Coaching (Choices, Freedom, and other difficult ideas)

Marta Pires

I was looking for some information on Sandra's site, specifically about how to guide/coach our kids in social situations and I ended up reading a lot, which is always a good thing. :-) I wanted to share some information with a friend of mine who is new to unschooling and who seems to need some tips on how to coach her child in those kinds of situations, and ended up tweaking my own thoughts and behaviors on this topic.

The first link that crossed my mind was Sandra's "Freedom" page and it helped me realize, once again, why freedom is such a tricky word for unschoolers—sometimes, people interpret it in a way that leads them too far away from what a polite, respectful and considerate family should be. One connection led to another and of course the idea that we should be partners to our children was added to the mix, in the sense that it became clear to me that if we don't give our children information about what is more polite, or more respectful or considerate (according to each circumstance), it's almost as if we aren't being good partners, we're actually sabotaging our relationship with them and compromising unschooling in our family. And then I remembered Sandra's "How To Screw Up Unschooling" page—one of the ways we can screw up unschooling listed on that page says it all:

"Don't collaborate.*

  • "Unparent"ógive kids "free rein" without talking to them re: appropriateness of their actions (affecting others and others' property).
  • Don't help your kid understand the ways of the world and boundaries and what's right and what's wrong.
  • When they have a disagreement, let them work things out themselves with no input from you.
  • Do not prepare them ahead of time for anything new they may encounter. Let them deal with it on their own.
  • Have the idea that unschooling is just allowing your kids to walk all over others because they feel like it and well you don't want to ruin their lives!
* "Counsel" and "advice" were discussed, as a heading for this section. We don't want to say "counsel them" or "don't counsel them" either one, though, so it can't be set up as though those are opposites. "Don't advise" was tried and rejected. Other considerations: Don't collaborate.
Don't share information.
Don't be helpful.
Don't give/share information.
"Guiding" or "Guidance" or even "Counsel"?
Neglect disguised as freedom
The problem is that some of the most rules-wielding, "just do it" parents believe they're helpfully sharing information."

(end of the quote from "How to Screw Up Unschooling")
Marta continues:

I could've easily been one of those moms who thought that saying anything to my child would be limiting her, and who could've been afraid of her daughter's sensitivity. I can see clearly now that they don't learn how to handle these situations simply from seeing us do things one way or another (although it's important, of course), but we need to give them information and find out the best way to do it, having our own child in mind. That's not damaging them or limiting them at all, quite the contrary—I think it's helping them navigate the world and become respectful, considerate, polite adults.

Some quotes that I've collected:

From a discussion on the Radical Unschooling Info page regarding the TV show "Wife Swap", two interesting quotes:
"[F]or some, unschooling is all about freedom and that can translate to people and kids who are not mindful of other people. Making our kids aware of social norms, peoples feelings and being mindful of others does not take away our freedom . It just makes us better, nicer and more mindful people." ~ Alex Polikowsky

"I feel that encouraging this awareness in our children give us more freedom in many respects. I find the nicer, more mindful, increasingly aware of social norms, and of others feelings I am, the more freedoms I am afforded by others. I share these findings with the young people I share my life with (daughter, and nephew)" ~ Susan Burke

original discussion
From another discussion on that page regarding table manners:
Sandra Dodd responded to:
-=-Do you differentiate between home vs. restaurants/friends homes in terms of how much you coach, educate, etc... -=-
Try to do all the coaching at home, and not at friends' homes. And don't ruin a restaurant meal by criticizing all the time. It bothers me when a kid holds a spoon "ham handed" and he's already nine or twelve. Some moms seem never to coach at all. Sometimes I would say that what they were doing was fine for now, but if they were ever invited to eat at the White House, they should do it this way, and show (just for a couple of seconds, no long lesson) how to do it. There are polite traditions like if they give you a bread plate, the're wanting ou to tear each bite off and then put the little piece in your mouth, not to bite off of the bread. That never came up at our house, but has come up at restaurants, so just saying, "Oh! Bread plates..." and showing them the etiquette of breaking one bite off the bread... tadaa! That's it.

Robin Bentley added:

I was brought up with "If you were ever invited to eat with the Queen..."

I gained some experience when I was young by going to naval mess dinners - very formal, with lots of silverware. And I practiced similar silverware placement at home. I don't remember my mum ever "teaching" me, but probably she coached me on correct behavior in such situations. Plus I was the kind of kid who didn't want to embarrass my parents, so I was careful.

It might be fun to look at YouTube videos about use, placement and etiquette of table settings (if your child is interested; if not, you could look).

You could check out ways eating around the world: ie., eating with one hand vs the other in Arabic countries, communal eating in Africa, the advantages or disadvantages of the chopstick, Chinese vs. Japanese style sticks. I've been in Japanese restaurants where the server would bring a set of chopsticks for kids with a rubber band around the non-business end to stabilize them. That way the kids could practice given their level of dexterity. Sometimes adults unfamiliar with chopsticks do that, too!" ~ Robin Bentley

Pam Sorooshian wrote:
I think the only table manners that matter are the ones that keep others from feeling uncomfortable and allow others to enjoy their food. So - I don't want to see the food you're chewing in your mouth - keep your mouth closed and take smaller bites. I don't want to see food dripping down your chin - use a napkin. I don't want to hear your smacking and chewing - be quieter. All the other etiquette stuff - anybody can learn that as needed. If I got invited to the White House, I'd google "White House manners" and find Joseph the butler's website and spend the next hour being fascinated by the etiquette advice. Number one - "Say yes if you're invited to the White House." I'd also learn I should check with the white house social office to make sure that I'm not wearing the same dress as anybody else (and that would tell me I need to wear a dress, too, I suppose). And - don't drive your own car - hire a limo company that knows white house routines. And so on. I'm sure the table manners are in there, too, but I haven't gotten that far yet! Fun stuff.
(table manners discussion on facebook)

From yet another discussion on that page regarding food:

Sandra Dodd, to:
-=- I guess it is hard to have to limit without sounding like the old me. If that makes sense?-=-
There are arbitrary limits [about food, bedtime, playing, "screentime" (very bad term)] that parents just make up, or copy from the neighbors. Then there are limits that have to do with laws, rules, courtesy, tact, circumstances, traditions and etiquette. For example: No matter how good a wedding cake might be, people get one piece. The rest belongs to the bride. No matter how hungry someone might be at a birthday party, NOBODY touches that cake until the ceremonial business is done. And the birthday honoree might even give you the first piece, but you shouldn't ask for it. Just stand around smiling and hope for the best. And without a rule, if there's something measured, like stuffed mushrooms or devilled eggs or cupcakes, a look around at how many people are there can help with deciding whether having a second one is even remotely courteous, at the beginning of the party. Two hours later, if they're sitting there and half the people are gone, go for it! Principles produce all kinds of answers where rules fail.
(original)
From another discussion on the Radical Unschooling Info page on principles and rules: :
Sandra Dodd:
Principles produce all kinds of answers where rules fail.
Alex Polikowsky:
Some people come to unschooling and in the beginning of their journey they ditch rules but try to replace them with unschooling "rules". Replace them with principles. When you do, most of your questions and doubts will no longer be there." ~ Alexandra Polikowsky
Michele James-Parham:
Another common "unschooling rule" or frame of mind due to misinterpretation: We're unschoolers and don't have rules, so we don't have to follow your rules (in-laws, restaurant, museum, etc.).

Just because you allow jumping on your couch at home, doesn't mean that Grandma has to allow jumping on her couch or that the museum has to allow jumping on its couch in the lobby.

(original)
From April 24th's chat on "Parenting Peacefully":
Sandra Dodd:
I think that's why I think of it as a partnership/team deal. It should neither be ALL about the kid without consideration for others, nor all about the way the mom wishes things were going, without regard to the kid. Balance. It gets easier as the children get older **unless** the mom has made a habit of letting the child believe that whatever he "needed," she would provide no matter how many other people were inconvenienced. But just kind of like that graph at Precisely How to Unschool.... It's all about the baby, but a seventeen year old ought to be helping the mom make the world around them comfortable for others, lots of the time.
From May 8th's chat on "Bribery and Coercion" (I took a lot of things out, trying to leave just what was important to this topic.):
Sandra Dodd:
There was a movement called "non-coercive parenting. And they defined "coercive" to cover what I consider to be persuasion and negotiation. So NCP people got themselves some very, very rude children, because it was against their theory (they didn't have beliefs, because they hadn't tried it all out with real kids, or if they had, they refused to share any stories)... against their theory to ask a child to do ANYthing.
AlexPolikowsky:
This morning my son really wanted his sister to go play with him and see some new Tau Hao games he found. So I talked her into it a bit. Saying he really missed her and wanted to share something cool. She wanted to do it on her terms, first she checked her Skype then she went with him. I could have said to him "She does not want to go" and leave it at that but I know my son was really looking forward to showing her something and he missed her being gone so I talked to her and talked to her about it. She had fun when she went with him.
Jill Parmer:
An example of not coercing your kid to do anything. One family I know their kids (8 - 12 year old range) will not greet guest to their home or acknowledge their leaving. The mom didn't believe in coercing her kids, therefore, wouldn't even ask them to greet and say good bye to their friends, who were invited over.

I think that type of action, Alex grows in kids. I've noticed my kids able to understand others or have empathy because of information like that.

AlexPolikowsky:
Yes Jill and I talked about the other person's point of view and feelings making them aware of it. " Your brother really missed you." Your brother is excited about showing the new game he found" without talking way too much!
Sandra Dodd:
That might be a good time for bribery. :-) If you want to help benefit one child by encouraging the actions of another and words just aren't doing it, throw in a tip. :-) If they have fun anyway, bonus.
Robin B.:
Some non-coercive parents think that if they talk enough, their kids will see the wisdom and necessity and just happily do what their parents want.
Sandra Dodd:
Cheating! talking until people will do ANYthing for you to stop is coercion. Torture.
AlexPolikowsky:
Too much talking! Good point!
ChrisSanders:
Sometimes offering something to a young child to put off having your attention, won't work so well. Unless there's a trusted history of the parent following through.
Sandra Dodd:
Right, and it's not the best thing with very young kids, either. They're too little to understand "later" and too young to enter into a contract, for sure.
Robin B.:
Yes, Sandra! So they are doing just what they say they don't want to do. It's cognitive dissonance!
AlexPolikowsky:
Yesterday Gigi decided 10 minutes before her going horse back riding that she was too tired. first- I should have realized and cancelled. Since I made a mistake. I apologize and said that I was not going to have anything schedule for the next two days so she could rest and then I talked to her about Kelly ( her horseback riding instructor) only being there for her and that she coudl get there and not ride just work the horse ( she likes that when she is tired) or play games with them. She went and had fun and the horse she rides loves her and was so happy to see her ! She loved seeing that! But I did "coerce" her into going.
Virginia W.:
It was about relationships, not obedience.
Sandra Dodd:
Right. It was about being courteous to the teacher, and about being reliable and considerate. Persuasion. I want to talk about how people can be persuasive. Alex talked about the feelings of and inconvenience of the horseback riding teacher when she persuaded Gigi to go. She didn't say "You owe me." For me, about unschooling, that's key. Do what you do so that your child is doing things that are useful and moral and "educational" (not a word I use much but I'm in a list of adjectives) and defensible.

Freedom Freedom/Choices/Empowerment/Respect Being your child's partner

Rules vs. Principles How to Screw Up Unschooling