Conventional parents usually don’t think they are being disrespectful or
unkind to their children, and they often think they are using only gentle punishments,
referred to as “natural” or “logical” consequences.
What do radical unschoolers do that is different?
First, they try to engage in “Parenting with Interpersonal Intelligence.”
One of the things unschooling parents work on is having a clear idea in our own heads, as parents, of what our
interactions with our children mean TO THEM, from their point of view.
Parents send their kids to their room to, “Think it over,” or give them some kind of punishment to get them to, “Think about what you did.” But what are the kids most likely thinking? “She’s so mean.” “She doesn’t understand.” “She’s not fair.” “She didn’t listen to me.” “She doesn’t care.” “I HATE her.” “I’ll never treat MY children like this.”
When we are more able to think from our kids’ point of view, we are more able to figure out what we can do that will really help a situation. It makes a huge difference in what choices we make, as parents.
Second – most people are completely and totally and thoroughly brainwashed by the whole Skinnerian behaviorist approach to “training” children. When a child is, for example, lashing out at a sibling, that is a child who needs a parent to help him work through some kind of problem. But most parents think that any show of sympathy will be
perceived as a reward by the child for his misbehavior and will condition him to do more and more of it.
It is very hard to get out of that mindset – but children are not circus animals, to be trained with reward and punishment. Unschoolers drop that “trained animal” paradigm – and that is a HUGE huge gigantic big change that requires us to re-examine every aspect of parenting – and to treat our children like real human beings, with complex needs and
Making these changes in our thinking isn’t easy. Not everybody starts out with the same level of interpersonal intelligence (look up Howard Gardner’s ideas about multiple intelligences for more info on this). For some, it comes naturally, but for many people it takes effort to develop. And, we are SO steeped in behavioral psychology ideas that we tend to think of them as axiomatic – unquestionably true. It takes almost all of us time and practice to accept that there are other, much stronger, forces at work in child development than positive and negative conditioning and, especially, to realize that conditioning techniques can often counterproductive.