and thrown a block at someone.


when little kids fight

suggestions of how to react when siblings fight? Especially for the little ones that can’t verbalize much yet?

A big thing is not to add your own emotional stuff to the mix - our kids quarrelling or fighting can trigger all kinds of personal issues! Learning to separate your own stuff from your kids makes a whole lot of parenting work better - our kids really don't need to carry our baggage

If talking helps with that, then okay. I'm pretty wordy online, but in meat space I actually don't process very quickly in words, and can be easily overwhelmed by too much talking. But ironically I learned to defend myself from talking by talking - and when Ray was little, keeping up a kind of stream-of-consciousness ramble helped him feel connected. So I got good at blathering... and then Mo came along and started saying "shush" to me when she was 2. Oh my! Suddenly all my handy strategies weren't useful any more. But since I'm secretly not all that verbal, it was also kind of a relief to be able to hush up and tune into my other senses.

I think a lot of the time people think of non-verbal communication just in terms of body language, and that's certainly a part of it, but another part is observing the situation on a broader level, tuning in to the environment and what's going on Around another person that may be effecting them, as well as how they're moving through space, where they're oriented and how intently. It's also important to step back in terms of time - think back and think ahead so that the moment makes sense in that context. Notice patterns. Sometimes people talk about unschooling in terms of freedom and flow, but the patterns in the flow are super important - what are your kid's touchstones as they move through the day? When does their energy rise and fall? When are they more talky versus more physical? And with more than one kid, how do they reflect off each other in different times, different moods, different circumstances?

That can be kind of frustrating when you're still new to it because you want to know what to do When Something Happens - and here come the unschoolers going on about the past and planning ahead and not saying much about That Moment when it's all going down Learning a new kind of situational and temporal awareness, though, is a big part of how those moments become less frequent and more manageable.


suck it up!

< in the end sometimes [children] have to suck it up out of respect and love for others. I don't think that's too much to ask.>>

With some kids, it IS too much to ask! If it's not too much for your kids, okay. But it's super important to acknowledge
that Some Kids Need More - more time, more patience, more support, more silence, more explanation, more space, more options. And some kids Come with more - more energy, more sensitivity, more Big Feelings, more words, more curiosity, more creativity, more focus, more will. And our kids who need more and come with more need a different approach than "everyone needs to pitch in, and it's not too much to ask".

This is one of the hard things to convey about unschooling - and hard to acknowledge as a parent - that some kids aren't going to fit the cheerful "we're all a team here" model in the way other parents seem to be forever promoting it. Some of us don't get that life, no matter what kind of supersonic parenting wizards we may be, because those aren't our kids Some of us have spent an hour trying to coax a child out from under a piece of furniture where we can't reach them, or trying to talk a child down from a tree, or hunting through the mall or neighborhood when our kid ran off, or sitting in the middle of a friend's driveway, holding a shrieking, kicking child to keep them from running into the woods, with the sun going down, because they could not bear for the day to end. And for those of us with kids like that, it's vital to realize that parenting itself is going to be different from what "everyone else" does, even the other unschoolers, and the nice mommies with the cooperative darlings will just have to go blow, because they don't have a clue about our reality.

Having higher needs, higher intensity kids Isn't A Sign of Bad Parenting! I want to shout that from the rooftops and plaster it on billboards.


developmental hiccups

<< I'm just looking for strategies to help her figure out how to work WITH us>>

And depending on what's going on with her right now, that might be an unreasonable expectation on your part. The way to help her may honestly be to wait for development to
sort things out a little.

It doesn't Matter what an adult can do, what another child - even a younger child - is perfectly capable of doing. Right now what you want may Not Be Possible With Your Child. Because development is screwy that way - kids get overwhelmed by unexpected things and fall all to pieces when we really just want them to be fine.

It's always important to remember that when a child is responding really strongly, with tears and screaming and maybe hitting and other kinds of physicality - that maybe this is it, this is what you get when you try to insist on this one thing, this seemingly very small thing. Sometimes it's so vast to your kid that all the tears and screaming in the world cannot convey how bad it is. They're not doing it to be mean or defiant or drive you nuts - they literally cannot cope and are trying to tell you as clearly as they possibly can.

And yeah. That sucks.
And then time passes and kids grown and things change.

Both my kids were super high energy when they were little, and went through periods where they were super intense. There were things that flat out weren't options for us as a result.

It's HARD to acknowledge that! I totally sympathize, I've been there. It Sucks to have to make plans where one parent can't go because someone needs to stay home with the kid. But sometimes it really is the better option - let them be home until they have more development and can cope with whatever it is that's not letting them handle this one thing.

It's not a flaw in your parenting (although people absolutely will judge you for it). It's not even really a flaw in your child - they're going through a rough patch. Maybe you can ease some parts of it... but ease it For Them not for you. I mean... if there's a way to make things easier on yourself, then do that too! But if trying to get this one thing is leading to hours of drama, then Stop! Plan for this one thing to not be a viable option for now. Maybe it will get better quickly - kids can change quickly, and sometimes taking the pressure off will create change, too. But it could be months before something changes. Don't spend those months screaming, it's not worth it.


Joy and food and relationships

What about fast food? Are you saying that your children dictate where you eat?

Ideally unschooling families aren't centered around power, they're centered around communication. And part of getting there can involve stepping away from power-loaded terminology like "dictate" or "in charge" since words like that can nudge our thoughts into more antagonistic modes of interaction.

The trick with communication is that it starts with listening and striving for understanding - and little kids mostly aren't wired for those parts. They grow into them, but in the meantime it's up to parents to model the important parts of communication - the listening and understanding parts. Ironically, conventional parenting works just the opposite because it IS centered around power. And in a power struggle, the person in power doesn't have to listen or understand. So adults tell and kids are expected to listen and learn - while holding out for the day when they'll be the grownups and not have to do that any more
That's the baggage most of us bring to parenting and need to deschool from as we work to decentralize power in our relationships.

Food is a big hot button topic for a lot of people because it's also tied up in power dynamics. The people in power get to choose the food, when and how it gets eaten, and by whom, and we'd all like it to be our "turn". Recognizing that we're coming from these kinds of expectations is often part of learning a better set of expectations, a better set of relationship skills.

Woven into all of this is the expectation that kids will and should learn what parents want them to learn - and while some kids do, the results are based more on the personality of the kid than anything else. Unschooling involves recognizing that personality matters in big ways and working with that - listening, striving to understand, and then adapting to each child's needs and interests and personality so that we can make it easier for them to explore the world in ways that work for them.

So from my longtime radical unschooling perspective the question: "[do] your children dictate where you eat?" doesn't make a lot of sense. I like my kids. I'm interested in them as people. I want to know that they like, what they want, what lights them up and brings them joy. If they want to eat out, I'm interested in the reasons for that! Maybe I'd like to eat out, too - especially as we've moved up the financial ladder to "working poor" from "dirt poor" it's been a wonderful luxury to go out to eat that we all appreciate sometimes. Maybe it's not in the budget, but what other options do we have? How can I ride this wave of joyful enthusiasm with my kid? What can I do to keep on making life sweeter and easier, richer and more wonderful for all of us? Sometimes it's a lot of work for me! That doesn't mean it can't be joyful work, lifting myself up with my own hands while I lift up my family, too.

That doesn't mean you always "have to" go out at the drop of a hint, though. What is it about eating out that your kids like? Can you provide more of it at home? Learn to make something similar? Or is it more that eating out feels better somehow - easier, less constrained, more special? How can you make home easier, less constrained, more special?
Sometimes the appeal in going out for fast food, in particular, is that it comes packaged. You get to unwrap it - like a present. And some little kids really get into that - one of mine did. And we were dead broke at the time - foodstamps broke. I couldn't even afford those individually wrapped crackers-and-cheese packets. So I made my own - made little portions of things and wrapped them up in leftover gift wrap. That was fun, and it made being painfully poor not so painful.

Sometimes what kids like about packaging or eating out is that the food is made to be attractive in some way - so use that, make food that's attractive to kids. Add colors, add sprinkles, cut things in fun ways, make shapes and characters, make toys a part of the presentation. I had a lot of resistance to that - old cultural scars of poverty and puritanism - but with a little shift in my thinking it was delightful to rediscover playing with food. It let me heal some of my own inner child as well as connect better with my kids to make preparing and eating food acts of joy and celebration.


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.