5.27.2017

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.

4.27.2017

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.

3.05.2017

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.

1.12.2017

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.

1.05.2017

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