Anne Ohman and Anna Brown join me to answer listener questions. This month we dive into the the bigger picture of buying toys, negotiating boundaries, highly sensitive children and therapy, and feeling stuck around food and health concerns.
Click here to submit your own question to the Q&A Round Table!
Quote of the Week
“My priority is the connection, because I’ve seen when our connections are secure that we have a much easier time navigating what comes our way.” ~ Anna Brown
Monica’s Question [TIME: 3:10]
I’m very new to unschooling. I believe in the principles of unschooling, but putting it into practice is a challenge. I have put aside my bias against screens recently and have let my two girls, 5 and 8, watch what they like when they like for as long as they like. On a ‘normal’ day, they have screentime as soon as they get up. Then we usually have an activity that takes us away from the house in the late morning for a couple of hours. They are pretty amenable to going out for which I am very grateful. Then when we get back home, they have screentime for an hour or two before dinner. We often have a ‘family watch’ after dinner or they will watch something themselves.
The problem I am struggling with is that they sometimes watch YouTube shows of people unwrapping toys, or playing with various toys. I do not have a problem with the content of the shows, but they have now made the connection that these toys can be purchased! We are not rich, but could “afford it,” but I don’t want to purchase every toy they ask for mainly because I am against amassing huge amounts of plastic stuff and I see toys that they have asked for played with a few times the first day and then forgotten. It seems such a waste. I usually say that we can’t afford it, but at the same time, I don’t want to give them a poverty mindset (deny themselves things/experiences when they are grown up even when they can afford it, but feel that they can’t, like me).
What are your views on this topic?
Heather’s Question [TIME: 21:10]
We’re an unschooling family with four kids ages 6, 4, 2, and 6 months. I would say we’re 100% unschoolers in terms of academics, and we’re still working on all the lifestyle elements!
My question is about how you and your families have handled kids’ freedom to leave the house or yard by themselves. We have a fenced backyard where the kids can always play. The front yard is unfenced and faces a usually-calm street. Generally, we let the 4- and 6-year-old play in the front, ride their bikes around the block, and cross the street to play at the school playground by themselves (one good reason to have a school there, haha!), as long as they let us know where they’re going. The 2-year-old doesn’t yet remember not to run into the street, so she needs an adult to accompany her for all those things.
Even with these (I think) fairly generous boundaries compared to other families in the U.S., the older kids, especially the 6-year-old, are often trying to “escape,” slipping out the door whenever we open it and running off to neighbors’ yards, and sometimes leaving without telling us (and the 2-year-old follows). My 6-year-old complains that he doesn’t have enough freedom to go “wherever he wants without a grown-up.” It’s very frustrating because we feel like we’re giving them as much freedom as we conceivably can where we live. We’re not afraid of kidnapping or anything, but there are some busy streets around the edges of our neighborhood, so I do worry about cars. I notice that his complaints come more often when we’ve been home for several days in a row. I try to get everyone out as much as I can, but … four kids! Sometimes I need some at-home days for my own well-being.
Do you have any ideas for how to negotiate this? Thanks!
Shelsy’s Question [TIME: 34:54]
Hi! Thank you so much for this podcast. Listening every week is essential to helping me stay centered in this unschooling journey.
I have a question about therapy and if/when it’s appropriate to seek it for a child. I have a little boy who’s six and from the very beginning he has made his presence felt. He has a strong personality, an amazing imagination, and he knows who he is and what he wants. He will not bend either if he doesn’t want to do something, or if he wants to do something and is being prevented. He can be violent when he doesn’t get his way. The last six years have been extremely eye opening and I have challenged a lot of assumptions, especially since beginning to unschool 9 months ago. We have always leaned more toward natural and attachment parenting and our inclination is to resist most medical interventions unless truly necessary.
Earlier this summer the kids and I spent three weeks visiting family in Pennsylvania. When we were with my family we spent a majority of our time with their cousins, ages 9 and 2. My son is an introvert, he usually prefers to stay home and play video games. When he is around other children (besides his sister–their relationship ebbs and flows, but can tend to be violent at times) he is usually okay for awhile and then seeks to be on his own or wants to leave.
I knew this going into our trip and fully intended to escape with him upstairs to watch movies away from the other kids when he needed to, and we did often. But there were still plenty of times when his interactions with his cousins sparked conflict. The two older kids were not always kind to him. Other children always become very bossy around him–I guess because he doesn’t tend to “follow the rules.”
But when conflict arises, he is extremely impulsive, and his first impulse is almost always to hurt the other person. He’ll hit, scratch, and bite. He seems to snap into a sort of Hulk mode and it can often take a lot of effort to help him snap back out of it. Before the trip he told me that his heart wants him to do good things but his brain wants him to do bad things and it’s hard to listen to his heart.
I’m not really sure how to help him with this besides keeping him from other kids entirely or only under close supervision. It prevents him and the rest of the family from being able to participate in things where he would be in a typical childcare situation (such as church). My mother very adamantly suggested that he should be in some kind of therapy or counseling because to her his behavior is extremely abnormal. I find his behavior inconvenient and frustrating, but not completely out of the realm of normal for a six-year-old strong-willed boy, but I could be wrong. I really hesitate to take him anywhere because I have a suspicion that they will be quick to try to diagnose and possibly medicate, and I really don’t want to go down that route. I also don’t really want him to be expected to do multiple different kinds of therapies several times a week. He’s not broken–I’m not trying to fix him. But I do want to help him, and consequently the rest of the family, as well as other children he’ll come in contact with.
Since we’ve been home from the trip he’s really done pretty well, he doesn’t lash out quite as often. We babysat a 4-year-old boy for a few hours and my son did okay until he just wanted his space back and he didn’t want to share. Once we calmed him down and let him do his own thing he was okay, even though he mostly ignored the other boy.
Is this something I can expect him to grow out of? How do I help him? Would some kind of therapy really be best for him? How do I know without opening the door to a bunch of other interventions?
Anonymous Question [TIME: 51:20]
I’m feeling stuck.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about things and I realize it’s not food fear or a need to control. Maybe at one point it was, but now it’s not. I would love to let my kids eat a range of different things and learn for themselves what works for them and what doesn’t. This works great for things that give an immediate reaction like a sore tummy, rash, headache etc. But I don’t know if we can learn what makes us feel awful if the effects are not instant and also worse with a cumulative effect. Also, if we don’t have the testing to understand WHY a body is reacting in certain ways. I’m grateful for all the testing available and the doctors who understand mental health illness as a physical illness rather than just being an emotional problem.
My concern is my 8-year-old son’s health and happiness. According to his doctor, psychologist, and test results, it would be potentially damaging to his short and long-term mental and physical health to let him control his food choices. I won’t go into every medical detail as it’s complicated and involves several factors. The point is, it’s not about food or control of trusting him to make good choices. It’s about nourishing and nurturing him so that he can be his happiest and healthiest self today and in the future. I wish so much that we could just allow complete freedom to experiment and let him learn on his own what works for him and what doesn’t. The problem is that it’s not that easy. He needs a continued restricted diet, supplements and testing. It’s not easy for him, I know. Food at our unschooling table would not be restricted at all if there weren’t good reasons for it to be.
He knows he feels terrible but he’s tired of the diets and the testing and the supplements. I get it and empathize with him. But he doesn’t understand the potential implications of not doing so. And I believe it would be negligent and irresponsible of me to allow him complete freedom of choice when I understand the medical implications.
So where to from here? I love asking the question “Why not yes” and can generally gladly accommodate all other needs and requests made by my kids. But when it comes to food, I can find way too many reasons to say no. I know that unschoolers recommend to set your child up for success but also allow them freedom to learn on their own. I don’t know how that works for us and feel like I can’t have both. I read your book too and look forward to reading it many times as we continue our journey.
Please understand that this is not the same as it would be if my kids had no health concerns. My daughter has no health concerns and in the last few months since relaxing all the food rules to see what would happen, she has been fine and making varied and balanced choices. My son is an absolute mess. Exhausted, depressed, highly anxious, aggressive, pale, dark under his eyes and not sleeping. This is not his personality, he is a very different kid otherwise. Of course, I love him at all times and support him through his miserable times but it breaks my heart to see him suffering and it makes our time together much less enjoyable.
Do I let him make his choices and feel flat and miserable and hope that maybe he will choose for himself to care about his health before he does any permanent damage? Or do I step in and take full control? Is there an in-between?
In the past, I felt like we had a good balance. I always cooked foods that he liked and if there were yucky supplements to take I always hid them in something yummy or syringed them to him like a little bird. We’ve found ways to make things easier by playing games and making his favourite treats to take to parties etc. Now that he is getting older he is pushing away from this more and I worry it will hurt our relationship and he will start sneaking food or refusing to take supplements etc.
I guess the question is, are there times when it is appropriate and kind for a parent to say no and give the child as many options and choices within the boundaries as possible? I know this isn’t unschooling but I’m not sure what our other options are. Is it kind to tell an 8yo that their behaviour and attitude make them really difficult to be around and you much prefer their company when they are being positive and happy? (I’m not talking happy happy joy joy all the time. My kids know I’m very big on all feelings being ok and I love them when they’re feeling sad, angry, frustrated etc,…but this goes way beyond that and it’s stressful for the rest of the family to be around him when he’s so miserable and negative) I also have my daughter to consider as she adores her big brother. She loves playing with him and he is generally very patient and playful. When affected by poor food choices/lack of supplements however, he is very aggressive and nasty to her and she gets confused as to why he is so different and becomes very fearful around him.
I so want what is best for my son and our relationship. My kids are my priority and I spent all day happily doing things with them or for them. My son is a gorgeous kid who is kind, empathetic, thoughtful and creative. He’s amazing and I want to see him enjoying life without fatigue and anxiety. This is the only thing that is causing me stress and I don’t know what to do.
Jonah often tells me at night (when he is in his most open and chatty mood of the day) that I shouldn’t listen to daytime Jonah as he doesn’t know what he wants. For example, last night he was telling me that he wants to be able to run fast like Sonic and that every day I need to make sure he does his running practice and eats the right foods for his energy needs. But then daytime comes and I try to help him achieve what he asked for and he knocks me back. He’s also told me in the past that I just shouldn’t let him eat the foods that harm him but then if they are available to him he will want to eat them and I don’t know if he wants me to say yes or no. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t force him to run or stop him from putting food in his mouth if he wanted to. It’s like he is asking me to set limits for him but then in the moment he doesn’t want me to. This is very confusing for me. He will often tell me at night that I just need to be more firm and not give him options (what kid says that!) But that doesn’t feel right to me. Isn’t the point to let him make his own decisions in the moment so he can learn things for himself? Or am I letting him down by not setting a limit that he has previously asked me to?
I have similar confusing thoughts around his attitude to things at times. One example would be his birthday this year. He helped me plan it. All he wanted was to spend a day at a water park with his best friend and have her for a sleepover. So that’s what he got. He was really excited about it and seemed to have a great time and was very happy. But when we got home he complained that it wasn’t very fun and that he wouldn’t like to go there again. This is common for him. We often spend hours together doing whatever he wants to do and he appears happy. But then later he’ll tell me he had “the worst day ever and that he’s never happy”. I sometimes just don’t know how to respond when he says stuff like that. I feel like I bend over backwards trying to make him happy, and I love doing it and I’m not resentful. But I do wonder if, no matter what I do, he’s going to say he’s always unhappy anyway.
Links to things mentioned in the show
Pam’s blog post, Playing with Money
Check out Q&A episode 21, question 4
The book, The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine N. Aaron
The book, The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene
The book, The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Kranowitz
Anne’s essay, I Am What I Am
Pam’s blog post, Unschooling with Strong Beliefs
Anne’s article, Briefing & De-Briefing
The book, Kids, Carrots, and Candy, by Jane Hirschmann and Lela Zaphiropoulos
Anne’s website: shinewithunschooling.com
Anna’s website: choosingconnection.com