PAM: Welcome to another Q&A episode! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and I am so happy to be joined again by Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. Hi guys!
ANNE and ANNA: Hello!
PAM: Hello, hello, hello. This month we’re recording a little bit earlier because I am off at the Unschoolers Platform conference in the middle of the month. So, we have three questions to go through today, and I am super excited about them.
Would you like to get us started, Anne?
ANNE: I would love to, you know that.
ANNE: First question is from anonymous, who lives in the United States in case we are interested, and we are. She writes:
Anonymous Question [TIME: 4:42]
Dear Pam, Anne, and Anna,
I came across unschooling when doing a school report (LOL) on education. I have been following your podcast since the early episodes and it is great! Thank you. My younger sister is still in school, and my parents are on the helicoptery side: controlling and highly valuing grades. I know it is because they worry and are too busy and stressed to think about the effect they are having on my sister. I feel for them since they are very nice people and feel worried all the time: I think on some level they feel their views about school and control protect them, and their children. So that is my background.
My question is: Some children take to school more easily and I was one of them. My younger sister happens to not be one of them. More and more I am seeing that she feels like she is not good enough no matter what she does, since my parents always compare her to me. They are harder on her, saying that she is lazy (even though she really spends a lot more time studying than I did). She is miserable and feels like she deserves it, and it makes me sad. I see her dissociating from things, like she has given up on joy and on herself.
But I see how she is good at many things like reasoning out decisions well to come to the best one, and she always beats me at every game we play on Tabletop Simulator, and how she tries to save me things she knows I love even though she is hurt by being compared to me. I deeply admire her ability to reach out even when she herself doesn’t feel good. I want her to know this.
I thought maybe if I continue to be there for her and tell her about all the wonderful things I see in her that she would feel more confident, but she doesn’t believe me. She tells me she is useless and lazy and bad at everything that matters. I wish she didn’t feel like grades define her, because I want her to feel good about herself. It feels like the voice of a sister only a few years older doesn’t do much against the voices of two parents.
I have tried talking to my parents about it. I try to explain to them rationally that I know they are worried, but controlling is actually making her have worse grades, because she is feeling so bad about herself. I tell them the effect this is having on her confidence and that I know they want the best for her, but they said that’s good, it’ll motivate her to work harder. They say I should mind my own business, that my sister’s education is her own responsibility. But all I see is that she is being motivated to give up on herself. They say they are too busy to read any articles, and I think that even if they did, they would be offended and hurt. How could I, their daughter, tell them that their parenting needs work? I think it would hurt them too much.
I know it is not my fault, but I always feel like if I were more charismatic, or wise, or SOMETHING, that I could get through to my parents, that I could convince my sister to see the good in herself. I want her to have the tools to craft the life she wants: now and always, and I see that she is being changed by all this, that not doing as well as I did in school is leaving her marked as lesser.
So I am thinking if I am missing any pieces of the puzzle. Perhaps I just need to have the patience to keep trying? Perhaps things will get better when she is graduated? I’m afraid that even after she’s graduated that she will still feel like this. Perhaps there is something I have not thought of that I could say? (And am I too idealistic and need to let go of trying to help things that I can’t do anything about?)
I know you talk a lot about validating; I’m not quite sure how to do it, can you help? Could this be why my sister doesn’t believe me? For two reasons: I’ve never really seen what it looks like in person (I just say I understand and it sucks and to me she is awesome), and because if you know about Myers-Briggs, I’m a young ENTP (who tend to be awkward with expressing deep emotion when young and I see this in myself). These are the things that are on my mind, to give you more of a clue of how to answer the question.
I feel so, so young in this moment, that I really do not know very much about people and how to reach them. So I ask for your wisdom and experience today: how can I help my little sister? (And my little cousins, and all the other young people in my life to see that they are great.)
ANNE: Oh my goodness! Hello dear one. Dear one, dear one. I am just—reading that out loud, my goodness. You are touching the world in so many ways and my heart is just so full of love for you. You are not so young. You are so wise and aware and seeing, and I’ve got to get it together so I can answer your questions. [laughs]
First of all, thank you for your love and your empathy and your desire to learn more about unschooling and your deep desire to help your sister and, really, all of the young people. What I love to see is how this path touched you, and it’s in alignment with the truth that you have inside of you. And that’s why you’re drawn to learning more about it and that’s why you want to share it. You want to shake your parents and let them know about it, and you want to help your sister with it. As I say, you’re making the world a better place because of doing so, because of listening to and following this—your instinct and your questions—and that is so huge, and I want you to know that. This is huge—your impact on the world, already, just by being who you are and feeling these things, and thank you for that.
I love this quote from Neil Donald Walsh—he is the author of the Conversations with God books—he says that, “It is our job to give people back to themselves.” I do this as much as I can every single day. And I can feel so deeply that this is what you want to do for your sister.
When I was reading your question, everything felt like a struggle, because it is. I know that’s what you feel, that everything is upstream, struggle, paddling against the stream. And yet, as I was reading it, I kind of just let it all flow over me and flow right out the door so I could get to the heart of what you’re asking with your stories and your descriptions. And there’s really only one question that you need to ask yourself in order to give your sister back to herself. It’s the question I’ve been asking people for about 19 years now when they need help with their children: what makes your child shine?
So, for you, the question is, “What makes your sister shine?” What makes her light up when she talks about it? I know there’s a lot of weight on her, but there’s something there that lights her spark. What does she do to get away from the bad feelings that she gets from school? What in this world is truly hers, truly a part of who she is, that she really loves? That’s your focus, and that’s it. I feel like you don’t need to do anything else except to be with her in this space where she can shine so brightly, in a space of joy and doing what she loves to do.
And even as I’m saying that, can you feel the release of all the other stuff? Can you feel it all washing away, all the weight that she has piled on her? Would that one question—what makes her shine—would that direction of following her shine—do you feel like how it’s flowing downstream now? Going toward what brings her joy? That’s the direction she needs to go in. The one that is in alignment with who she is. And you do that. You hand herself back to her by focusing on how she shines. There’s a big difference between that and trying to convince her that she’s wonderful. Because when someone is following simply what they love and that thing that makes them light up, there’s only their shining light and they feel wonderful.
Backing up a little from there, there are times when a school child—as I know, as an adult who has had to heal from my school experiences—when the person has lost all sight of who they are and what they love to do from so many years of being told who they are and what they should be doing and what they should be learning. If this is the case with your sister, then maybe think back to a time when her life was absent from all this weight from school and your parents. Because even that which she loved to do when she was a small child, that’s still within her.
This is something that we as unschooling parents know from our own children, when we have grown children—we can still see these sparks that they had as children from doing what they love to do, in them, as older kids and adults. So, did she love to bake? Did she love to draw or paint? Did she love to play a certain game—maybe not a game that is about what people know, like you said you play with her, just a game that brings nothing but joy and not competition and comparison. Did she love to do crafts? Did she love to go to the zoo? To the movies? The city? The country? There are so many infinite possibilities. And there are so many that are definitely in alignment with who she is, that she can connect with that spark of joy.
So anything you can remember, perhaps offer that. And not only offer the thing, but offer her you. Your full, mindful, deliberate presence with her. When she’s in that place of joy, catch that joy with her, and allow her shine to light up your life as well. It’s in this beautiful, sacred space where she is shining where she will find herself again, and remember her value. She’ll also remember where to go when she’s feeling bad about her life and about herself—to this place where she felt whole, with you, and happy. She’ll recognize the spark of joy that’s within her and she’ll want to follow it, because you helped her to know that. Because you handed herself back to her, by allowing her to shine.
When I was writing notes for this, I did one look to the right of me and within one area I have this bumper sticker that says, “When one is stoked, there’s no limit to what one can do.” And that’s just everything I’m saying except in a little different language. And I have this little girl Willow figurine and she’s got her arms up in the air, and she’s holding this balloon-ish thing that says “Birthday Girl” on it. And I got that for myself because I always have told my kids that children deserve to feel like the birthday child every day.
And I just want to tell you these two things in case they spark something for you to grab onto, in order to help your sister get to a place where she can shine easier. And that’s all I have to say. I trust somebody else will talk to you about the validation, and Pam is next.
PAM: Ah, yeah, amazing question, thank you so much. I love your energy and your thoughts and the things you’re considering. It’s just awesome. And I wanted to focus a little bit on, like Anne was talking about, seeing your sister, letting her see herself shine in your eyes, and just helping her find the things that she loves to do that brings her joy.
And I’m just going to talk a little bit more about the process of how you might help her start to see kind of the bigger things, the process, the understanding. Because it’s really hard when we come to realize that we can’t convince someone to see things our way—Anne mentioned that too—even if we are sure that what we’re trying to convince them of will make their lives better.
But what we can be is determined to be around, hang out with them, have fun with them, listen to them, and often, as conversations come up as we’re doing things, it helps them just to hear the things that they’re saying. Because sometimes what appears to make sense as it’s spinning around in our minds, as maybe she—or ourselves, at times—are berating ourselves over something we think we’re not good at, it starts to crack when we say it out loud. There’s just something about sharing things and saying something out loud, even if the other person doesn’t particularly react or say anything about it, it’s almost like being able to say it out loud for ourselves is another level of understanding.
And sometimes in there, an opportunity shows up for us to plant a seed, to validate what they’re sharing, to share an observation of our own that connects. It’s about meeting them where they are in that moment, really being with them instead of trying to keep pointing out a new way that they should be seeing something. Join them exactly where they are and empathize with them where they are in that moment, and just stay there, instead of trying to convince them or change their perspective in that moment. We can’t make them put together that new picture, but we can be around and available any time that they are looking for a new piece of the puzzle, or they find a new piece and they’re turning it around, trying to see if it fits in a new way.
I know when I found myself in similar circumstances I totally remember feeling that if I could only figure out that one right thing to say, then that other person would understand and they would feel better about themselves, they would understand my perspective, they would see things the way that I saw them. Whether it was my in-laws—if I could just explain unschooling to them in the right way, they would see that this was great. Just the way—if you could explain to your sister that she’s a wonderful person the way she is right now, who she is right now is awesome—if she could just see that, all would be well. But it took me a while to realize that this just wasn’t true, you know?
What’s worked for me most consistently is to just focus on being a great listener. To be a comfortable, supportive, sounding board—not with an eye to inserting my perspective on things, but to just actively supporting them where they are in that moment, as they are trying to figure out their own perspective. So it’s more about my open energy in the moment—that whole seeing the shine—and being positive and accepting in that moment rather than trying to use words on top of it. We’re there trying to help them figure out their perspective.
So yes, your parents’ perspective and your perspective are different, and your sister’s is too, from all three of you. And she’ll, in time, develop her own perspective and understanding on learning and life and what success looks like. Just focus on having that fun time with her where she is.
And the whole question kind of reminded me of a blog post that I wrote in my hero’s journey series about accepting others where they are in that moment, and I will link to that in the show notes.
That was my little piece. How about you, Anna?
PAM: I know, right? [laughs]
ANNA: I had to compose myself during most of Anne’s response. And you guys really covered so much. I guess I did just want to suggest that I believe and have seen that every connection and kind word that you have with your sister will really stick with her.
I was reminded that in my 20’s I worked with children who had been in really difficult, abusive situations, and I remember this one teenager who was in a really horrific situation, and she was describing this event when she was at a store with her parents, and there was an incident, and it was difficult. But a stranger approached her and came up and offered her just this small bit of love and kindness. And this had been about five years prior to our conversation, and that one little act of kindness stuck with her all of those years. And when she told that story, she lit up with that love from that stranger in that moment.
And what you’re describing here is this deep, abiding love that will definitely stay with your sister and help her find her confidence as she’s going on her own path, and knowing that you’ll be supporting her along that way. It’s just really beautiful.
And I wanted to also just say that you had mentioned early that this may not apply to people, but I think it really applies to all of us, because we all run across people in our lives or in our children’s lives who maybe are in controlling situations or in difficult situations, and sometimes we don’t know what to do. And I think everything that Anne and Pam has said really applies because, in any of those situations, we can truly see and hear and honour someone, and that means so much, I mean, more than really we’ll ever know what they take away from that interaction of truly being seen and heard.
I’ve been lucky enough to be with Anne at the library and I’ve seen her do that and also just with other children throughout different situations, and how those kids light up with that, just, love of being seen and heard. So anyway, I think there’s lots for everybody to take away from all of this, so thank you so much for that beautiful question, and sharing your love for your sister with us.
PAM: Yeah, because even with our own kids, there are times that our kids are feeling bad about something that’s happened in their lives and oftentimes we want them to feel better, we want to help get them out of that space. But you can’t just convince them with words. So often it’s just about being with them in that space—that’s the validation piece, is just being okay with them in that space and understand and accepting that, yeah, this feels like crap right now.
ANNE: And maybe not owning it yourself, that’s the important thing, is to validate. And you said that you say, “This sucks, I hear you.” And that’s it. That’s plenty. That’s acknowledging where she is, and you don’t want to own it yourself and carry it over, you know what I mean? But you do want to deeply, sincerely validate.
And I just want to add one more piece—what Anna was talking about reminded me of my entire childhood. My parents were divorced and my older sister and I had a difficult time at our home with our mother and stepfather and step-siblings. We would go to our father’s house on the weekends, and to this day I tell him that he saved my life and my sister’s life, because his focus was simply on bringing us joy. He continues even now talking about how it was his joy to give us joy. So, when he would pick us up, we knew we could leave everything behind and get in his car, and he would take us to the park, he would take us on trips—everything focused on what would be fun for us. And Anna was saying about that one person making a difference and it makes a huge difference—I knew I was seen, heard, valued and loved even though I only saw my father a fraction of the time. So that’s a huge part of your piece with your sister and, my god, with everybody you meet probably. [laughs]
PAM: You know what, I’m going to add something in the show notes too, because when you talk about those moments where somebody happens by and says something or does something that’s a really positive effect in your life, even if you don’t know them—I watched a short TEDx talk a week or two ago—he called those moments “Lollipop Moments”—so I will share that link in the show notes as well.
ANNA: And I feel like we probably have a post somewhere about the specifics of validation, but really, like Anne said, you’re already doing it. It’s just hearing what the person says, being there, sometimes repeating it back to make sure you’re hearing it okay—you can kind of gauge if that works. But that’s it, you know, no judgement about it, no fixing about it, nothing else—just letting them be able to express what they need to express, and hearing them and giving them that space.
ANNE: And releasing it yourself, like I said—for me, I let it flow out the door, because I didn’t want to own all the stuff myself in order to get to the heart of what you were asking. So you can’t hold onto those bad feelings, and own them yourself, that your sister feels. That’s an important piece.
PAM: Yeah, because you need that positive and open energy, not to pull them out of the space that they’re in, but so that they know you’re there to go out with them when they’re ready. Does that make sense? You’re almost kind of like that light at the end of the tunnel, but you’re sitting with them wherever they are, in the tunnel, in the moment—but them knowing that you will come with them when they’re ready to move.
ANNE: I have an excerpt about radically validating on my website—I think I said this in the last podcast also—from one of my conference talks. So, that might be another good thing.
ANNA: Oh yeah, that’ll be perfect.
PAM: Yup, I’ll put that in the show notes too. Okay! Are we ready to move on to question two? [laughs]
ANNE: Bye question one, we love you!
ANNA: We love you!
PAM: And we love you, question two, from Veronica. She writes:
Veronica’s Question [TIME: 28:31]
I have been unschooling for almost three years now. My boys are 13 and 11. My 13-year-old is a picker. He will go out of his way to annoy his younger brother. He also is constantly trying to parent his brother rather than just leaving that to the actual parents. For instance, telling him he is walking too close to the road (even when we are all there together). By the way he was in no danger and only too close to the road in his brother’s opinion.
All this means there is a lot of friction between brothers. I’ve tried to sit back and just let it work itself out. Very rarely will this work. I’ve tried to just be there, and that usually doesn’t work. My last resort is telling the older to get out of his brother’s room, or leave his brother alone and just stop talking. When I tell him to leave his brother alone, he just starts running his mouth to me.
What suggestions do you have that will help my boys get along and bring peace to our family?
PAM: Yes, definitely, thank you so much for your question, Veronica. I can hear how much you would like your family to feel peaceful and safe, for every individual in it. I think it’s an important aspect to our unschooling lives, and it’s so meaningful to me that I actually wrote a whole talk about family harmony and how I’ve seen that play out. My talk is called Family of Individuals, and I shared it on the podcast in episode 48, so I will definitely include a link to that in the show notes in case you haven’t had a chance to listen to it.
But the gist of it is that conventionally, when we’re looking at our children’s relationships and asking them, or even just asking ourselves, “why can’t you guys just get along,” we tend to focus on the interactions themselves, like the “picking” that you mentioned. And when you’re focused on that, that often invites comparisons and discord—who’s picking on whom, and who started what. And that’s the opposite of promoting the harmony, precisely because you’ve got more than one person involved in that moment.
In my experience, even though it may seem counter-intuitive at first, fully supporting and celebrating the individuals in the family (hence the title of the talk) better fosters a long-term atmosphere of joy and harmony in our relationships. Because what you’ve described are relationships that are based on power and control, and what I think you’re looking for are relationships that are based on connection and trust. And it’s not easy to move from one dynamic to the other, but I definitely think you’ll find it worth the time and effort, because that is where you’re going to start to see some of this peace and some of this harmony, and a greater ability to connect in relationships, even between your sons.
It will help to move away from focusing on the interactions between them and instead focus on the individuals, on your sons. The idea is that, instead of stopping these power-based interactions once they start, you want to help them both feel comfortable and understood so that they don’t feel the need to exert power over each other in the first place.
The key to moving in this direction is having lots of conversations entirely outside of that relationship dynamic. Rather than trying to work things out only when things have already started (and you talked about a few of the things that you tried, from leaving them on their own to do it, to just being a presence in the room, to getting directly involved) I think you’re going to have your most helpful conversations one-on-one when things are relaxed and you’re feeling connected to either one of your sons.
So, when you’re chatting with your 13-year-old, you can validate, like we were talking about, his frustrations—and you truly need to see them from his perspective and understand why he’s feeling that way. Totally accept it. I mean, he’s feeling that way—that’s it. Start right from there. You can chat with him about his motivations, and his needs in those moments, and brainstorm ways that you can help him meet those needs that don’t conflict with his sibling’s need to feel safe in his family.
They both have the right to feel safe and understood—so, in the situation you’re describing, for the 11-year-old to feel safe and for the 13-year-old to feel understood. You can have conversations about whether control is a useful tool in a long-term relationship. Talk about other ways that he could share his thoughts and concerns that are more likely to be heard by others, rather than putting the other person on the defensive. Because, as he’s trying to communicate, he’s the one getting in trouble in the situation, so he’s not being heard and he’s not feeling heard. It’s often these control tactics are what we reach for when everything else we’ve tried has failed. Maybe he’s trying other things earlier on to communicate, but he’s not feeling heard. So, if you can be extra diligent to hear and acknowledge what he’s saying before he gets frustrated enough to use those power tactics.
Be clear, definitely, in conversation, that it’s not okay to tease and annoy his brother—that his brother has a right to feel safe. But not in an angry or shaming way—in a matter-of-fact way. In a way that you’re trying to help your frustrated 13-year-old son meet his needs while the constraint is: it can’t be at the expense of someone else’s need or right to feel safe.
Ask him what he would like you to do next time you hear this happening: “This isn’t okay, what would be good for me to do next time I hear this happening?” Maybe you can try to figure out a way to catch his attention that doesn’t also shame him. Maybe it’s a code word between you guys, or maybe say, “Oh, you know what, when I hear that’s happening, I know you’re getting frustrated, I’ll come and we’ll go watch your favorite show or get a snack together.” Or something where he feels in that moment that you’re trying to help him, not berate him for what he’s doing.
And then, this is what it takes—the time and effort, the conversations, and being close by for a while, again, so that you can sense when that frustration is building, and help diffuse it before it bubbles over into teasing and control.
Ask him not to parent his sibling. Chat about what his motivation is when he’s doing that. Brainstorm different ways that he might express his concerns about his sibling’s safety without giving orders, like maybe telling you. “When you feel the need to tell him what to do, come and chat with me, and we’ll figure out what’s going on in the situation.”
Treat his concerns as real and take them seriously, because they are his truth. Even if you don’t share the same concerns, this is how he’s seeing things. And celebrate all sides of him, just like we were talking about in the last question. His interest, his passions, his feelings, his frustrations—they are all beautiful pieces of him. And let him see himself shining in your eyes.
And then, do the same thing for your 11-year-old, because this is the whole relationship piece. Chat with him when things are relaxed. How does he see his brother’s teasing behaviour? What does he think it’s motivated by? Brainstorm some ideas of things that he can do when it starts to happen. Tell him what your plan is with his brother for next time, and make plans with the 11-year-old for what he can do to help the situation or diffuse the situation. Share your growing understanding of your older son’s perspective as you learn more.
I remember when my kids left school and started spending all of their days together, that first year or two I spent a lot of time chatting with them individually—validating their needs and perspectives, sharing their siblings’ perspectives. Not with an eye, at all, that anyone was right or wrong in the situation—the situation just was.
And what we were trying to do was gain a better understanding and come up with plans on what we might try next time one of them got frustrated, and talking about how that plan worked out, and tweaking it again for next time. This was so much about them learning and about themselves and understanding themselves as well as understanding their siblings, and how to relate to each other and move through different situations.
And these were very rarely in big sit-down conversations, but in relaxed moments when an opportunity came up. So maybe when you’re driving one of them somewhere, or you’re hanging out folding laundry, or hanging in the kitchen while I’m making dinner. These conversations truly do come up while you’re doing something else, and they’re often an opportunity to chat without pressure, because things are open in the moment and someone can share.
This is why hanging out time, no matter their age, is so important. Because it’s an opportunity for those conversations to bubble up. If you’ve always got an exact purpose and an action and a thing to do, there’s less of this free time for things to be shared, for things to bubble up, for things to take a turn, three turns, and then something else comes up along the way—which is super cool; one of the things I really love about unschooling.
Okay! There we go. I’m done. Anna?
ANNA: [laughs] I wanted to suggest the book Siblings Without Rivalry, because I think you might find it helpful. It can shed a lot of light on unintended consequences of things that parents tend to do all the time; the roles that parents tend to cast their children into. I remember when I read it (actually my girls were very little) I had a lot of a-ha moments about the relationship between my husband and his brother at the time.
For me, it wasn’t about letting them work it out, or directing behavior. I feel like there’s a lot of room in between those two extremes, and a big piece of that is validation that Pam mentioned. I often served as a translator—this really helped them hear what the other was feeling and trying to express—and I could do that without attachment to outcome or judgement on my part, and it helped them to do the same.
So, for example, in the street example, when he told his brother to get out of the street, I might say, “Oh, are you feeling worried about his safety?” or, “Is he making you nervous?” Try to understand his feelings instead of thinking he’s picking—he may just be a more cautious person, or a rule-oriented person, and that behaviour is making him feel worried. And when I do that, that also helps the younger brother reframe what might be seen as an arbitrary order to now being a voice of concern.
Helping him label that and giving alternative words to help him communicate, so the next time he might be able to say, “That’s making me nervous when you’re so close to the street,” feels different than, “Get out of the street!” It’s more descriptive and more helpful language. And if the other child still wants to continue the behaviour, then I might walk outside of them, or be behind him, or in a way that might make the other child feel more secure.
That’s just an example but dig deeper. Understand what is behind that behaviour instead of jumping to the conclusion that he’s just trying to control out of spite, or to annoy him, because my guess is that isn’t the case. It may seem like that on the surface, but there’s usually something underneath of that.
Also, my girls are a bit less than two years apart, and for over a decade they were inseparable—two peas in a pod. But around the pre-teen time, which is the time that you’re in now, we found that they really needed separate experiences. So, I facilitated them pursuing interests and friends of their own.
And what we found is that they enjoyed coming back together and then sharing their adventure, so it really heightened them to be able to have that time to themselves and then come back and share. They really just needed some time apart to figure out who they were and how they wanted to be in the world without the influence of the other. My girls are very different personalities, and it was just really helpful for them.
I also had to let go of the idea that they needed to be best friends, because they don’t. They may, or they may not, but that idea was limiting for me. None of us want a contentious environment, and sometimes space and pursuing our own paths helps us to not feel so pinned in by, “you’re sisters, you’re supposed to be best friends,” or these kind of cultural ideas.
And I think it’s also helpful just to take your feelings out of it, meaning that what you observe in a situation might upset you but isn’t really bothering the other person. And so I had to take my feelings and hot buttons out of it, and really look at them and see what was important to them, and then I could help facilitate resolution.
Taking my childhood experiences and my hot buttons out of it I was able to see who they were and help them communicate to each other. That again, it’s kind of getting under that surface level of behaviours to the needs and what’s behind it. So, those are some things that were helpful to us.
ANNE: Hi Veronica. I’m not sure if I have anything else to offer because Pam and Anna are so wonderful, and I love everything they said.
First of all, when I was reading your question, I just kept thinking that we needed to back up and rewind a little bit and dig deeper. By that I mean back up to see the bigger picture of the unwanted behaviour, rewind to see if there’s anything going on in his life, or look at yourself and what you might be contributing, and dig deeper to make sure all of his needs are met. Because what appears to parents as unwanted behaviour is basically a child’s way of communicating unmet needs.
So, ask yourself if your child is feeling understood, valued, seen, and heard, and is he still following what he loves to do in his life, so that he himself feels not only seen and valued, but empowered himself, and with a sense of purpose. And are you nurturing and encouraging the things that he loves to do, and having joyful connections with each of your kids; both Pam and Anna covered that.
I’m always one about language, too, and right off the bat when you say he’s a “picker,” like Anna was saying, she translated it into a different way: he’s more cautious about some things. I’ve always personally been mindful of not labelling my children with words like that, because I don’t believe it’s truly who the child is. It’s an action, and when you say he is something, that’s very powerful, and the child will start to believe it about themselves.
Much like when some people say their child is shy, and I’ve always seen the child as maybe just an observer; wanting to observe a situation before they jump in, maybe they don’t like talking to people right away, they need time to warm up, or they’re introverted. There’s so many other ways to describe who the child really is and what the child really needs besides giving them a label like “he is a picker; he is shy,” Again, because the child starts believing that thing. And the truth is much deeper, and the bigger picture needs to be seen.
The other thing is, 13-year-olds and 11-year-olds—that is a very difficult time, especially for boys. There’s so much going on inside of them. I know we’ve talked about this many times before (maybe it was 10-year-olds or whatever) but you know, 13 is a tough time.
And you can look at yourself and make sure you’re not placing more expectations on him, because you think he’s older and should be doing more or is capable of more. Basically, he needs to know for sure that you are on his side. And if he can’t communicate the confusion and discomfort he may be feeling in this growing and stretching time in his life, it may be coming out as these little annoying things; he still just needs to know that you are on his side.
In my family, I’ve always conveyed to everyone that when one of us is acting in a way that seems to be pushing everyone else away, that’s when that person needs more love and understanding and nurturing. And especially my sensitive son Jacob, who’s now 26, when he was having a difficult time in life (and, boy the minute I say that I can just go back in time and feel the weight that is on him just from being, you know, 11, 12, 13, around those ages), I would just hug him and say, “I know. I’m here. I know it’s so hard to be Jacob sometimes. But you are doing so well with it.” And he would just release everything into that hug because I see the challenges that he’s having, and really, how hard it is to be him in this moment.
So this is all part of the backing up to see the bigger picture. Part of the rewinding, to check in with yourself, make sure you are nurturing, encouraging, and honouring your boy, for being who he is, and part of the digging deeper to see the need that’s causing the unwanted behaviour. To see the world, as Pam was saying, through his 13-year-old eyes, and how he really needs to be seen and validated for all he’s going through. Have you joined in him in his place of joy, to know for sure that you are on his side always?
And that’s all I have.
ANNA: Okay, so we have question three is from Melody:
Melody’s Question [TIME: 47:11]
Hi, I’m not an unschooler yet, or even a parent, but I hope to be one day. I love your podcast and enjoy thinking about how the questions might apply to my future. I am just wondering, how does unschooling not only apply to children, but to relationships. I just got engaged and want to make sure our 5-year relationship continues building towards eventual unschooling of our future children. Thanks!
Well, hello, Melody, thank you for that.
I feel like there are so many helpful principles that we talk about related to radical unschooling, and I also like to talk about living consensually when it’s out of the context of unschooling. For me, basically, that’s a process where we work together to find mutually agreeable solutions, and it really, in my life, applies to every relationship. And honestly, I think it can change the world. When we really hear one another and work towards understanding each other’s needs, finding the solutions that are win-win, life is just easier and more joyful.
And it’s similar to what we were talking about in the earlier question—it’s that digging behind behaviour and looking for needs and then finding ways to meet the needs. And I talk about that on my website with some articles and how that applies to some different situations.
I think you’ll find, if you model that kind of relating in your marriage and in your life and other relationships, that it will naturally lead you to respecting and honouring your children. And so often, we find that that leads to unschooling and this amazing life that we’re talking about every month, and Pam every week.
So, that’s all I wanted to say about that. Pam, what about you?
PAM: Definitely another great question, and just to echo what Anna said—live the lifestyle that you’re looking for. This kind of lifestyle now, that you want to bring your children into, meaning, a supportive relationship that isn’t based in power, but in that consensual “working as a team” perspective.
Be supportive of his interests and passions and his learning. Follow your own interests and passions. Have conversations about the things that you’re learning every day, just through life, so that he sees it, you see it, you’re living it already. Share your thoughts around parenting and learning and homeschooling and unschooling as conversations about children come up.
It’s better than he not be surprised by your perspective later on, but it’s something that you guys can talk about and bang around now. So yeah, just living that learning and growing unschooling lifestyle now, and then your kids will be added to the mix along the way, and they will just be more team members—just another person to incorporate into your days.
ANNE: Hi Melody. I really love your question, too. I have always said that unschooling is a gift for the whole family. Just from watching my children and how they’ve been learning through life and through joy for every moment of their lives, really.
From the time they were born, my husband and I have been doing such learning and stretching and growing ourselves. We’ve been redefining life, we’ve been rejecting what we were told was true and necessary, and we’ve been walking forward towards those things that make us feel good. Because we know that this is what’s right from watching our children walk toward what feels good to them. This is what they’ve shown us. And this is just some of the gifts of unschooling.
I think you’re off to an incredible start simply with your awareness of all of this. If you hold on to your awareness about everything, the way you are aware of this, you are already laying the foundation for connected, beautiful, mutually respectful relationships. And the cool thing is, that to have mutually respectful and connected relationships, I have learned—again, from my children, and from my own growth and healing experiences—that our awareness needs to start within ourselves.
It sounds like you are already good at shutting out the noise of society, the voices of mainstream, and that is so necessary and really wonderful. From there, continue to tune into yourself. Learn to listen to, trust, and follow your instincts, your joy, your contentment—this is your compass. This will allow you to see the world through others’ eyes, because you’re coming from a place of peace, of knowing yourself, and of caring for yourself.
You’ll have so much to give to others—your fiancé and your future children—when you yourself are whole. And not only that, you’ll be living a rich, full life by following that which is inside of you, because you know how to tune into yourself. You know what lights a spark within you. You know when you shine and you follow that and trust in that.
All of this is really, as I said, just a few of the huge gifts that unschooling bring us, and you are just on your way to being open to receiving all of the infinite possibilities. It’s really beautiful. Thank you so much for asking this question and offering us the chance to talk about it. It’s a wonderful thing to visit.
PAM: Yes, definitely, definitely. I think that’s awesome.
And, that was the last question for this month. So, I want to thank you both very much for answering questions again with me. It is so much fun to chat with you.
ANNE: Thank you.
ANNA: It was so great. And I just have to say, on a completely unrelated note, I live in a house that’s kind of like a tree house, and so right outside my window, about 15 feet, there’s this tree with a hole, and a squirrel, the whole time is building a nest, and he’s so busy. He’s up and his cutting branches and he’s bringing the branches back in, and it’s just like, I don’t know, it’s just really peaceful and lovely.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. That’s awesome.
PAM: It is. And, just a reminder for everyone—like little branches—there are going to be links in the show notes for all the things that we’ve mentioned, so that you can go and gather all the stuff that might be interesting for you in building your unschooling home.
Wow, that worked pretty well, didn’t it?
And, as always, if you would like to submit a question for the Q&A show, just go to livingjoyfully.ca/podcast and click on the link.
Have a great day everybody!
ANNE: Bye! Thanks, everyone.