Support versus Coercion

Don’t people sometimes need external motivation to accomplish things they do want to accomplish?

A friend gave the example of exercising. Lots of us find that we keep up an exercise program if we have a buddy to do it with. I know it is true for me that there are many days I’ll go for a walk or to the gym because I’ve told someone else I’d meet them there and, if I hadn’t, I’d probably have flaked. So, isn’t it human nature to need some external motivation to get us to do even things we really do want to do?

However, my actual desire to exercise is internal. Nobody is “requiring” me to exercise. It is something that I really want to do for myself, but there is a certain amount of inertia that I have to overcome in getting going to do it. It isn’t
someone else trying to make me do something that “they” think is good for me, against my will.

Some of that inertia may be human nature, but a big chunk of it is because we, ourselves, were so often coerced into doing things that other people thought were “good for us” that we built up resistance. Again, exercise is a good example. How many of us can remember the feeling of sheer joy of moving our bodies, of being truly “in” our bodies, when we were little? When did we lose that? Could it have anything to do with forced physical education?

We don’t always do the things we “want to” do (or think we should do). I have a stack of books I want to read, but I sometimes sit and play games on my computer, and then later wish I’d spent that time reading. Why don’t I do the things that have a higher priority to me? Am I lacking in self-discipline? How will my kids learn not to procrastinate or flake?

Would forcing our kids to do things we think are good for them help them do a better job of making their own choices?

I don’t think so.

Instead, we can provide support for the choices our kids make for themselves.

THAT is a really good description of unschooling, but how do we tell the difference between “providing support” for something our kids do want to do and pushing or coercing them? I think it is something we learn through trial and error and being very sensitive and observant.We may sometimes nudge or even push something a little when we think our kids are a little fearful, for example, of doing what they really do want to do. When we do it, we are very very cautious and we pay close attention to what affect our support is having. We watch to see if it is encouraging our child, are they becoming more eager? Or, are they doing it a bit grudgingly? Are they becoming actually resistant? If we give a little push and they get started and they’re INTO it and obviously it is something they were wanting to do – then we know that we provided “support.” If they keep resisting, they moan and groan, you know that they’re not interested and you’re not providing “support,” you are coercing them into doing something they’re not interested in doing. After a while, you can fine-tune your awareness, and you’ll provide just the right amount of support with confidence that it is just what your children want and need.

Example: I knew, deep in my heart, that Rosie would love martial arts and yet she turned down all offers to sign her up. I thought that what was holding her back was not wanting to be embarrassed in front of a group at not being able to do it well. I finally pushed a bit – I said, “Please just try a class and see how you like it. One class. I think it is very likely you’ll love it, but if you don’t, that is fine.” She LOVED it! She now has a black belt and is an instructor at her studio. That’s support. If she’d not liked it and I’d kept making her go anyway, that would be counterproductive  coercion.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Idzie
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 23:11:58

    Awesome! I love hearing about other unschoolers lives. 🙂



  2. Jackie
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 20:39:42

    My son is the type of persoanlity that would not try anything at all. I know there are many things that he would love. I signed him up for an art class and he told me he didn’t want to go. I told him that he was going and if he really didn’t like it I would not make him keep going. It was only a three day art class. But, we went together because the parents were required to attend. He absolutely loved it and still talks about what he learned. I could not imagine him missing this opportunity. He definately needs a little push every now and then. The nice thing is, as the parent, I usually know my kid well enough to know when to do the pushing, and when not to do the pushing.



  3. stacey
    Jul 25, 2011 @ 18:13:07

    my question is- can working parents actually unschool? and- how do unschoolers get into college? i would ‘love’ to unschool, and we tried it with my oldest until she was 8. my husband, however, brought up the ‘college’ question (he refuses to read about unschooling) and when i tried putting her in math, she was behind. she loves to write, but doesn’t want o learn anything in math. i work nights, so i don’t have much ‘awake time’ to teach her/no finances to really take ‘field trips’ or anything.. maybe that was the mistake. we were home most of the time. is unschooling just not for us?



    • stacey
      Jul 25, 2011 @ 18:18:04

      fyi-i understand the ‘transcript’ concept, but am more interested are there any parents out there that have had a child that never showed any interest in math(and i really do mean none, can barely add/subtract on own, little to know concept of multiplication (even when explained the concept, she hardly pays attention-ADD, possibly). anyways- if you have a child like that, who wants to get into college, (she wants to work with animals), do i leave it up to her to learn?….she already understand she will need math. time may be the issue. i don’t have time/energy for all the games…



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