spitting 3yo

I have a 3yo who spits and makes the most obnoxious mouth noises. I've tried all kinds of consequences but nothing stops it! Help!

Totally normal developmental stage, so it won't do any good to try and teach/punish it out of a kid - you can't make them grow any faster. What you Can do is find appropriate and fun ways to enjoy this stage, rather than fighting it. Make up games - spit things at targets, spit for distance, get different colors of candy and gum and "paint" with spit. Obviously, do this in places that are either easy to clean or you don't mind At the same time, think of other things that use the same kinds of muscles - blow bubbles, blow up balloons, blow whirligigs, slurp things with straws, lick things off plates (make designs with... oh something fun.. ketchup! or sprinkles, or yogurt with food coloring in it - and Lick Them Off. Yum!).

Play with interesting mouth sounds - I don't like general mouth noises either, so I totally sympathize, but don't stop at "yuck" find Other things to do. Figure out how many tongue clicks and clucks you can make. Find some recordings of languages that use those sounds! They're super cool! Make animal noises, bird noises. Imitate sounds. Sing. Sing in a funny voice. Talk in a funny voice. Get a helium balloon and Really talk in a funny voice! Make sound effects. I don't just mean tell him or teach him - do it together. Have whole conversations that are goofy sounds. It's a Blast! and it turns a kind of annoying developmental state (totally with you there!) into a fun, light bonding experience you'll remember fondly, rather than with a shudder.


"you have to teach them"

I brought them food but their autism makes them hyper focus and they just don’t eat that’s the difference between asd kids and neuro typical kids

For Morgan, I looked for ways to make food super appealing and super convenient - lots of foods that could be eaten by hand without being gooey (stuff on hands! alert! alert! stuff on hands!) but also things that were eye catching and fun. We went through a few different stages of that. For awhile, it helped to wrap everything up like little presents. For awhile, it helped to decorate the heck out of everything - food coloring, sprinkles, shapes, party toothpicks and umbrellas, etc. For awhile it helped to tuck snacks into toys like a kind of puzzle, or use toys as plates and cups for the pure weirdness of it.

And sometimes it was just better if I sat there and reminded them to eat - that worked best if I offered a sweet first, since the sugar would get their appetite working, and they'd start to notice food.

Mo was like this about everything - not just one thing like video games. Everything they did was with this amazing focus for hours on end. It's somewhat developmental in the sense that as kids move into the tween and teen years it dissipates a bit, but my partner and I are divergent, too, and before we had kids we could both forget to eat and take care of other needs if we were wrapped up in a project. It's not something you teach away! That's the biggest thing to remember about neurodivergent kids, you Won't "teach them better". Not shouldn't, won't. Can't. Learning works just the same for us as for nts - it's just as dependent on interest and perception and personality and temperament and mood. It's our perceptual fields that are the most different from nts.

I really want to affirm that it's Hard for neurotypicals to parent divergent kids, because of gaps in your own wiring. You're wired to look for specific social cues first and to use those cues as a kind of emotional feedback. So when divergent kids don't produce those cues as readily, it makes it harder to see what's going on with them, but it also makes it harder for you to feel connected and loved, to feel like your kids want to connect with and love you - so you have less of an incentive to learn better. It's not y'all's fault, like I said, it's a wiring gap. Divergent parents don't have that same gap, so it's easier to look past the absence of social performance and see the non-performative cues that telegraph a kid's feelings. But just like divergent folks learn to perform, typical folks can totally learn to look past performance. That's the great thing about human nature - we're plastic and adaptable! We learn and grow for the sake of people we love.

"teaching" and autism

This is from an unschooling group where a parent was insisting that kids on the spectrum need to be taught even basic things, and that this makes them different from "normal" kids. I want to address some of the "we had to teach" things, because they're good examples of how the expectations of the neurotypical world can get in the way of seeing what's going on with neurodivergent kids.

I'm not entirely sure what "teach her to chew" means, but given that she was 5, she had to be eating somehow by then, and chewing is a mechanical variation on the sucking motion, so I suspect it means "chew with her mouth closed". And 5's a bit young to my thinking. Even typical kids don't really have much of a "theory of mind" at that age, but since they're wired to attend to social performance, they're more likely to mimic socially appropriate performative behavior. Chewing with one's mouth closed is Performative behavior. If that seems anything other than obvious (at least once it's pointed out) then see that as an indication that you're wired on the social performance end of the typical-divergent spectrum. Probably, she'd have learned more naturally around age 8, when the normal developmental shift into the tween years increases a child's awareness of "the other" - although it's entirely possible someone would still have needed to say something like "you know, other people don't like to see mouth goop - you know how you don't like goop on your hands? it's that kind of thing." A 5yo won't understand that - even a nt 5yo! What a typical 5yo will get is "this is how to perform eating". 

We had to teach her how to speak by rote memorization of responses to certain phrases and then build off of that (at 5 years old)

If you take "teach" out of the equation, what does this look like? It actually looks like a pretty common experience for divergent kids, which is that they pick up on whole phrases and "scripts" and learn those first - much the way, if you were moving to a place where people spoke a different language, you'd learn common phrases and responses first. "How do you do?" and "Excuse me, where is the toilet?" In a way, it's a more "adult" learning style - but it's only possible because the person in question has already internalized a lot of the rules and patterns of language. It's not at all like teaching a parrot to talk.

But it's not so much Different from the way neurotypical children learn as it is more overt. One of the current fields of study is how much normal, day-to-day human behavior is scripted or even "robotic" - people run on autopilot. Neurodivergent people are more aware of the scripts and subroutines. I certainly am - even before these ideas were in common parlance I thought of myself as having a set of internal characters I could move to "center stage" and have them run their lines for my "audience". It's interesting to note that a lot of performers are neurodivergent - makes good sense, if you think about it: they're more aware of the extent to which daily interactions are performative. 

Blank face, no words, nothing.

It's called "resting face". And it throws neurotypicals into an amazing amount of confusion and distress - it's really a fantastic window on the gaps in their wiring system because Everyone has a "resting face", but when a person expects a socially performative face and sees a resting face, they have a negative emotional response. So we have the expression "resting bitch face" to describe women who wear their resting face in public. And when people default to a resting face while... watching tv in particular, it's said they look like a zombie. Producing resting face when other people expect emotional performance is called "flat affect" and considered a symptom of a number of disorders... many of which, it turns out, may be neurodivergent responses to... well, to being bullied to "act right" our whole lives.

A whole lot of parent-child miscommunication ends up being about resting face or failure to perform the "right" other face. This is something a lot of divergent folks are distinctly aware of - hands up anyone who's ever thought "do I have the right face on?" You're aware of the space between your internal state and outward performance. And while neurodivergent folks tend to be more intrinsically aware of that space, it's certainly something nts can learn - it's a big component to things like meditation, mindfulness practice, physical disciplines like yoga and tai chi, and even acting!

As a parent, any time you find yourself upset that your child isn't showing respect, or courtesy, or appreciation, or attention, it can be helpful to pause and remember that all these things are Performative. And that sometimes it's harder to perform than others.

And I can't emphasize enough that, even though I'm drawing a line between neurodivergence and typicality, this is stuff that can apply to any kid and any parent - even to adult-adult relationships. Conventional parenting/education is all about demanding a certain kind of performance from children - a performance that's as much about power dynamics as anything else. People in power get to have resting face. Lower status people are expected to put on a pleasant expression, to show that they're listening, to appear interested and attentive. So this stuff crosses a lot of lines into various 'isms - sexism and racism and classism - but we start learning it as children. Age 2 is around when adults start reacting to a failure to perform on the part of children. It's part of the "terrible twos" - kids "demanding" things instead of "asking nicely" is a common performance fail, along with kids saying "no" rather than cheerfully acquiescing. Kids who don't start to work out the performance details quickly get categorized as "bad" or "difficult" or in need of teaching. All kids benefit from adults looking past their performance failures and seeing little people struggling to deal with a complex and often overwhelmingly big world.



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.