the network for radical unschooling families
I've been trying to radically unschool our 3-year-old dd for a couple of years now. As many people online have foretold about children raised this way, she has gone from a somewhat cooperative 2-year-old to a rather more difficult three-year-old. She has recently started hitting and kicking mom, dad, dog, and playmates quite a bit, which is new, and focussing often on doing things she knows I don't like, such as making messes for the messes sake, watching me for my reaction. If it's something I can handle, such as blocks and toys thrown all around, I wander away and let her do it. If it's something I won't allow, like hitting the dog, I'll make her stop, and I'll explain why.
Her doing these things just because she knows I don't like them, is a new phenomenon. An added difficulty is that Dad isn't into unschooling. He goes along with me but has reservations and worries. So when she pushes his buttons, he is apt to choose to initiate a power struggle with her. I sometimes ask him not to, which further exasperates him. But when she's acting this way he clearly thinks we're spoiling her.
What is she likely to be needing/learning/ getting out of this type of behavior? How can I be helping her through it? How can I explain it to Dad? And furthermore, it does (mostly) stop, right? I keep reading about people who find unschooling their slightly older children a joy. When does that fun part kick in?
I'm trying not to get discouraged here. It's a rough time, I'm very anxious and irritable. Mostly, we're just too isolated where we live and I have no meaningful positive human interactions IRL (except for with my dd). We live next door to my MIL which is great (because she helps out) and awful (because I feel crazy around her).
All the recent threads about finding your tribe and moving to Oregon are really tempting me right now. I'm from the west coast but living in rural Ohio right now.
she is playing a game. kids that age are all about getting reactions. offer to play something else with her.
instead of telling her what she can't do, suggest things she can do. for example when she is picking on the dog say something like "that is mean to the dog. he dosen't like that." then offer a suggestion of something to do or ask her what she might like to do instead.
*** As many people online have foretold about children raised this way, she has gone from a somewhat cooperative 2-year-old to a rather more difficult three-year-old. ***
People tend to see what they're told they'll see.
She's also a year older. The difference between a 2 yo and a 3 yo is like being a totally different person. She sees the world differently. She has different needs. She's going to react differently.
Meeting a child's needs, being respectful of her, will not turn a calm child into a monster.
A controlled child, though, might look calm and peaceful on the surface and in your presence. Inside they're bursting. And when the controls are eased up, they might go wild. That's not the child responding to lack of control. That's a child responding to having been controlled.
But she's 3. That's not likely in this instance.
*** She has recently started hitting and kicking mom, dad, dog, and playmates quite a bit, ***
This happens with 3 yos. It's the age. It's an impulse and she doesn't have the ability to side track a reaction to an emotion yet.
It's not a matter of not understanding. I'm sure she knows by this point. So don't try to get her to understand to get her to stop herself. Do, though, be clear it's not acceptable. There's a difference. You can't stop her from kicking. But you can stop her kicks from hurting the dog or you.
*** and focussing often on doing things she knows I don't like, such as making messes for the messes sake, watching me for my reaction. ***
Being 3 means you have so little power and control in the world. And she's discovered that by doing certain things she can cause enormous reactions in big powerful people. That's got to be a trip! :-)
Find ways to give her more power over her environment so she doesn't need to resort to these ways she's stumbled on. Like stools so she can reach things she wants to reach (light switches, her coat). Move things she normally has to ask for help with down to her level. (Whatever is reasonable.)
Video games! :-) Video games are a great way to feel more powerful.
Disengage your buttons. If you don't have buttons, she can't push them!
*** watching me for my reaction. ***
It can also be a need for your focused attention.
Be more present. Engage with her.
It can also be a need for energy release. Do you take her to playgrounds often? Often enough for *her*? What's "often" to you may feel "hardly at all" to her if her need to move is great.
Be more aware. Catch her *before* she's tired, hungry, bored, irritable. Feed her. Change the environment.
*** If it's something I can handle, such as blocks and toys thrown all around, I wander away and let her do it.
How about throwing blocks with her :-)
Get soft stuff she and you can throw. Go to a playspace at a quiet time and throw the balls in the ball pit.
*** I'll make her stop, and I'll explain why. ***
Don't make her stop. Stop her. There' a difference.
The first is about controlling her. The second is about controlling the environment. You can't control her impulses but you can control the effect her impulses have on others.
Physically stop her. You're a team and half you team is having problems. You can say "That hurts." to give her information BUT if you've already said that a time or two, she knows. It's not because she doesn't know or care.
*** Her doing these things just because she knows I don't like them ***
It's not about you. It will help you hugely in relating to her to let that idea go. It's all about her and about needs she doesn't know how to meet. And feelings she has that she can't control. She's only been on this planet for 3 years.
You may not be able to figure out what the needs are. She probably doesn't know. See these behaviors as crying out for something. Stop and redirect what is not acceptable. Give her more that is similar and acceptable. Keep trying things. Even when you hit on things that work. Keep the environment swirling with possibilities. (Unless she's a child who doesn't like change then don't do that! ;-)
*** So when she pushes his buttons, he is apt to choose to initiate a power struggle with her. I sometimes ask him not to, which further exasperates him. ***
It would probably exasperate you if you were trying something and he kept jumping in to tell you you're doing it wrong and you needed to do it his way.
Be more observant. When you can see things building up, remove her. Swoop her off to do something fun with her. If you've caught it too late, do the same. See the two of you as a team. Give your husband a quick apology for your team's failure as you redirect and regroup.
*** It's a rough time, I'm very anxious and irritable. ***
And kids tend to reflect their parent's emotions. The calmer and more at peace you can be, the easier it will be for her to get more centered. Adding your irritation to the itchiness inside of her is bound to make her feel more itchy.
Something that might really help is subscribing to Scott Noelle's Daily Groove. He sends out daily *short* bits of practical advice that you can try out that day on how to shift your mental gears with your kids.
by Scott Noelle, posted on 2007-08-01
Long ago, miners avoided death by bringing canaries into the coal mines. The sensitive songbirds would react to small amounts of toxic gases, thereby alerting the miners to the invisible danger.
In a way, our children provide a similar service. We've been so conditioned to tolerate stress that we often fail to seek relief from it, but our sensitive children have no such tolerance. They often feel ourstress before we do!
So when your child seems particularly irritable and reactive, it's a good idea to ask yourself whether s/he might be reflecting yourstress. Check in with your body and emotions, and let yourself feelwhat's there.
Seek the fresh air of soothing, stress-free thoughts, and then bless yo
I just can't stop crying this morning after reading these answers. I know that the advice is well-intentioned, and most of it I'm already doing. The things I haven't yet been doing, those suggestions will be helpful later when I can stop sobbing. I don't think I was able to adequately convey how low I am right now and how little my needs are being met in this time.
I haven't been good at enlisting my husband on a team. We're in couples counseling, have been for nearly a year but progress is slow to unnoticeable. I've been reading the unschooling partnerships yahoo group, I know what I'm doing wrong but don't "know" how to fix it. I'm also reading "How to improve your marriage without talking about it", hopefully that will help somehow.
The biggest thing is that I really have NO ONE to talk to about the little difficulties of everyday life and they just build up, build up, build up into HORRIFYING OBSTACLES. I'm in counseling right now, we met yesterday, she told me she thought I wasn't depressed, just burnt out and overwhelmed by all the stuff and by not having any skills at self-care.
My feelings were hurt at Joyces's first paragraphs, that I might be seeing what I'm told to see, that I might have been controlling my dd too much. I know you don't know me and are just sort of casting about in the dark. I know there's no way I can write a quick email that explains everything about what we've done and who we are, and there's no way you can read and understand the stuff I didn't have time and space to write.
I know that when you say I should
"Be more observant. When you can see things building up, remove her. Swoop her off to do something fun with her. If you've caught it too late, do the same. See the two of you as a team. Give your husband a quick apology for your team's failure as you redirect and regroup."
... you're not really saying I should give up all the little bits of free time I might have available, give up that hope of getting a shower 4-5 times a week, but that's how it feels to someone in extremis.
And that my stress and irritability is part of the problem, I know. I read Scott Noelle and unschooling blogs and any inspirational stuff I can, but that can only go so far without real-life friends. I don't have any vision of how to get out of this pit, and I'm sorry that I've dragged my daughter down a bit with me. What I really need is hope, and I don't know that anyone online can help give it to me.
I guess I'll stop whining and go outside now, this morning is one of those when dd goes to Grandma's for a little while, so I have a chance to do the one thing I know that has the potential to build myself up and give me joy, digging in the dirt!
I probably shouldn't post this self-pitying rant, but I will. I need to be heard. And there are probably others out there who are just this low sometimes too. Hey despairing, emotionally wrecked moms, you're not alone!
Sorry to dump all over you, Joyce. Now that I feel a little bit better, I want to apologize. I do appreciate all the work you put into your answers, and I do experience you as very caring and helpful. It's hard to hear that my dd just needs more, much more, when I feel I'm giving all I can.
Just give all you can, and then find a way to give a little, tiny bit more, right? I guess that's what we do, especially in the early years when the children's needs are so Big and Urgent. It probably all triggers me, I'm sure I didn't get any attention when I was that age.
It's hard to hear that my dd just needs more, much more, when I feel I'm giving all I can.
Sometimes it's not so much a matter of "more" as different and sooner. For instance, if "messes" are a big issue for you, then it would be helpful if you could reorganize your home a little so that messes aren't as big of a deal. Make it possible/convenient for you daughter to make messes that are easier to clean up. That could involve putting down a blanket on the floor for her to dump toys on (and you could make "putting down a blanket" twenty minutes of fun, besides) so that you can bundle the whole mess up out of the way later. It could involve setting up a nice place to paint in a corner of the kitchen (or bathroom, or porch, or mudroom, whatever you have) so that paints are kept close to wash cloths ;) In a similar vein, you could get washable markers for her to draw on windows and actively invite her to decorate all the windows and mirrors in the house. She gets to "make a mess" and it's a nice, safe, easy to clean mess you get to enjoy.
For that matter, consider setting aside a shelf for rags and safe cleaning supplies for your daughter so she can wipe spills and wash things - 3yos often really enjoy the sense of self-sufficiency which comes from cleaning up a spill and they frequently love to wash, even if they don't like to pick up. A spray bottle full of soapy water can be a fun "messy" game that's really not so messy. The furniture gets a bit damp, but you'll have the cleanest windows ever! And if you get those washable markers, she can wash and re-decorate, wash and redecorate...
Do you see what I mean? A lot of the skill involved in unschooling is about finding ways to make issues into non-issues. Part of that is shifting your perspective, and part is learning to be more creative about meeting your kid's needs.
She has recently started hitting and kicking mom, dad, dog, and playmates quite a bit
Little kids hit and kick for a variety of reasons, and it could be helpful for you to get a sense of when and why she's doing it. Don't get bogged down on "she's doing it to push my buttons" - step back from that idea a little. She might be doing it to get a reaction - 3yos like playing with causes and effects and like to feel capable, so actively look for ways to help her feel capable. That could include toys which make noise, chances to splash and dump but also chances to mix and pour, opportunities to build and knock-down, create and destroy.
She could also be hitting and kicking because she's having a hard time expressing herself, or because's she's getting frustrated for other reasons. It's good to watch out for common triggers: hungry, tired, needs attention, needs activity. The last is a big factor for some kids with hitting and kicking - if the big muscles of the arms and legs are itching for activity, it's Much easier to react to anything at all by using those big muscles - hitting and kicking. So be sure she has lots of chances to run and jump and climb.
** It could involve setting up a nice place to paint in a corner of the kitchen (or bathroom **
I taped up paper in the shower when she wanted to paint. To make it even easier, I have one of those hose connections for the shower head. (They really missed the boat marketing them as massagers. They make rinsing the tub *so* much easier!)
And we did some quick messes on the door of the dishwasher so the dishwasher could wash up the mess. If she's not gentle and liable to lean or climb on it, you can prop it up with some books to keep the stress off the hinges.
Does your daughter enjoy digging in the dirt too? I'll bet she does. :)
I'm just thinking of outdoor messy fun activities. At 3 -- geesh -- water! Dirt and water. And bubbles! And running through the hose. Naked. And lots of paint. And what else? Bubble machine. A sandbox. Dig to the center of the earth! Build castles and knock them down -- a million times.
Maybe the dog would like to join in.
If some or all of these things can be going on, it's a little easier to introduce the idea of outdoor messy fun and indoor messy fun. In our house, indoor messy fun can mean a floor covered with every possible toy. But outdoor messy fun includes all of the above and more.
Keep towels handy! :)