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.


deschooling and old friends

We were at a party with several other families, people we've been friends with for years.
As it got later into the evening all the kids started getting into trouble, starting fights, throwing tantrums. They never used to do this before. Our kids are 2, 5, and 7 and they were all the worst kids at the party.

One of the tricky things about deschooling is that you can feel like you don't know what to expect from your kids or yourself any more. You got used to having one set of expectations and rules for how to act, and without them it can feel like you're floundering when things go awry. Eventually, you'll have learned a new set of expectations and tools for various situations, but in the meantime... well, it can feel like things come out of the woodwork and blindside you, to mix my metaphors. To me "as it got later" is a giant red flag - because I remember when my kids were those ages. One needed to be able to take breaks from any kind of social situation. One needed to be taken home before things got to the point that he skipped from "this is fun" to "fight or flight" mode - it sounds like your 5yo may have that kind of short-circuit, too, at least right now, and maybe your 7yo, too. That's something to plan for - as in, plan to avoid, whenever possible, by having a sense of when your kid is tired, or overstimulated, or needs something that another kid can't provide. 
I don't want to give up these friends as we've crossed so many milestones together but I hate coming away from these events feeling like this. I should also include that these kids are my children's best friends

Don't think of giving up so much as taking a break, cutting back a little. You all need time to transition, still, learn some new skills together. Throwing your kids into situations where they're going to flounder doesn't help any of you, or your friends. Get together with one other family at a time, two at the most - I don't know how many people were at that party but "ten we've known 15yrs" sounds like five couples to me, plus kids - way too many people at once right now. If I'm wrong and it was just a couple families, then no more than one. Keep things small. Skip parties, but have playdates.

When possible, divide up your kids, too - your 2yo doesn't have "best friends" at this point, so don't hesitate to send them to a separate play date or leave them home with a sitter if the elder two are inseparable or have friends in the same family. If you're married/have an adult partner, plan to split up for social things as needed. One of you takes one kid and the other two, or hire a sitter for one so each kid has an adult.

If avoiding parties entirely would have dire social consequences (worse than your kids becoming "those kids" that no-one likes to invite at all), plan to arrive late, maybe, with kids well fed on favorite foods so that there's no sense of "missing out". Maybe attend parties in between other fun things so that it's easy to leave. Definitely only take one or two kids rather than all three - with that age range, they're not all going to like the same things, and there's a good chance you'll be tied up with the 2yo just when the elders need a hand. Avoid that dynamic by not bringing more kids than adults to parties, at least for now. In five years, things will be different.
I came away feeling judged

While I certainly agree with all the adage that "there's no special unschooling world" it's also the case that homeschoolers are a minority and unschoolers a minority within that. So there are some aspects of minority life that are yours, now, and being judged is one of them. If you have any other experience in your life as a member of another minority group, that will be familiar to you, but if not, well, here you are.

People won't understand, or will misunderstand, or will see you through a lens of stereotypes, or will judge you just for being different. You'll feel caught between wanting to explain and being annoyed at having to explain - again, still, really? didn't we just do this? You'll be frustrated to be The Homeschool Family, official representatives of all homeschoolers, everywhere, and tarred with the same brush. Sometimes it will make you a little crazy. The best advice I can offer in that regard is to, yes, get your house in order and all, but also try not to take the mutters and side-eyes and the rest personally. And, because some days that's easier said than done, find at least one home/unschooling friend irl or online you can commiserate with when three people use "the s word" in one day, or ask what grades your kids are in, or want to know how they'll get into college. Again. Knowing it's not just you can make it easier to let that stuff roll off your back.


I know kids will misbehave, but my child chose violence as their reaction.

Something that I've found helpful is taking the words "behave" and "misbehave" out of my vocabulary. Kids, like adults, get frustrated, misunderstand, miscommunicate, make assumptions that aren't true or don't pan out, get facts wrong, get tired, hungry, bored, lonely, aggravated, and sometimes find themselves in over their heads. And their behavior reflects that. But unlike adults, kids don't have very much experience in the world, so they're not very well equipped when things go wrong. Their behavior tends to telegraph a lot of what's going on with them as a result.

Especially with my first kid, who got to experience the steep part of my learning curve as a parent, when I thought about his behavior in terms of whether or not he was "behaving" I missed seeing the reasons behind his behavior - I wasn't looking for reasons, I was looking for performance. The more I looked for reasons, for what his behavior was communicating, the more I knew about him as a person, and the better I was at being his partner.

"difficult" kids

...when one person is holding the family hostage...

It's really, really important Not to see a child who's different from the rest of the family as a hostage-keeping bully. That kind of thinking is actually a part of abelism - parents often have a lack of empathy for higher needs kids and see those kids' attempts to communicate in terms of bad behavior, rather than seeing intense behavior as a desperate attempt to communicate that something is wrong. I know I fell into that trap with my first kid and it took a lot of hard work to get out - and a big part of that work involved getting away from the idea that one person "shouldn't" have bigger or different needs than anyone else in the family. It's not about what should be or what's fair. Needs, health, ability... those things aren't evenly distributed in life, and some kids lives are harder. They need more than anyone else in the family.

It can all seem so simple to parents who have kids that can be coaxed or pushed into doing things with just some grumbles or a bit of fussing. The conventional wisdom is that mom just needs to put her foot down, or explain things right, or set the right boundaries, set a good example... and if she does that and the kid still won't comply, well, then, that's a bad kid. Worse if they're atypical because as a culture we've framed disability and difference in terms of sweet compliant goodness on the one hand and evil monsters on the other. The brat who's allowed to hold the family hostage now will be a serial killer later. It's in all the superhero movies and cop dramas, urban legends, country songs, and most of all the superstitious gossip that parents pass back and forth like it's the absolute truth: you have to put your foot down, but some kids are just bad seeds.

That kind of implication can be devastating to families. When parents find that the conventional methods of insisting, explaining, and "modeling" don't help, those kinds of messages often lead to them throwing up their hands. Nothing to be done, after all, with a bad seed. Virtually all the messages to parents about what makes a "good parent" suggest exactly that.

What radical unschooling has to offer is a whole different way of approaching differentness - by seeing "difficult" kids as people who are having a hard time and, as their parent, looking for ways to make their lives easier. Making life easier, with a kid who's having a hard time, often means getting a long way away from conventional ideas about rights and fairness and what "should" be - because wanting those things isn't anything like reasonable for this kid, right now. It often means shifting your thinking so that you plan for your child to be exactly the way they are these days - not in a defeatist sense, but in the sense that you learn how to think ahead, to do the things your kid can't do, to help them do what matters to them, rather than trying to convince them that something else should matter more. It means adapting your expectations to your child, knowing that they'll learn what they need in their own ways, on their own timetable.

Sometimes it means you experiment and get things wrong - I really want to be clear and also empathetic about that. Yes, you try things and your kid still loses it. Or you try things and they kinda half help some of the time. Or you try things and your kid says "mom, you can stop talking now" and you do a happy dance that they actually used their words for a change. But having them know you're on their side - their actual side, trying to support them in what's important to them - that helps a lot. Even when there's no way to get things "right" your kid knowing they have a friend, someone who's got their back, that makes a world of difference.


easier for 4yo

My kids span a large age range - some grown, the youngest 4. Sometimes my husband an I want to do things as a family, but the 4yo doesn't want to go. Like recently, we all wanted to go support our eldest at an event and the 4yo refused. I finally packed him into the car anyway, but he cried the whole way there and then fell asleep in the car, so I missed everything. How can we find a middle ground that honors everyone?
Rather than thinking in terms of middle ground, think in terms of making the inevitable easier on your kids - because there certainly are things in life that are... if not inevitable then at least major limits in life, and it goes a long way to look for ways to make it easier for kids to navigate those.

So, in terms of taking a 4yo someplace they're going to be bored and frustrated when they'd rather be home, I'd look for ways to make the experience less onerous on the 4yo. Pack fun things in the car. Plan to bring special snacks and activities that are all about the 4yo - stop for ice cream, maybe, or get a bunch of glow sticks and run around the parking lot in the dark. Get a new video game for the occasion to play in the car. Treat it like... going to the doctor's office - how could you make the experience less unpleasant for everyone?

All that being said, it's good to keep in mind that some kids have a harder time with transitions than others - and 3-5yos often find transitions hard. You can try to soften them, but it's worth asking "is it actually worth bringing a little kid to something like this?" I mean, no-one enjoys a bored, frustrated little kid, and having one along can really ruin an experience for everyone. That's not a "discipline" thing, that's real life with little kids. They don't Belong everywhere. So it's not really productive to put them through a hard transition for something that's just going to suck.

For something like the event, then, it would have been helpful to try and brainstorm ways for the 4yo to get to see the big event without having to be in a place that's really, really not designed for young children... like maybe live streaming, or making a video to watch at home. Or just taking lots of pictures. Then the experience could be about the kid to whom the event really matters, rather than the needs of the 4yo, and there'd be mementos.

It takes some practice to get used to dealing with kid stuff like that, thinking and planning ahead with realistic expectations, but it's sooooooo worthwhile because making things easier on your kids makes it easier for the whole family.


note to self: stop and take a breath

I know I've written about this before but can't find it. Gr.

Anyway, something that was an enormous help to me was to kind of give myself permission to stop in the middle. I'd get all worked up, arguing, yelling, and at the same time there would be this little voice in my head saying "noooooo! this isn't what I wanted to happen!" but I didn't feel like I could actually stop out of... I don't even know, some misperception that I shouldn't, that I should finish what I started or be consistent or something. Those kinds of messages about what "good parenting" was were getting in the way. Ironically. Some of it, too, was a kind of fear of looking like a fool - stopping and saying "okay, woah, I'm totally off base here, can we start over?" just felt... embarrassing. I didn't want to admit I'd gotten it wrong.

It turned out that a big part of learning to be a better parent, a gentler, more thoughtful parent, involved admitting I got things wrong, or wasn't sure what was right, on a fairly regular basis. Fortunately - and much to my chagrin - my kids had never actually been fooled by my bluster
And they appreciated my backtracking and apologizing. Part of Me getting there involved being okay with my own inadequacy, being gentle with my own humanity.

The next thing that helped was asking myself "why the heck not?" whatever it was my kid wanted - because usually those arguments involved a kid wanting to do something (or stop something) and me insisting on doing things the way I'd imagined them playing out in my mind. Recognizing that things didn't have to go that way, that I could say yes a whole lot more without ruining my kids for life, made a lot of things easier. More than that, recognizing that "being consistent" didn't work the way I thought it did, freed me up to realize that it was okay to Try Things, just this once. To experiment and see what happened, then review things with my kids and figure out what worked and what didn't. And mostly, nothing "worked" in the sense of once-and-for-all solutions - that's what's wrong with the whole idea of "consistency" to begin with. Because situations change with a million different factors it was actually more "consistent" to problem-solve each time than to apply some generic rule that didn't always make sense, or needed a hundred caveats and exceptions.

Once I got used to stopping in the middle and changing course, it was easier to do that earlier in the process. And over time that meant I was asking myself the necessary questions and doing the problem solving before things got fraught in the first place. It didn't happen over night, and sadly my older kid got the brunt of my process, but in the longer run I think it made him gentler with his own process, more accepting of his own humanity.


value of children

"getting one's just deserts"

That kind of language implies that people who don't work so hard don't deserve their lives... which by extension includes children. It's part of the premise that says kids should be made to do chores - they need to "pitch in" and "be part of the family" by dint of their labor, or they're just moochers, not deserving. Human worth measured in "contribution".

In some times and places, that's valid. Non-contributing members of a group are literal burdens, and as such less valued, less worthy. They're drains on resources. As appalling as that idea may seem from a more privileged perspective, there's a rationale and even a morality to the idea. And that idea clings in the common psyche long after it's no longer necessary to measure persons in terms of economic or social value. Parents feel morally justified in requiring kids to do chores - kids *should* be made to do them.

That's one of the privileges of unschooling - kids get to be valued even when they don't contribute. They get to live wholly undeserved lives. And that turns out to be a good thing, psychologically and emotionally. It doesn't ruin kids to live undeserved lives, it doesn't stop them from being good and gracious and generous. It lets them be those things on their own terms.


angry, resistant child

My 5yo seems to be angry a lot of the time, these days, and has no discipline. She says please and thank you rarely, doesn't want to say hi to people we know, and always wants her own way. It almost seems like we've raised a spoiled brat.

Something to keep in mind... do you know the saying "when your kid is giving you a hard time they're really Having a hard time?" If your child seems angry much of the time, then she's not going to be able to see beyond her own needs very well - that means she Can't be friendly and accommodating very easily. She's little. The world is big and overwhelming, and she's trying to deal with the few skills she has. And right now courtesy is just a song and dance to make other people happy - not something she can access when she's not in a good place, herself. So a big part of making it possible for her to be her best self is going to involve helping her get to that good place.

It took me a long time to realize that a big part of unschooling was actually making kids' lives easier. It seems so counter-intuitive - mainstream culture tells us over and over, that "kids have to learn" and that most of that learning involves setting them up to be challenged. But that's not how learning works! People learn better when they're the ones choosing their own challenges - and kids certainly will do that. But just like anyone else, when they're not the ones picking the challenges they're up against, they tend to hunker down and get grumpy

So it can actually be really helpful to look at what's setting your kid up to be angry so much of the time and see what you can do to make her life a little sweeter and easier. For a 5yo, there may be a whooooole lot of things that seem really trivial from an adult perspective - like not wanting to say hi to someone - that are huge sources of frustration from their point of view. So a big part of helping your kid involves looking for their point of view.

One particular aspect of making life easier for kids that parents overlook is flat out doing things for them. Again, we've gotten all these teachy messages from the world around us saying "oh, they have to do things for themselves so they'll learn". But, once again, that's not how learning works. That's something I saw over and over with my first, when we were still fumbling our way toward unschooling. When I put him in situations where he was expected to do things he didn't want to do, he didn't actually learn anything beneficial in the process. Instead, over time, he learned he wasn't a nice person
But when I started stepping in and doing things for him when he wanted - even things I knew he could do - he was happier, and he learned more from the experience. His social skills were better when I said please and thank you for him then when I tried to coax him to do it for himself. So don't hesitate to help your child directly like that if it will make life easier for her - she'll learn better things from your assistance than from digging in her heels, not wanting to do whatever it is.

All that being said, I don't want to give you a false impression that making your child's life easier will turn her into something she's not. She may never be an agreeable little babydoll - she may be someone who's going to disagree with you and challenge your assumptions at every turn. And part of living happily with a strong personality is to get comfortable with disagreement and having your assumptions challenged. The great thing about strong minded kids is that they can take you places you never thought you'd go! The down side is that it's not the smoothest ride in the world