when things have not been going well
[Part of a response about] ... a personal correspondence I had with Sandra and my reaction to it. I asked if she had a section on her website that had to do with chronic fatigue and feeling depressed as a parent. She wrote the following back:
My interpretation of her email was that she was saying I should probably send my kids to school. At that point in my life, I felt so guilty for being depressed and tired, that I prioritized this information above all else from her email. I probably only read her email once or twice and felt embarrassed and unsure that I was providing a better environment than school. Many months later, I recommended this list to a girlfriend and somehow I ended up telling her that Sandra had written to me saying I should probably send my children to school. She wisely asked to see the email and then read each little part with me, helping me to really look at the words for the first time, without the heavy veil of shame and guilt that I carried that I was shortchanging my children because I was struggling emotionally.
I don't think there's anything specific, except to be responsible. If you can't make unschooling better than school, school's still there. If you're going to unschool, it needs to be better than school. If that involves getting mental, emotional or physical therapy for the parents, then do it! The house doesn't work if the roof is leaking and there's no heat. Parents don't work if they're in an emotional fog and can't pay sweet attention to their kids.
[The Always Learning list] has helped me think more clearly and maturely. It has helped me change unhelpful patterns and most of all helped me step into the *JOY* of life, connection, partnership with my children and husband. I know how scary it is to feel examined, and I think some other readers interpret examination as meanness, like I once did. I think to do unschooling well, it is a fundamental element to have an examined life. To be mindful of our choices and understand our thought processes.
That is the middle of a longer piece of writing by Rippy Dusseldorp at: Learning to read on the list
I don't usually write responses here, being relatively new, with young children. I'm not so experienced. But your daughter is 3, and mine is 4.5 years old. I can tell you that I have never spanked her, or used time-outs, or other punitive measures for controlling her behaviour. I have, occasionally, lost my temper, or gotten angry...and continue to work to change my responses in those situations.
What I want to say is this: when I first came to this list, I was having problems figuring out what to do when my daughter was being destructive, or hitting, or refusing to get dressed to go out, or otherwise doing something that wasn't letting us move forward with fun stuff. While I wasn't being punitive, I didn't have any idea on how to make these situations come to an end and move on to something else. One thing I learned from this list was to examine what happens before those situations, decipher whether my child is hungry, cold, overtired, bored, etc... and pre-empt the negative behaviour that comes from those states by fulfilling those needs ASAP. And sometimes I don't get to that fast enough, other times I do... life continues to improve.
Despite pre-empting those situations as best I can... sometimes they come up anyways for other reasons... and I continue to try to decipher what needs aren't being met, examining what expectation I might be conveying that my child can't handle, and archiving that information for the next time it's needed.
In the end, in the moments, when its too late, no turning back, destructive behavior, or we have to run to the ER for an emergency and I need to get her into a snowsuit? Or something like that. On those not so often occasions, if she is hurting someone, I pick either her up, or the victim up (her brother) and change the dynamic of the situation by introducing a new activity, food or something. If a toy or object is being destroyed, I again, change the dynamic by choosing something new to do and inviting the child to join me (not usually with language, but with expressiveness in other ways). I give us plenty of time to get dressed for outdoors, make it a fun game, let them help each other, or try funny ways of getting myself into their snowsuits... and if we have to get out in a rush, I work extra hard to make it extra fun, or get out a special treat I've been saving, or a new toy, and let them hold it/eat it while I get them dressed. But this doesn't work if you wait until their are livid, only works as a pre-emptive thing, for us.
Doing away with punishments is about being so close and attuned to your child more often than you'd like to commit to, and then some, so as to be able to make their lives fresh and exciting, and being able to anticipate needs and wants, and change up overall situations/moods (I think this is what strewing is, but I'm still working on understanding that concept). Its about recognizing developmental stages, and letting go of behavioural expectations in favor to recognizing your own child's current temperament. Its about postponing adult conversations for other times. Its about realizing, some of the time, that you are still learning all of how to do this, and so sometimes I do it wrong, even if I'm aware of it. But at least I'm aware of my choice to do something unproductive in our relationship, and know that I am working as much as I am able to improve that.
Take a few days off from play-dates, cleaning, etc... and just be with your children, all day long. That might help... I'm not sure.
. . . .
Oh, and Sandra's advice (I don't remember when or where she wrote this) to take things 'moment by moment' rather than hours or days or months at a time, is invaluable. [moment]
the original is here
Someone in the discussion had written:
"...because he's so much more social - it *seemed* possible to 'explain' things
to him, he just lacked the impulse control to 'do the right thing'. "
You put "do the right thing" in quotation marks to indicate (I think) that you
don't feel that way about "the right thing" anymore.
I think "impulse control" might be the more problematic phrase.
Maybe he was making conscious choices, even though he was a child.
Maybe if there's an impulse and a person chooses to go with that, it should be
seen as choice rather than "lack of control."
This isn't about the particular people in the example and their relationship at
all. It's about the idea of "self control" as opposed to improved choice
Katherine Anderson responded to this:
I mean, it's one thing to say "change your expectations to match the
needs of the child" but what about the needs of the WHOLE family?
You want your child to do for the WHOLE family what an adult is resisting to
do for one child?
Connie/Otherstar wrote about the parent being more more present and aware:
Being proactive means being WITH your child. Being proactive means that you try
to find ways of preventing the undesired behaviors. Set your child up for
If you are sitting on the couch chatting with adults, then you are not with your
child. You are placing more importance on your social time with the other adults
than you are placing on your children. If I want to socialize with adults
without being interrupted, I arrange to do things without my children.
Otherwise, I simply plan to be interrupted. If you see or hear your child in
distress, it is okay to say, "Excuse me, I need to go check on my child." All of
the adults in my life know this about me. If I am around an adult that balks at
the idea of me stopping mid-sentence to help my toddler or young children, then
I am probably not going to make plans with them with my children again. It's
that simple. My kids come first.
Finding the cause can sometimes be a challenge because a lot of adults look at
things through their perspective. You have to get down on the floor with your
child and see the world from their vantage point. Children, especially ones as
young as 3 and 6, are very limited in what they can do. Houses are not designed
for little people. The toilets are big. The sinks are high. Refrigerator doors
are heavy. Some adults have houses set up to focus on the adult and there are
lots of things that are off limits. Find ways to make sure that the house is
child friendly. In my house, we have a toy box in every room. In every room,
there are step stools so that they can reach light switches. There are kids
tables that can be moved around to suit them. There are small chairs for them to
sit in if they want. I try to put up anything that is truly off-limits. If a kid
is taking stuff that isn't his, then there is a good chance that he feels like
he doesn't have enough of something. Or, it could be that taking stuff gets him
attention that he otherwise wouldn't get. It may also mean that there is too
much stuff that is off limits. In my house, there are so many things that are
available to the kids that they ignore my stuff. There is very little that is
off limits in my house.
My sister and I had a conversation the other day about how when we were growing
up the only way to get attention was to be a jerk. If you were good, you got
ignored. I wonder how many parents inadvertently set up that dynamic. If the
kids are good, then they get ignored and the parents sit and talk. If the kids
get wild or crazy or break things, then they get attention. Negative attention
is better than no attention at all. Find ways of giving the children positive
attention. I have a great nephew that is 19 months old. When he comes over, I
spend all of my time on the floor because he has been through a lot and does not
know how to play without getting too rough. He takes things from my girls and he
has a tendency to push them down. He is big for his age and doesn't know his own
strength. The only way to help my girls is to be there in the middle of things.
The last time my nephew came over, my girls and I came up with a plan for them
in case playing with their cousin got to be too overwhelming.
A lot of parents miss the fact that sometimes kids get overwhelmed easily. I
know my girls get easily overwhelmed so I try to plan short trips. If we are at
somebody's house and my girls start acting out, I will leave because a lot of
times the acting out means that they are ready to leave but don't quite know how
to say, "Let's go mom. This place is boring/overwhelming/irritating/unsafe/etc."
Whenever we go out, I make sure that we have lots of foods available so they
don't get hungry. I watch for signs of being tired because I know that when my
girls get tired, they seem to lose the ability to communicate. Letting them get
overtired or over-hungry and then expecting them to communicate with you and
negotiate with you isn't appropriate. For that matter, it isn't good for adults.
There have been times that we have gone out and lost track of time and we have
all ended up grumpy and hungry. My husband and I will stop and get food for us
all. Until everybody is fed, we don't address anything. After we all eat, then
we may talk. Usually, feeding everybody eliminates the problems though.
If you have a hard time figuring out some of the causes, you might consider
doing some journaling so that you can look for any kind of common patterns. If
you know that your child gets tired around 2 o'clock everyday, then plan your
day so that your child can be home and can go to sleep at that time. I know that
my 2 year old gets tired late in the afternoon so I try to make sure that she is
somewhere that she can nap or at least have some quiet time cuddling with mommy.
My girls like to run up and down the driveway. I know they get thirsty so I try
to take something to drink outside with me so that they can have something to
drink readily available.
Maybe too much time is being spent with the other family. My girls love their
grandma and their cousins but only in small doses.
Joyce Fetteroll, responding to comments from the original poster (whose name has been removed):
On Jan 22, 2011, at 9:06 PM, [someone now made anonymous] wrote:
So what about behavior that is not about whether it conforms to our
expectations. What about when the child is being DESTRUCTIVE to other
people's property, HURTING other children and or himself, and no one
the house can be comfortable because of how loud he is being?
Three things come right to mind:
Should we really just have to decide "I don't expect kids to be
at all" ?
1) Be more present. There isn't a mindful way for parents to be apart
from kids. Eventually kids will show *they* are confident they can
make safe and respectful choices. But until then, you just need to be
with them. You should *not* expect a play date will allow you to sit
and talk. If the dishes are dirty, one of you can do them while the
other remains with the kids.
At home, you find a way to fit in what you want to do around your
child. If you want to do laundry, for instance, invite your child
along. Give her bits of it she likes to do. Ask her if she'd like to
keep you company. Find *some* way to include her. Or do it later when
your husband or someone else (like a mother's helper) can be with her.
If you do leave her and she does something she shouldn't it's because
she can't, yet, be alone.
2) Solve problems before they become problems. (Part of being
present!) Notice the direction things are heading and change things.
Don't let them get hungry, tired, testy to the point where they're
hitting or destroying things. Food. Naps. Go home. Put on a video.
Draw one away to do something totally different.
Also recognize and accept that the older child is reacting to stress.
There have been a lot of changes in his life.
3) Change the environment. The kids are clearly saying "This is a
bigger problem than I can handle. I need some help." Don't, for
instance, put them in the position of needing to be quiet when they're
clearly showing they can't yet. Don't set them up to fail. If the baby
is sleepy, how about wearing the baby? Babies are way more likely to
be able to sleep through a lot of noise if they feel secure.
Will this eliminate everything? No. But until you eliminate what you
can by being more present and so on, working on anything else is like
bailing a sinking boat with a teaspoon.
The sentence assumes the kids have the ability to control themselves
but are choosing not to in order to be mean and selfish.
I believe in MUTUAL respect.
Even if they can sometimes be quiet doesn't mean they have the ability
to be quiet when *you* want them to.
This will help: Assume the kids are always doing the best they can. If
they aren't behaving as they need to, they need help. *Not* teaching.
Assume they're trying! Assume they understand if you've already asked
them! It's not a lack of understanding. It's a lack of maturity. It's
a lack of years.
Assume they are like a 6 mo. No matter how much you talk to a 6 mo,
yell, give time outs, ground, spank, the 6 mo will not be able to
walk. *But* if you wait, and make sure the environment is conducive to
walking, the child *will* walk when he's physically able.
Right now you're pressuring your kids to be something they can't. Your
expectations are beyond their ability. Until *they* don't need you to,
be their partner and help them or do it for them. When they're able,
they will. But pressuring them will not bring maturity to them any
faster than it will to a six-month-old.
You can't force respect from someone. You can, at times, make kids go
through the motions.
So should someone else have to suffer
or should she respect me enough and TRUST me enough to do as I ask her
because I told her it was important? I feel that in a loving family,
trust should be present that the children will indeed listen to what
told to do so that they can respond immediately when there is danger
they can be considerate of circumstances beyond their ability to
They will *eventually* show respect when they're mature enough. Until
then, be respectful. Be respectful that they have limitations you don't
quite understand. Be respectful that they're trying but can't yet
succeed. Be respectful of their development and trust they will return
the respect all on their own when they can.
Until then, it's your job to live by the principles of respect. Don't
impose it on them.
If they feel respect as something warm and fuzzy and helpful to them,
they will want to return it. If they feel it's something that they
need to go through the motions of because you'll be angry otherwise,
it will take much much longer. And they may never respect you if that
happens. They may, though, become very good at putting on an act of
This is one of the big pieces you're missing. Your can't impose your
right view of the world on your child. The harder you try, the more
likely she will resist.
At the same time, I listen to my child and I trust her.
What you can do is *live* your right view. *Be* the person you believe
it is right to be. If you believe it's best to be kind, be kind to
her. If you believe it is best to be respectful, be respectful of
her. *Don't* do it because you expect her to act that way. Do it
because you believe it's the right way to live.
If you use your values to help her get what she needs, if she
experiences those values in a warm and fuzzy way, she *will* use them
herself *when* she's able. (Though assume she won't always be able to
do it perfectly. Assume she's always doing her best. If there are
better choices, help her with them.)
Maybe you're only listening to her words? Maybe that's a piece you're
missing. Her actions are also communication. If she's not doing
something respectful, it's as clear as saying "I can't yet."
If she tells me to
do something, I listen and ask her about it and I trust her to have
It is a mutual respect.
No, she's way, way, way too young to be expected to respond in adult
ways. She may sometimes be able to. Leave it open for her have some
opportunities. But drop all expectations that she can do it. For now
*you* need to be the one being respectful of her and being respectful
*for* her. Be her partner on her journey. Don't make her be your
As such, we reinforce that simple need for obedience with spanking and
punishments. I don't like spanking but I don't see a way to get a
attention that doesn't involve a consequence.
You do it by listening to the child's actions. If she can't listen,
she's saying "I can't yet do that."
But I tried non-spanking and it began to transform my very sweet,
considerate child into a brat.
Yes, if punishment is removed, kids often do go through a period of
testing limits. It isn't the non-spanking that's causing it. It's the
fact that she was spanked and then removed that caused it. If she'd
never been spanked, if you'd worked on other ways to solve problems,
she wouldn't be a brat.
She wouldn't ask for ANYTHING good. I let it go 3 months without
touching the rule that she could eat all of whatever she wanted
wanted and she never improved her habits ... But if
anything, that utter lack of structure left my child confused.
Though she might have high needs! And the sooner you find ways to meet
those needs in other ways, the easier life will be later. As she gets
bigger with bigger needs and bigger troubles, the spanking will just
make things worse. The sooner you can start working on getting better
at other tools, the better.
Have you seen the No More Spanking list? If you read through the
archives, you'll see lots of ideas. Lots of ways to shift your thinking:
She shouldn't need to ask. Make food available. Make monkey platters.
Going from food controls to no controls *can* cause an initial period
of chaos. And 3 is about the age when food choices begin narrowing so
that can cause even more confusion.
But right now I wouldn't do more than make a variety of food easily
available. I'd work on the other areas people are giving you ideas
for, especially having more reasonable expectations of what a 3 yo can
do. Listen to her actions even closer than you listen to her words.
Building an Unschooling Nest