Another remarkable outcome of growing up unschooling is our children’s trust in themselves.
To help them develop trust in themselves is to show them that you trust them.
Your understanding of your child grows as your relationship deepens. Actions that your child took before that you didn’t understand, now make sense to you as you see more clearly their personality, their interests, and how their mind works. Over time, you come to see that, even if you would make different choices in their shoes, their choices make good sense for them.
And once that piece firmly clicks into place—that you and your children are different people, each having your own unique perspectives on things, and their’s is not wrong, just different—your trust in them will deepen.
As unschooling parents, our goal is not to choose the attitudes and approaches we want our children to take and insist they adopt them through teaching and expectations. It’s to help them explore the perspectives that work best for them. And, in time, your child will feel this fundamental paradigm shift to trust through your actions, your attitude, and your words. This seemingly subtle internal shift is a significant moment in your relationship.
To allow them to own their experiences is priceless.
While as unschooling parents we actively support our children, it’s important to regularly take a moment to check in with ourselves to see if our support is overstepping their needs. In our excitement, we can sometimes inadvertently take over their experience (or is that just me?), making it more about us and less about them.
Yes, sometimes it’s nice to surprise them with something we’ve done to help their plans along, but sometimes it’s also good to ask if they’d like our help before we dive in. This is all part of the dance of relationships. It’s not always going to go smoothly, but it’s important to pay attention to the clues. So if you look up and find yourself belly dancing with gusto while your child is intently trying to master a new hip-hop move, it’s probably time to regroup and get back in step. You’re partners—don’t try to lead for too long.
When we notice a disconnect, it’s worthwhile to ask ourselves if our efforts are designed to help them, say, move through some uneasiness they’re feeling, and they appreciate us taking the lead for a while. Or, whether our efforts are more about us wanting this thing happen, maybe to ease some anxiety we are feeling. That lovely self-awareness I wrote about recently is valuable for us too.
Our children learn the most when we help them accomplish what they want to accomplish. If we push past that into “what we want them to accomplish,” they will be learning more about us than about themselves. Turns out we own that experience, not them. And if this happens with any regularity, the message we’re sending is that we don’t trust them to figure out and move through their days.
But if we can mostly stay in the role of (dance) partner or facilitator, the experience will be theirs. They will pursue their interests, make choices, live the results, and incorporate what they learn from those experiences into their lives. And, I’ve found that, rather unsurprisingly, they develop a sense of responsibility for their actions, because they own the experiences.
I had a reminder of this just last weekend when I dropped Michael off at an organized camp. It’s getting rather cold around here at night and the packing list included a coat. We got there and it turned out he had brought his hoodie and lined windbreaker, but not a coat. I would have brought a coat, but he’s not me. We chatted, and his choice made sense. I offered my coat, which he politely declined. I faltered for a moment, part of me worried about being judged by the camp organizers as an uncaring parent for bringing him without a coat. When I shared that, he smiled and replied, if they thought that, that was their problem. Thanks for the reminder, Michael!
Whether it’s a coat, or a new activity, or their first solo trip, the opportunity to be responsible for the outcomes of their choices allows them to develop a deep, knowing trust in themselves.
(And, of course, I picked him up Sunday alive, unfrozen, and having thoroughly enjoyed the weekend.)
For those who’ve grown up unschooling, this trust in themselves plays out as self-confidence and creativity.
Growing up unschooling, as young adults our children already have a lot of life experience to draw on. They’ve made many choices over the years, owned the outcomes, and more than likely worked through quite a few situations where things went unexpectedly. And during it all, they have been given the space to discover that they can count on themselves to figure things out.
They trust themselves. They have confidence in themselves. And they feel even more confident knowing we have their back if ever needed.
They value the freedom to make their own choices, they take responsibility for them, understand themselves intimately, and want things to go well, while anticipating possible hiccups. This means they make solid choices—certainly at least as often as we do.
And bonus, having grown up in a supportive environment where judgment and shame weren’t regularly used to confine their actions to the box of convention, their creativity has survived as well. They can definitely make some pretty creative choices!
And, in my experience, those choices work out a lot more often than my old conventional self would have ever imagined. 🙂
Want to read more about trust and unschooling?
Ways to Build Trust in Each Other — In my experience, a trusting relationship with my children is the backbone of our unschooling lives. And that trust goes both ways: my trust in them, and their trust in me. Developing this deep level of trust doesn’t happen overnight—it is built over time and through experience. Let’s talk about some of the ways we can work to build relationships steeped in trust.
The Meaning of Trust — For many conventional parents, “trusting their children” means believing that their children will follow their rules when the parents aren’t around to oversee their actions: if they don’t consistently follow the rules of their own volition, they can’t be trusted. Using that yardstick to measure trust, along with the conventional wisdom that teens will rebel against parental rules, I can see why they’d think me naive to say I trust my teens. Without rules to measure against, what does trust mean to unschoolers?