10.07.2012

truisms - "proven" strategies

proven parenting strategies

There's a fundamental problem with this premise, which is that it assumes that
rule-based parenting is proven effective when it's results are actually pretty
random. In fact, the body of evidence provided by "proven parenting strategies"
is that there are good seeds and bad seeds and it doesn't matter if you do all
the right things, some kids will turn out bad.

The problem is that conventional parenting and educational strategies are
divorced from rational analysis. Parents and teachers continue using the same
strategies and sharing them as "proven" even when they fail spectacularly. Part
of that comes from seeing child psychology and behavior as divorced from adult
psychology and behavior - children are seen as students or subjects, future
adults, future people, and as such everything known about human nature is set
aside in favor of tactics for training or educating them.

Where radical unschooling gets radical is that it applies what is known about
human nature and cause-and-effect relationships to children. There have been
educational methods, over the years, which apply those principles in classroom
situations to great effect. And there have been parents and movements of parents
who have applied such principles in the home, also to great effect. These
principles have been applied to normal kids, gifted kids, troubled kids, and
kids with a wide range of disabilities. The idea that children are human beings,
with the needs of human beings and reactions of human beings, and that adults as
well as children can learn from adult-child interactions to the betterment of
both parties has been proven true over and over. But none of that is reflected
in conventional parenting lore or common educational methodology.

it seems that parents still need to steer their kids in the right direction,
not based on biased world view...


The human brain is designed to notice patterns and there are patterns everywhere
- in speech, in social interactions, in shapes of things, in the relationships
between physical characteristics. Some sets of related patterns we call
"language" some we call "mathematics" some we call "ethics" and "courtesy". Kids
can't help but notice those patterns and think about them because that's what
our big convoluted brains do best.

The trouble with trying to "steer kids in the right direction" is it ignores the
human capacity to see patterns - it's the "do as I say, not as I do" fallacy.
Adults try to write knowledge onto kids to protect them from having to learn
"the hard way" - noble sentiments! but the human brain isn't a tabula rasa. It
doesn't work that way, and so kids become aware of the fundamental gaps between
what's being taught and the real patterns of real life. That's why teenagers
fight with their parents! They have enough perspective by then to see all the
ways that adults are impulsive, foolish, self-deluded, contradictory, and rude,
and contrast that with how they're told they should behave "if you want to be an
adult".

If you step back from the idea that kids need to be steered and see what they
do, they explore and respond to the patterns of their environment. Adults can
help them - and should! Unschooling is absolutely Not "hands off parenting" it's
very engaged, thoughtful parenting. Kids, like adults, don't want to be set up
to make disastrous mistakes, but they do want to make their own decisions.
Unschooling parents help by offering up other portions of the patterns around
them.

from a related discussion:
What methods [of evaluation] would you suggest, that aren't subjective?

There are no methods of measuring what a person has learned which are not subjective - none whatsoever. The idea that it's possible to measure learning objectively is part of the problem, and one of the reasons so many parents, educators and administrators are opposed to the use of standardized systems of evaluation. That's why more responsive methods of education rely on a mix of different kinds of feedback, both qualitative and quantitative - feedback which allows the "teacher" to know if he or she is doing well or needs to modify his or her approach, focus, and/or goals to better meet the needs of the student(s). The greatest horror of the push toward more "objective" methods is that it prevents teachers from doing exactly that - modifying the curriculum to the real needs of the people being educated. That kind of ongoing, inherently subjective, assessment and modification is the hallmark of good teaching anywhere, under any conditions.

false truisms - money

I have a hard time with just handing money to my children for no reason what so
ever on a regular basis. I feel it teaches....


The trouble with focusing on teaching is that it ignores what and how people
really learn. There's a grand parenting myth that in order for children to learn
what's right and good, you have to be stern and strong, put your foot down, make
them work for it, make them prove they're worthy. The marvelous thing about
unschooling is you get to see that none of that is really true. You actually Can
be sweet and kind and generous and gracious to your kids without "teaching" them
to be rotten little monsters who don't give a crap about anyone but themselves.
I'll repeat the important part of that:

It's Okay to Be Nice to your Children! It won't ruin them for life.

just handing money to my children for no reason

Generosity is a reason and a darned good one. Kids don't become "spoiled" by an
abundance of generosity, they grow bitter when attention and care are replaced
with things.

I also do not pay them to do the regular chores around the house ... as a
family we all have to contribute to things.


Why did you have children? If it was to make more workers for your family
economy, then your philosophy is perfectly consistent and reasonable (and this
is why unschooling doesn't work in some environments - if children are necessary
to the financial solvency of a community it is not possible to unschool).

But if you have the luxury of valuing your children other reasons - for their
love of life, their fascination with the world, their personalities and
uniqueness, then they are already contributing to your family and your life. You
don't Have To make them earn anything else - they've already succeeded in
enriching your world.

Probably, you're thinking in terms of teaching, though, and getting stuck there.
It seems reasonable that you have to teach children to be good workers, because
they don't start out that way... except that's not the case. They Do start out
motivated and well able to learn what they need... until teaching sabotages
their learning, interrupting what they care to learn until mindless, silly tasks
are accomplished. Over time, without being taught or required to "contribute"
kids do discover the value of some of those mindless, silly tasks and start to
take them on - they Voluntarily begin to help. That's a consistent finding
across families that don't require "contributions" but are open to them.
Openness matters, for sure! Homes where kids are not Permitted to contribute are
different matters - and those are often the homes people point to when they say:
see these kids weren't made to help and they're helpless. They weren't "not
made" they were "not allowed".

I guess for me it is important for my children to know that money is earned

But it isn't always earned - and certainly money is not always earned in
proportion to work. People receive money from trusts, insurance, investments,
inheritance, spouses, grants, and gifts. And there are people who work for no
money or very little compared to what they do.

There's no correlation between making kids sing for their supper and a strong
work ethic. The laziest, most money-grubbing people I've met were raised doing
work for their parents and taught that money had to be earned. Some of the most
generous people I've met were raised with no expectations they "contribute to
the family". Which isn't to say that chores will necessarily ruin your kids -
teaching isn't learning no matter how you slice it. What kids learn from
parental expectations is personal - some will learn they are valued as good
workers, others will learn that work sucks and it's better to bilk the system
for every penny.

and that it is not easy always

This is another fantastically huge parenting myth: that it's somehow possible
for kids to learn that life is easy and they can have anything they want. There
is not a shred of reality in that myth. Really, you could bend over backwards
saying yes to everything all day long and kids would still run into a hundred
roadblocks, frustrations and disappointments. The sun will go down no matter how
hard you wish otherwise. It rains on picnics. Squirrels eat the tulips, the deer
fail to show up not matter how long you wait, and the hummingbirds eventually
fly off until next year. People get tired and are uncooperative. Bodies change
and old things no longer fit. Beloved toys and blankets wear out and fall apart.
Life is so full of hardship and disaster that parents don't need to add a single
"no" for kids to figure that out... usually by age 2. It's that obvious.

And - and! it's impossible to say yes even to all the things which are
theoretically possible. Parents aren't always as capable, creative, and have
enough energy for everything (although we're often better than we think,
especially with practice!). Parents aren't perfect - they're human beings! And
that's really fine because so are children. Never, every worry that a child will
grow up thinking life is easy.

One of the fascinating aspects of radical unschooling is getting to see the
biggest parenting "have tos" proved wrong. You don't have to be stern and hard
for their benefit, you don't have to teach them life is hard, you don't have to
teach them the benefit of work - you don't have to teach anything at all. You
can live with them as friends - you the more together, capable friend who is
graciously offering your resources to your less informed, less capable friend
who needs a lot of help for awhile. What a great friend to be! What a great
friend to have! I didn't get that good of a friend as a child, so I'm finding it
a special honor to get to be one. It's marvelous.

I also think that it is so important to learn to wait for something.

Delayed gratification is one of the many things adults think comes from teaching
which is actually developmental - and like anything developmental that means
some people learn it much sooner than others, based on unique qualities. When
kids are required to wait too often and for too long, some of them learn to be
resigned, some to be resentful, some that they aren't worthy, some that when
they grow up it will be their turn to make Others wait. A lot of that will have
to do with personality.

What you can do is set kids up to succeed and don't make them wait for things
unnecessarily when you can avoid it and help kids wait gracefully - either by
helping them find a distraction or commiserating gently and supporting their
emotions. Which one is more appropriate will depend on the child and situation.

My point is that in general my kids know that money just buys things and we
really do not need all those things to survive and be happy!


Yes, kids can learn things like that even in conventional parenting situations,
if parents are generous and engaged in other ways. Being generous and engaged
are the big things - and that's good to know if you're daunted by these crazy
radical ideas that kids can learn grace and thoughtfulness and responsibility
without being taught.

As with any situation, I think talking, talking, talking with your children
and really with them and not at them is the most important tool to helping them
see where you are coming from.


This is a piece of advice that works so well for some families and is utterly
disastrous for others. What Is important is creating an environment where
communication is open and flows both ways, but how that happens Rarely involves
lots of talking. When it does, it's a personality thing.

A big part of what makes communication work is actually stepping back from
trying to get someone else to see your point of view and considering theirs -
and that's all the more important when "they" are children. There is development
to consider and the innate power differential between a parent and a child. So
it is all the more important that parents can see a child's perspective if they
want to open up the lines of communication.

fully exposed

Q:how do you go about exposing your children to things that you value, but that
they don't immediately understand the value of--without burning out, giving up,
or resorting to methods that don't feel quite right?



The biggest, most important thing to realize is that all the exposure,
exposition and explanation in the world won't produce interest or a sense of
value. Those things only come from within. You can't Make someone else care
about what you care about, or learn what you want her to learn.

That's the problem with education itself - not you, not your kids, but education
period.

Start someplace else - how do kids learn what they need to know if no-one is
showing them what's important?

Kids learn because they are observant. I don't only mean modelling, I mean the
human brain is designed to notice patterns and there are patterns everywhere -
in speech, in social interactions, in shapes of things, in the relationships
between physical characteristics. Some sets of related patterns we call
"language" some we call "mathematics" some we call "music" etc. Kids can't help
but notice those patterns and think about them because that's what our big
convoluted brains do best.

Think about the things you're considering valuable in terms of education -
they're Prevalent. That's why you want your kids to know them, so they're not
lost and ignorant and helpless. I used to worry that my kid wouldn't know
anything about religion because I wasn't "exposing" her to it in any kind of
systematic way. But religious and mythological ideas are very prevalent - in
books, movies, tv shows, puppet shows, random conversations in the grocery
store. She can't avoid learning about a dozen different religions just from
going about her daily life, observing the patterns she sees.

In addition, kids learn because they are full of curiosity and wonder. That's
big. It's a marvel. Wondering is what takes people - including children - from
observation to something else, to asking questions and looking for answers. To
trying and finding out. Wondering is one of the reasons people push through
challenges - climb real mountains and metaphorical ones. You can't Give someone
that kind of motivation; it only comes from deep within. Sadly, you can take it
away, and teaching someone who doesn't really want to be taught is a proven way
of doing so.

how do you go about exposing your children to things that you value

Step back from the word "children" and replace it with "friends" - how does the
question change?

If you value something, make it part of your life. If you value music, play
music, listen to music, dance and sing. Invite the people you love to join you -
maybe they will. If you value scientific thinking, think like a scientist. If
you enjoy math, play with numbers and relationships. The catch is to live your
own values without trying to foist them off on other people - because that's not
a very good way of sharing what you love, and because personality matters. All
your singing and dancing won't make your kids musicians if they're not so
inclined - but they'll know a few things about music. If you push music at them,
they may associate what they know with drudgery and unhappiness - and then
you've failed and failed more utterly than if you never sang a note in their
presence.

9.30.2012

natural learning

In my experience, learning is talked about outside of education on a regular basis. My husband is learning the banjo and I am learning the washboard. My parents (in their 60รข€™s) are taking college
classes and so are my nieces and nephews.


I work in an upholstery shop and this past week one of our delivery guys was out sick and we brought in a temp. He has a full-time job but works temp jobs, he said, because he loves to learn new things. He's excited to be learning about how furniture is put together. It's one of the things I love about the job - even my boss, who's been doing this for 40yrs, still finds new things to learn.

When I used to work retail, I worked in a fabric store and by far the best part of the job was that every day, or nearly, someone would say "I've never done this before." Sometimes it was said with trepidation and a plea for help, other times with gusto: Whoopee! I've never done this before! It was magical.

Here is a question for you: How does one learn without some kind of external
stimulus? Yes, learning is very much an internal process but there must be
something there for the child to learn.
In a way, it's a trick question because learning is a kind of... interface between the internal and the external. It's part of how we organize perception. Learning is an internal process in the sense that it depends utterly on our perceptions - that's what makes education so tricky, you can control the stimulus to an extent, but not how it will be perceived. But because learning depends on perception it's heavily affected by the external world... just not all parts of the world equally.

That's a big piece of the puzzle in "atypical neurology". It isn't that some people learn differently so much as that some people take in a different subset of perceptual information and that affects learning. But in a sense Every person's subset of perceptual information is at least slightly different from every other person's - that's why people at the same events remember them differently.

I think my discomfort may also come from the fact that I tend to use things in my environment to remember stuff. An example is when I learned to drive a 5 speed. When I think about that, I think of my dad and the neighborhood where I practiced. My dad showed me how to do it and then let me drive around the neighborhood on my own. I learned how to drive that car but that was sparked by something in the environment. (I am not sure if that is making any sense.)
Yes! That's exactly what I mean by subsets of perceptual information!

I remember taking a dance class as a kid where I learned a set of moves all from one part of the room, always facing the same direction. Then the teacher tested us in another part of the room facing a different direction and I couldn't do any of them at all... until I closed my eyes. It's one of the tricks people with dyslexia in the written form use for figuring out which way a letter faces - closing the eyes, I mean.

Similarly, when I'm learning something on the piano (I'm not any kind of pianist, I just barely dabble in it) I always have a big leap of confusion when I try to learn something with one hand first and then add the second hand. All the "data" is different when I'm using both hands and I remember the piece in terms of the relationship of movement between my two hands - a relationship that doesn't exist when I'm only playing one at a time.

8.16.2012

little kid taking things

he's not one to hold onto stuff

I suspect that's related to taking things - he doesn't have a strong sense of ownership or permanence yet. What's "his" is what is in his hand, what he's using right now. There's a degree to which that kind of assumption is cultural and situation-dependent, which makes figuring out the messy territory surrounding usage and ownership complex.

In addition to what others have suggested, it might help for you to try and keep up with the things he has for awhile and mislays - that will allow you to "regift" him with the same things over and over.

It could also help for you to give him small things when you go visit other homes - either something to have for the visit or something to trade for whatever he picks up while there.


"this belongs to x, it needs to stay here"

It could be helpful to anthropomorphize a bit and say "this lives here, it wants to be here". That's going to depend on the way he thinks about objects - some kids have this sort of global sense that things are possessed of personalities (kind of a like a kid version of animism), but not all. My daughter never liked that kind of talk, but it made perfect sense to my stepson when he was little.

6.14.2012

People learn. Feelings matter. Children are people.


This grew out of a discussion of bedtimes and if it was necessarily "radical" to eschew them. 


Certainly people have different needs. At the same time, it's easy to mistake cultural assumptions for "needs" - or use cultural assumptions to conflate several needs into one "solution". When that solution doesn't work, then it makes good sense to pick those needs apart so you can find ways to meet them separately. 


One very common modern cultural assumption is that parents need time away from children. One of the assumptions layered into that one is a dismissal of the needs that parenting actually fulfills. When you recognize that engaging with your kids meets Some of your needs as a parent, that can help "fill you up" a bit more, so you're not riding so close to empty - which can help you delay gratification a bit longer on other needs for awhile. 

Another hugely common modern cultural assumption is that parents get their grown-up needs met after kids go to sleep - all of them: privacy, adult conversation, intimacy, rest, and sex. That's a Lot of pressure to put on family relationships - so if it's not working, it makes good sense to pick those needs apart and look for other ways to meet them. For a parent who works outside the home and needs actual solitude to transition from work to home, it can be really beneficial to look for ways to provide that - which could be a room in (or adjacent to) the home where that person can be undisturbed, or it could be going someplace else in between work and home. 

I'm not saying anyone has to do any of those things, only that when rolling a whole bunch of assumptions into a ball doesn't work, that pulling them apart makes good sense


And to reiterate, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with gently helping someone you love find a rhythm that works for him or her. It's kind and sweet - and kindness, sweetness, gentleness and care are some of the basic tools of radical unschooling.

As 
a moderator, I'm really concerned with what I'm seeing as a need to "put unschooling in it's place" so I think it could help to articulate what unschooling is really about. Unschooling is derived from the assumption that people - including children - learn as a natural life process, and that learning cannot help but respond to an individual's (even a child's) feelings and perspectives. That's the root - the "radical" of unschooling. It's not anything particularly special. People learn, feelings matter, children are people. 

What that means in terms of something like "should I put my kid to bed?" is that Your Child's Feelings will have a direct effect on what he or she learns from the process. If s/he feels small and helpless when you do that, then s/he'll learn things about helplessness. If s/he feels supported and cared for, s/he'll learn about care and grace. What you choose to do, then is less important than how your child feels and what s/he thinks of you as a result of those feelings. 

That extends to the issue of "alone time" for parents, too - if mom and dad wanting to be alone feels exclusionary and hurts a child's feelings, that child will learn something different than a child who has a different perspective. You can't control that perspective - but you can observe and choose how to respond. It's Okay to be sweet and kind and supportive when that's what helps your kid feel good about life.


Going back to the original question, about "the "radical" aspect" - the problem seems to be that mom and dad were applying a set of expectations and those expectations did not work out. That was not any kind of unschooling, radical or otherwise. It was just a mistake - and learning often depends upon mistakes. Mom and dad tried a different set of expectations and at least based on one criteria (getting enough sleep) that seems to be working. The problem, from an unschooling perspective, is that it's not clear how the child feels about that - and feelings, even the feelings of children, matter Because they directly inform what a person learns. 

If your goal is to learn more about unschooling, then the thing to do would be to take those feelings into very careful consideration - which isn't the same as automatically saying "this doesn't work" if the child's feelings are hurt! It might mean acknowledging that parts of the routine don't serve the function intended and looking for ways to modify things. It could mean commiserating - saying "I'm really sorry, I don't have a better idea right now" or something of that sort. If his feelings aren't hurt, if he feels sweetly supported, then great - you found something that seems to be helpful for your family right now. That's lovely. And it's much more like "radical unschooling" than expecting a little child to figure out the complexities of body energy management independently. But again, it's not about the "what" so much as way feelings intersect with learning.

2.23.2012

fact or fiction redux

Someone was "asking about non fiction stuff like news or science stuff" with regard to when children start to "realize that some of the stuff on T.V., while not physically present in the room, could indeed directly involve them?" This was my reply:

Do you have a young child who likes to watch that sort of thing? If so, it may
be more helpful to observe the reactions of your own child than to look at
out-of-date studies of children living a different lifestyle with a much more
limited access to programming than your own child ;) Most little kids don't want
to watch the news unless it's the best way to spend time with a parent - and
"science stuff" is often too dry for a young child unless it's pretty heavily
jazzed up.

And then there's the whole issue of relativity in "non fiction" - endless
arguments are held on how this incident or that has been portrayed to change the
perception of "news" or "history". In the US there's an ongoing debate about how
to use our Constitution which stems in part from a disagreement over history,
and how to interpret history.

And science... ye gads, there are whole competing paradigms of scientific
thought in more than one area! What's real and what isn't on the subject of
(hmmm, which hot topic to pick...?) obesity? vaccination? evolution? climate?
electromagnetism? psychology?

On top of that, there's a little matter of human nature which adults share with
children - we Learn from a Variety of sources, including fictional sources. I
know gobs about the Napoleonic wars from reading cheesy fiction. I've learned
all sorts of things about science watching Star Trek - and so have my kids. My
daughter learned a lot about tidal waves by reading a book full of
fire-breathing dragons, and a whole lot about animal behavior from a series
about werewolves. Is everything she learned about animal behavior True? You
might as well ask if everything you read in a non-fiction book on dog training
is true - some of it will be repeated by other sources, some not, some
verifiable by direct experience, some not. That's a big part of how people
decide what kinds of information is trustworthy and which is not - not true of
false, because so much of that is relative, but worthy of consideration as fact.

Schools promote the idea that there's A history, A body of science, A cannon of
literature - but none of those things are true and people who are interested in
learning more will find that out, by looking for other sources of information.
Unschoolers get to do that from the start, not on the sly or for extra credit,
but whenever a subject intrigues them. Tv gets to be part of that process - part
of how they learn and explore the world - and it doesn't Have To Be categorized
by someone else as fact or fiction to do that. It's just one more source of
data.

resources for dads

2/23, Brie wrote:
> For Michael, my husband, the biggest step he made toward unschooling was recognizing that he didn't have to be a hard ass to be a good dad and that he could, with every choice, STOP being the asshole dad his father had been.


That could so easily describe George. It's such a relief for him to know he doesn't have to be an asshole to be a good dad.

It might help to think about all the baggage that comes with the expression "a good mother" - men have just as much baggage about being fathers, although of a slightly different sort. They can sometimes need a lot of reassurance that all this kindness and softness isn't going to "ruin" their kids in some way. Connecting with other unschooling dads can help, but gosh its hard to get dads together and talking about something touchy-feely like parenting - even the touchy-feely dads can struggle to put it all into words until they start to feel competent about it.

> Sandra's the Big Book of Unschooling is great too, especially as a planted bathroom read, because it is mostly short one-page essays.

Also consider printing out parts of Joyce's website - her logical, organized style is reassuring to a lot of men.
http://joyfullyrejoycing.com/

Some unschooling dad blogs:
http://justabaldman.blogspot.com/
(Jeff Sabo - lots of mom appeal, too)

http://pvmaro.blogspot.com/
(Frank Maier, doesn't write a ton about unschooling, but devoted to it. He's both cynical and wittily articulate, which will appeal to some more than others.)

http://www.thebarkingcow.com/
(John Gold - mostly older posts, and a wild, wicked sense of humor)

http://thewonderfulhappens.blogspot.com/
(Rob in BC - mostly a photo blog)

http://uncommonranting.blogspot.com/
(Alex Bradstreet - includes several recent essays on "deschooling society")

( Tim Gutteridge - Breakfast with diamonds. Another smarty pants dad - well written and articulate. Gosh these unschooling dads are clever fellows.)

http://theparentingpit.com/
(Arun's blog - they're not unschooling at the moment, due to health issues, but some very good posts over the years)

Bob Collier's "Parental Intelligence Newsletter" doesn't only focus on unschooling, but does explore a wide range of issues related to learning and parenting, including a great deal about natural learning:
http://www.parental-intelligence.com/

---Meredith

1.07.2012

not instilling anything

A big part of the problem a lot of parents have around the idea of setting limits on food or
anything else comes down to this idea of "instilling" values. Instilling runs
into the same problem as teaching in that it's about the actions of the
"instiller" rather than the experience of the "instillee" - and just as with
teaching, what parents are trying to instill is often not the same as what is
actually learned. You can't control what kids take away from the instillation
process.

It helps a lot to step back from thinking in terms of instilling values or
principles and instead work on living by them - but to do that it can take some
effort to "unpack" what your principles really are, especially where scary,
intimate, vaguely defined issues like "health" are concerned. As
counter-intuitive as it may sound, it's often more helpful to kids when parents
step back from focusing on the kids' health and focus on their own - focus on
being joyfully health-filled rather than grimly health conscious. For many
parents, especially moms, that's tough. Many of us have grown up surrounded by
women (our mothers, sisters, aunts, teacher, friends) trying and failing to
control their bodies (weight, size, shape) and the newest trend is to frame all
of that control in terms of health, so we carry that into our own mothering,
along with all the rest of our baggage. And so kids can end up learning our
baggage rather than what we'd far rather instill about health.

The big fear which can rise up out of that baggage is that if we don't teach (or
the kinder, gentler version: instill) the right things, then something else will
do the job and ruin our kids (sugar, advertising, video violence, Barbie...).
The heart of radical unschooling involves facing down that fear and seeing how
learning works Without teaching or instilling - even around seemingly
all-powerful forces like Barbie and sugar - not by "hands off" parenting, but by
living and learning alongside our kids as partners, offering information and
creating an environment which fosters thoughtful choices - thoughtful, as
differentiated from "good". And to make thoughtful choices, there need to be
real options - not red/blue sweater choices where the "right answer" (wear a
sweater) is already given.

dietary issues and social situations


Things to keep in mind regarding dietary issues with young children:

Kids change.
That's a big one. Their bodies and needs change - including sensitivities over
time - but even more importantly, their minds are also growing and changing. So
what "works" with a toddler won't be as helpful with an older child.

Learning is about the person doing the learning.
From an unschooling perspective, that's just as big and important an issue to
keep in mind. You can attempt to guide and direct, but that doesn't guarantee
kids will learn what you hope they'll learn - and a Lot of learning is
experiential. Kids are motivated by one of the most powerful of all human drives
to explore and discover on their own terms. That's not to say they don't want
your help, but they want More than just your help. That's part of what makes
parenting scary! They need us, need parents, but they need us to be advocates
and facilitators more than they need facts and cautions.

 I am uncomfortable with forbidding and limiting foods because I don't like the
dynamic it creates between him and me.

That's an important observation! Limiting can make hash of a relationship -
which reduces your effectiveness as a source of information. Limiting sets kids
up to trust parents less, over time, And it makes whatever is limited seem more
valuable and desirable. Luxury is defined by limitation.

I would like to not have to forbid or limit foods, however, the consequences
of eating gluten, dairy, etc. are really tough to bear as a parent (much more
work and stress for me) and I can tell he feels awful and out of control of
himself. This isn't a big deal a lot of the time since we don't keep stuff
off-diet in the house, but in social situations it gets hard.

It will get better as he gets older and has a greater sense of perspective. A
toddler has a hard time considering causes and effects which aren't immediate
and obvious, but kids don't remain toddlers ;) In the short term, you can
consider limiting social situations rather than deal with the fallout from the
foods. You can also bring food of your own, but that's going to have mixed
results, so it can help to keep in mind that the goal isn't for him to make
"good" choices so much as it is for him to gain experience making choices period
and explore causes and effects. That means Planning for a rough time after a
social event! I don't mean you should "expect to fail" but you should be ready
for your child to behave like a little kid, curious and interested and wanting
to explore his world on his own terms.

Planning ahead in that way can actually make things less stressful, since you're
not fighting against logic and probability. It's like... if you bring your child
to my house, it makes sense to bring boots and a change of clothes because I
have this wonderful little creek, just perfect for splashing around in.
Sometimes kids manage not to get wet in my creek, but I don't count on that -
*I* have extra clothes to offer visiting children whose parents forget. You can
plan for parties and outings the same way, and relax into the knowledge that you
may be dealing with a "hangover" of sorts for the next few days.

That kind of planning, too, makes it easier to ask "do I Really want to go to
this party?" Don't ask that question with the hope that everything will be fine,
ask it with the assumption you'll have a sick kid afterwards.

When Ray was little, the issues were social and emotional and not related to
food, but I learned to go through this same process - is it Worth It to deal
with the probable melt-down at the party And the day of recovery? And over time,
as Ray got older, the answer became more often Yes.

There's a myth kids need to be put in complex social situations over and over in
order to learn to "handle them" and it's just that: a myth. When social
situations are overwhelming in terms of offering kids too many complex choices
(social choices, food choices) kids Can't learn from them very well - so it's
actually counter productive to put kids in those situations. It's one of the
reasons some people leave school with no social skills. Setting kids up to
succeed on their own terms helps them learn.

The catch is, kids sometimes define "succeed" differently than adults. That's
another important point to keep in mind - your child's agenda isn't the same as
yours.

We talk about the connections between the times when he has the food he's
intolerant to and the behavior/symptoms afterward. I feel like he's receptive.


If he seems receptive, keep offering those bits of information. If he's not
receptive, it's sometimes possible for parents to talk about their own issues
and how they've dealt with them as a way of sharing the same information, or how
other people deal. "Some people find that gluten makes them sick and try to
avoid it."

Still other kids need time to draw their own conclusions. My daughter is like
that - I can offer tiny little bits of information when she asks me a question,
but often she won't hear what I have to say Unless she has asked a question.
Until then, I'm just blowing hot air for no reason, as far as Mo is concerned
(and she's kind enough to tell me ;)).