Two Things About Unschooling

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.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Beverley
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 03:55:14

    I was very lucky – my inner child saved me from parenting in the way I’d been taught to and had been modeled by my parents and school teachers.

    A strong inner child is a genetic given in my family – it mostly shows up as spontaneity and ego-centrism. 🙂

    My inner child was very reluctant to grow up. Instead of perverting this need to be a child into continued childish behaviour, for some reason it chose to constantly remind me of what is so great about being a child – the overriding impulse to learn and a love of learning.

    My inner child would not tolerate anything I did or said that curbed her ability to learn. She was very insistent…

    Being around my children reinforced my inner child’s ‘voice’. The first six years of parenting were a battle ground between the voice of conditioning (head) and my inner child’s wisdom (heart). Heart won. My children won, but best of all, I won.



  2. JJ
    May 13, 2010 @ 17:16:49

    NYT blogger Tara Parker-Pope wrote something important about this last week:

    “We live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible,” said Dr. Coleman, whose book “When Parents Hurt” (2007) focuses on estrangement. “But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents. . .”

    . . .parents and children have very different perspectives. “It’s possible for a parent to feel like they were doing something out of love,” he said, “but it didn’t feel like love to that child.”



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