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

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

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

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

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

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

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


when little kids fight

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

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

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

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

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


suck it up!

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

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

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

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


developmental hiccups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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