"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.

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