PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and this week, Anna Brown and Erika Ellis join me to answer some more listener questions. Yay! Now, before we get started, I just want to remind everyone that our Q&A conversations are not focused on giving anyone the right answer, because there isn’t a universal right answer for any situation that works for all families.
So, basically what we’re doing is sharing food for thought through the lens of unschooling, through what bubbles up for us. And so, this is just stuff for you to think about, whether or not it’s your question or you’re listening in and saying, oh, that’s curious. Hopefully just gives you some more angles to take your contemplation. And then you’re the one who can see how it fits with your family. So, without further ado, Anna, do you want to get us started.
ANNA: I will! It’s a bit of a long one. So, we’ll dive right in.
“I am a long-time listener and follower of your work. I started listening to your podcast and reading your books. When I first started thinking about unschooling our girls on this four years ago, my husband and I have two girls, almost 13 and 10. I pulled our girls from school after a family discussion and some trauma that our eldest endured in public school setting. But this question isn’t about school. It’s about siblings.
My girls have four friends that they see more regularly than any other of their friends, none of which are homeschooled. All four girls are only children in the past two or so years. The girls’ relationships have changed. All four girls lean much more towards my older daughter for friendships and have started to pick on our youngest and show her unkindness in different ways.
One girl in particular is at our house every week, at least five times a week. She has started to pick more and show more and more that she doesn’t want to be friends with our youngest. They used to play so nicely and have. I called the forever game, where they play these elaborate stories with their Littlest Pet Shop toys.
She has begun to feel very sad that she can’t join in and also sad that she doesn’t have a friend that can come over as often. My youngest has some sensitivities and is a very strong-willed person. I’m not sure if that’s part of it, being that all these girls that she has issues with are only children who have never had anyone not to agree with what they say or do.
I’ve always taught my girls to be open-minded, free-willed individuals, even before we started radically unschooling. My concern is about a situation that came about today. This friend was over and my youngest had another friend here who she only sees a couple of times a year. My oldest and the neighbor friend were in her room and my youngest had told her camp friend about how the neighbor had been treating her. The camp friend confronted her about it. And they got into a pretty big argument.
Our oldest got very angry because the neighbor was mad about the confrontation. And she, our oldest, got physical with our youngest. Our oldest stormed out of the house and wouldn’t talk to anyone. I gave her some space and waited for a bit, but I wanted to hear her side of things. I asked her why she would stand up for her friend, because I have seen it with the neighbor boys, but not for her sister. I kept my cool the whole time, not yelling and trying to stay sympathetic to her as well as our younger daughter.
The only thing she thinks will resolve this is to only play at her friend’s house and not have her here. I have reservations about this for many reasons, but feel sad mostly because these girls have been friends for so long and they have sleepovers all the time. Every weekend in the summer, my girls have new rules except no physical harm to each other. And I don’t want to tell her she can’t go over to her friend’s house.
I have never felt so much sadness over my oldest. And I feel so sad for my youngest, as well. My oldest is at that teen stage that I thought would never happen. We have always been honest and open with each other, and I don’t want to lose that relationship with either of my girls. How do I help them both without pushing anyone over the edge?
I’m at a loss today. And I’m so sad for the relationship that is rocky between us, but also for the relationship between the two sisters, and even the relationship with all four friends. How do I help them without feeling too pushy, being sympathetic, but also standing up for my youngest? Please help this sad mama. Thank you for all of your wisdom. I listen every week while at my cleaning job and Q&A episodes are my favorite.”
Okay. Thank you. And hello!
So, friend and sibling politics can be so tricky. My girls are two years apart and they were the best of friends, always together, until the preteen years hit. What I saw was that they really needed separate experiences.
First, I had to do my own processing around the idea that they even needed to be friends. Once I could let that go, it allowed for things to flow from there. What we found was that, when they could have separate friends and experiences, they were excited to come back together and share. And I think it actually helped preserve their relationship through those kind of tumultuous years.
It’s certainly complicated, though, when a neighbor’s involved and they’d been friends before and we ran into that as well. I think your oldest is really wise to see that everyone might need some space.
So, instead of pushing it at home, she’s suggesting a really viable option. So, I’m wondering if you can change your story around her a little bit. She recognized that things got heated and she was trying to avoid that happening again. That is her way of protecting her sister without alienating her friend.
Kids’ interests do change at that age. And sometimes, the age gaps and developmental differences can be highlighted at certain at certain seasons. A younger sibling may be more active and may want to play the game in the same way it’s always been played while the teens are wanting to hang out and switch things up a little bit and talk. I remember in group situations, how infuriated the younger kids would be, “Why are we sitting here talking?” Teens would just be rolling their eyes, because it’s just a different phase. It’s just a different time of life.
So much of the work of this time is ours to do, letting go of the preconceived ideas of how it should look and also just flowing with the growth and changes. It happens so fast and it’s a very intense time for the kids going through it, as well.
And I think it also brings up difficult relationship memories we might have had from that age or school, but it helps to remember that their situation is so different and that they have the ability to take breaks and to find creative solutions and to tap into you as a resource, which many of us didn’t have when we were younger. So, I was always careful to see if I was bringing baggage from my terrible middle school year to the situation. I really wanted to just be present in this moment with them.
So, if I were in your situation, I would focus on finding my younger daughter more activities and friends that fill her up. Allow space for both of them to grow when they’re apart. I think what you’ll see is that they come back together, too. “Release and surrender” is a mantra that has helped me a lot over the years and in these types of situations.
We were just talking on the Network about how what you resist persists. Kids are so good at feeling agendas and incongruent energy. So, really check in with yourself about what this is bringing up for you and make sure not to bring that into the conversations or even your energy around them. Those feelings are valid and important, but so often they’re about our past experiences. And when we give them the attention and care they deserve by processing with our friends or even just with ourselves, we can come with this open curious mindset to the children in front of us without handing them the weight of our past.
So, that’s what bubbled up for me. Erika?
ERIKA: A lot of that sounded very familiar to me, so we’ll see how this goes.
So, thanks for your question. And I’m so sorry that you’re feeling sad. Friend and sibling dynamics bring up so many emotions and I’ve definitely been there.
I know that when things are going so well and they’re having so much fun together and clicking, you just want that feeling to last forever. It’s so great. It’s so fun for them. Why would they ever stop? And I can feel myself getting sucked into clinging on to that version of reality, when in real life, kids grow and sometimes they grow much more quickly than I’m expecting. And there’s not a lot of time for me to adjust my understanding of who they are and it can be especially hard in those moments.
My kids are the same age as yours, pretty much exactly, and we’ve had experiences with one child feeling picked on, people feeling left out of the game, one wanting to play and the other refusing, miscommunication, hurt feelings. And I find that figuring out those social dynamics is some of the most valuable and challenging learning that happens at this age.
And lately, there have been some major shifts in the ways that they play, who they like to play with, and the ways in which they interact with each other as siblings. Sometimes it feels like it changes from one day to the next. And so, it’s a lot to keep up with. I think that while we can’t trust that everything will stay the same, we can trust that our children will show us when things are no longer working for them. It’s not always easy when we see that, but it’s a good thing that they show us.
And you’re noticing that your older daughter seems to be different. She’s in that teenage stage that you never thought would happen. The transition from child to teen can be jarring, because there are real changes that take place in our brains during that time of amazing growth.
I was just reading about a study where they showed that the younger children that had a reward response in their brains to the sound of their caregivers or their mother’s voice while teenagers did not. The teens’ brains rewarded novel voices. So, there are actual brain changes that make becoming more independent and making new connections and spending time with people outside of the family more rewarding. It makes sense developmentally, if you think about it, but it also makes sense that it could hurt your feelings if you’re taking the brain shift personally.
I was thinking that the book Brainstorm by Dan Siegel might be a good one to check out. He writes about the adolescent brain and explains the logic behind the changes. And he shows how amazing the teen brain really is. And so, that might help you make sense of some of the aspects that you’re feeling uncomfortable about now.
I mention this because I just think it’ll help so much. If you can shift how you’re viewing your older daughter. I know it’s hard because it feels like she’s being unkind to your younger daughter and it feels like it’s this good guy/bad guy situation, but it’s really just a whole group of young people trying to figure out what they like and who they are and figuring out their relationships.
Your older daughter, like Anna was saying, had that idea of playing with her friend at the other house. And that actually could be a way to avoid your younger daughter getting hurt. It’s something to try that could meet your older daughter and the friend’s social needs without causing fights with your younger daughter. I can see that as a way that your older daughter could be trying to protect her sister while still having the relationship she’s wanting with her friend.
And when it comes to intense situations with my kids, we try to talk about how our actions might’ve made the other people feel. I try to help my kids see the other person’s perspective. But I don’t ever want to force someone to be included in the play when the other kids aren’t wanting to play with them. It’s like a relationship dance. Sometimes we can figure out circumstances where everyone can get along and sometimes, we can’t.
And so, sometimes my daughter will be playing a game with my son’s friends, because it’ll be a role-play he doesn’t want to do. And so, he may feel left out, but everyone else is really wanting to play that game. And so, I validate him and figure out ways to help him get through that time, whether it’s playing with him myself or helping him think of something else he wants to do. We also spend a lot of time just talking about how much he doesn’t like what they’re playing. And then the opposite thing happens with my daughter feeling left out, as well. And validation and spending time with the one who’s feeling left out has helped in our family so much.
And you can also validate your older daughter’s experience navigating a relationship with a friend who doesn’t want to play with her sister anymore. That is so challenging. And it’s common for a sibling to seem to choose that friend over their sibling, because friend relationships are important and they can feel less secure. And so, it’s really normal for them to do what they can to maintain that connection to their friend. And they’re all trying things out and learning as they go, really all of them, like all the school kids, too. Everyone’s growing. You’re learning more about them as they grow. So, it helps to give a lot of space and grace for the people to grow and learn, including myself. Everyone in the situation is doing the best they can to get their needs met.
And also, any ideas you try out, don’t have to be the fix either, but you can brainstorm ideas like your daughter’s suggestion and just try them out and see how everyone’s feeling. And then new ideas will bubble up.
Also, like Anna was saying, maybe there’s room to find some new connections for your younger daughter that better match where she is right now. I’ve seen online friendships and video calls help fill that need for so many kids, too. There’s just so many possibilities once we let go of trying to keep things as they were, as beautiful as that was.
And guess what? I also included Anna’s mantra, “release and surrender,” because I just think that’s exactly it, because as long as you’re holding on to the energy and as long as your energy is still back in that place of, everyone’s so happy playing together, it is really hard to move forward.
So, that’s what I got, Pam.
PAM: It’s so fun. Sometimes the same kinds of things bubble up for all of us and we just say them in our own words. That is wonderful, too, because for all the people listening, it might make a different connection.
So, here. Let’s do take three. But yes, I’m sorry that you’re feeling sad and it is completely understandable. And it’s okay to sit with that for a while.
I did want to emphasize that, so often, we can bring so much of our own experience to the table when we’re thinking about these things that can cloud our vision. You didn’t share too much of your experience, Alison, but I wanted to mention that as something you might want to ponder. Are there some challenges that you had in your middle school-ish years, your pre-teen and early teen years, that might be bringing up some emotions for you that you’re placing into the situation that maybe aren’t being felt by the others involved, at least right now?
And what I did, too, just jumping in, was to try see things through the eyes of your oldest, because reading through the question, you mentioned you wanted to leave space for her and you wanted to hear her side of the story. But even those words made me feel a little defensive for her.
So, just looking through her eyes, I feel like seeing a friend that you often enjoy playing with, like you said, she’s over five days a week at least, multiple times a week, seeing them being confronted and taken to task by someone you don’t know well at all, a sibling’s friend who comes over a couple of times a year, that could feel really bad for her. And it does seem pretty reasonable that she would immediately feel defensive for her friend who was, as you said, upset about the confrontation.
So just think, what was her other choice? Her alternative choice would be defending a sibling. That would be three people ganging up on someone, someone who is already upset about what was going on. So, it does make sense that she wouldn’t feel comfortable with that choice either. And she had a split moment to make a choice. So, it is completely understandable in any direction she went, but totally in this direction.
One thing I did want to mention is that when kids were hanging out and playing at my house, I was pretty likely to step into any heated confrontations or conversations or arguments that were personal, meaning they were about a person, rather than just them trying to sort out what game they wanted to play or what activity or X, Y, or Z that was going on. I was more apt to just stay nearby and let those see how those played out as they tried to work out what everybody wants to do and why they didn’t want to do that. That is a great skill to practice.
But when it became personal, I wanted my home to feel like a safe space for the people that were involved. So, when it became personal, I would not jump in with negative energy, but jumping in with helpful energy. I was like, “Hey, what’s going on here? We don’t want to diss people. What’s going on and how can we figure this out?” And then often, you get a little bit more information. Or somebody is mad and they split apart or whatever happens, but you’re there just with your presence saying, it’s not okay to be attacking another person. I am happy to help you guys figure out a way to move through this moment. But this moment is not about, let’s all gang up on somebody about their past behaviors or their choices in the moment or whatever.
The other bit that stood out for me was when you mentioned standing up for your youngest, Alison, which sounds so helpful. And of course, you want to stand up. But when friendships fade, I would spend a lot of time, instead of standing up for them, trying to maintain something that seemed like it was so fun and going so well, because I was projecting it into the future, instead, I would spend a lot of time, as you both mentioned, validating that other child’s experience, your youngest. Talking about possibilities for new friendships, since we can’t force people to be friends or to remain friends or keeping friends in the same way they used to. So, it could be conversations about whether she is actually even interested in looking for friends. Is this something that she might just be doing because she had these friends, these friends kept showing up here, and she kept playing with them?
But what if there are some things you’d actually like to do that she would just do on her own? It’s like, “Oh, I never did do that thing because we always have people here. Maybe I want to do that.” So, even back to those basic kinds of conversations as to how many friends, how often does she want to get together with people and then, conversations about, if she wants to, where might we find some that we get along with? It might be some commiserating of friendships that have moved on and pieces like that.
It’s letting them take control of the conversation, because you want to help them process what’s going on for them, rather than bringing our baggage, putting it on them, and trying to help them process the things that we’re upset about rather than the things that they’re worried about. And, like here with the sibling, having conversations with them. It seems like she understands what’s going on with those friendships. She’s seeing that her other friends are not enjoying hanging out with the youngest for a while. So, again, giving her space to process that.
I, too, number three, loved her idea to go visit at the other friend’s house for a while. That sounds so considerate and thoughtful of her younger sibling’s experience. And I know you mentioned that you had concerns about that for various reasons. Yet, that’s more conversation that you can have. Is your child concerned about those things, too? Are they bothered about certain things that might happen there? And then them knowing that they can call you and you’ll immediately come get them in that situation or whatever’s going on there, that’s more fodder for conversation, more understanding ourselves, more understanding all the choices that are on our plate, our possibilities at all times.
That is another great to skill to model and conversations to have. That deepens our connection when we better understand each other and what our concerns are. Anyway, I just found it very helpful not to bring my expectations or solutions into their sibling and friend relationships, but just to instead be there for everyone to process as they explore who they are, what they want these friendships and relationships to look like.
And I love the point about how often as we get older, we can grow and have our own interests and have our own friendships, which also are richer when we come back together and share those pieces. Our family doesn’t need to be like, we’re more important than everybody else. We as individuals are each important as who we are and how we want our relationships and our friendships and our lives to unfold.
All right, so, question number two, Erika.
ERIKA: Okay, so this is another long one.
This question is from Belinda in Canada. She has a six-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter who have only ever attended a weekly forest school. She’s resonated with ideas from Waldorf homeschooling, like the emphasis on nature and limited media, but she also resonates with unschooling, particularly the focus on connection and relationship. She says,
“My main question is about iPads. We all want to know what to do about iPads, LOL. In my and my husband’s opinion, our son, six, cannot self-regulate with the iPad. It has been this way since we first got it two years ago. He would get aggressive when it was time to put it down and it was very disruptive to our family life.”
She goes on to share about how they always talked through these difficult transitions, but that it gets exhausting to have to do that every day. She tried a weekend-only limit, which worked for a while, but after a major family crisis, he was feeling sad and wanted more time on the iPad. And so, she says,
“I felt like we can do this. I just need to lean into it with him and trust him and support him. I know he genuinely wishes I loved watching his shows or playing video games. He’s even told me that. So, I dived in and said, anytime he asks to watch her play something, I’ll just say yes, if I can, that is if we’re not leaving the house.”
She explains that it worked for a few days, but it seemed to get to be more and more. And the whole family wasn’t outside as much or playing with toys as much as before. She says,
“If I was to not put any limits on when and for how long he could use the iPad, we literally would never leave the house or do anything else. He does, quite frankly, become obsessed. And the more he gets, the more he wants. He’ll start waking up and asking to watch something as soon as he wakes up, or it becomes a power struggle to get him to turn it off, even violent. It got really bad again recently. And so, my husband and I took it away. That wasn’t pretty.”
She compares it to the process of addiction withdrawal: agitation, unable to regulate emotions, pleading and bargaining, violence and yelling, finally, sadness, crying, and acceptance. She said that now that the kids haven’t been using their iPads for two weeks, they’re happier and more compliant. It feels like a burden has been lifted off of him, they’re no longer having power struggles, and that he seems so much happier.
She goes on to say that she’s seen kids who can self-regulate with devices, but that she doesn’t believe that her son at this age can. She doesn’t want to restrict forever, but doesn’t know how to meet everyone’s needs now if she allows him to use the iPad. She feels like, as a parent, she needs to limit his iPad use, but also wishes she didn’t feel that way.
She said, “A couple of times he refused to go to his grandparents’, because he didn’t want to stop using it. And that was unacceptable for us. We didn’t force him to go, because he was in such an emotional state he wasn’t fit to go anywhere. But my husband and I were like, how did we get here? Fast forward to today, after a two-week break, and when we asked the kids if they wanted to visit their grandparents, he smiled and said, yes.”
She’s wondering if it’s bad that they are restricting his iPad use and if it’s bad that they aren’t fully supporting his interests. She adds, “We feel that we’re stepping in and protecting him from something that affects his biochemistry. We wish we didn’t have to. Thanks very much for your time and your podcast. I always get a lot out of them.”
So, hi, Belinda. And thank you for your question. I think it’s great that you’re recognizing that this is something important for you to dig into and figure out, because you’re exactly right. Screens are not going away and your whole family will be navigating this together in one way or another at some time or another. It’s gonna happen. And the fact that you’re saying that everyone feels happy right now without any iPad potentially means that you have a chance to work on this for yourself before it comes up again. I mean, I don’t know what’s happened since you wrote in, but maybe.
I can really feel how intense this is for you and how much fear and judgment is wrapped up in there. It’s not at all uncommon. So, you’re definitely not alone in this. There can be a lot of fear triggers for parents around technology. We seem to get at least one question about it every month.
Let me start with a quick note about the idea of self-regulation that you mentioned. I think this is a term that gets used a lot, but in a way that twists it. There’s a whole lot of control and judgment behind it. Basically, self-regulation has become about children making choices that the parent would want them to make on their own without complaint. And really, that’s just compliance. Real self-regulation is learning about what feels good and right to them and tuning into their own brains and hearts and bodies to get a deeper sense of understanding of themselves. What works and feels great for one person is so different than what works and feels great for another. And we can never know how it feels to be inside someone else. So, we can’t label someone as having no self-regulation, but we can judge their choices against what we would do. We can do that, but it’s not great for relationships.
So, beyond the self-regulation nuance, it seems like the main trouble for you has to do with transitions. And transitions are hard, almost universally for humans and for six-year-old humans, even more so. They live so in the moment and really only focus on what’s in front of you, which is amazing. And it also makes shifting to something else a real challenge. And that has nothing to do with screens. I’m glad that you’ve noticed that transitions are hard for him generally. That’s not a screen thing. I think what makes the screen issue feel so different for you is all of the energy swirling around it.
And what I mean by that is he knows you don’t like when he uses the iPad. He knows you’ve taken it away before and you’ll take it again. You have some dread about getting him to shift to another activity because you know he’ll probably melt down. So, you carry a heavy energy about that. He has a serious fear of never being able to do this thing that he loves to do ever again and he has real evidence that that could happen. So, it makes total sense that he wants to hold onto it for every second that he can. There’s so much intense energy there on both sides.
So, you can think of another hard transition, like leaving a playground or leaving a friend’s house or having to get off the swing or the party is over now, whatever the transition is, that’s still hard for young kids to make the transition. I’ve seen all those big emotions, the crying, the physically lashing out, the anger, all those same things that you’re describing as signs of addiction. That’s what happens. They’re young children with big emotions.
And what might be different in those transitions for you is there isn’t the same judgment of the activity. It probably feels easier to breathe through those big emotions. Like, “You were loving swinging! You aren’t ready to leave the playground. I get it.” It’s so much easier to validate and empathize without judgment when the activity is one that you approve of. And he probably would have more trust in being able to return to the playground, too. So, it’s just different energy.
When he’s so upset to turn off the iPad, that same kind of validation and empathy is what’s needed there, too. But he needs to believe you. If you’re really empathizing with him because you know how amazing the game or the show is and how important it is to him, he’ll feel that. But if you’re pretending to empathize while really being happy that he’s finally not looking at the screen and then judging what he was doing there, he will feel that instead. And that doesn’t feel good.
Showing him that you actually are really interested in his iPad activities will go so incredibly far. He’s actually told you he wishes you liked it and were interested in what he’s doing. And that’s so beautiful. He’s inviting you in. It’s going to take some digging and work on your part to get to where you can love it with him. And I think that work is so valuable to do for your relationship and for your own learning and growth and fun.
I would recommend Roya Dedeaux’ work again, and her book Connect with Courage for digging into some of those fears and thinking about the benefits of really supporting and investing mental energy into loving his interests.
I thought I would also mention an episode, Unschooling Stories with Julia Triman. It’s episode 264. The way she describes her son is he’s about the same age as yours. And they play a lot of video games together and you can really hear her enthusiasm for his video game interests. She describes him as a gamer. It is his primary interest, but the family takes that seriously and considers that want and that need to continue pursuing the interest as they’re planning all the things they want to do as a family.
And a child can feel that. They pick up on your energy so easily, which is why we always talk about the work of unschooling being our work to do as adults with a lot of baggage and judgments that we hardly know are there. It’s constant work to peel back those layers and find new beliefs.
So, you can ask Pam’s question, who would I be if I loved this thing? If I loved the games that he loves? What if he’s not addicted? What if he’s passionate and curious? What if he just knows himself so well and is naturally drawn to the thing that lights a spark in him.
Transitions for us go so much more smoothly when I can engage the kids in a conversation about the thing that they’re leaving or something else that they’re very interested in. For example, I can say as we’re getting ready to go, I really want to hear about the show that you were just watching. What was that character up to you? What happened with my favorite character?
We really can’t know what our child’s interests and choices will lead to, but they are so good at knowing what they love. And when they know that we respect and love them and their interests, they feel supported. I think it was Anne Ohman who said what your child loves is who they are. So, rejecting their interests and judging that feels the same as you rejecting them.
My kids and I have had so many gaming experiences together over the years. It’s how we spend a lot of our time. We have a common language of shows and games, and it feels so great to be able to appreciate what they love. I was not a gamer as a kid, but I’m so grateful that it’s part of my life now. It’s just so fun and has enriched my life and my relationships in endless ways. Pam?
PAM: Pam just wants to say, rewind and listen to Erika’s answer again.
ANNA: That self-regulation piece for sure.
PAM: Yes. I have a little note. Self-regulation. But you nailed that.
Also, I was not a gamer growing up either and I’m wearing my first gamer t-shirt now. I am diving deep into that now.
PAM: But so much loveliness. Okay.
There was one little piece that you didn’t share from the question, Erika, where she mentioned, “My question is, are we doing something wrong by eliminating the iPad in your unschooling expert opinion?” I know why you took that out. And I’m sure you guys do, too, but I buck at the idea of an unschooling expert opinion. It is not our place to judge your choices as right and wrong.
What we’re doing in these Q&A episodes, as I mentioned at the top, is just sharing our thoughts and experiences and what bubbled up for us, maybe a new way to look at something, a new way to look at self-regulation, a new way to look at my child’s interests as being part of who they are, a new way to look at transitions. All those new little seeds that Erika planted there are brilliant, but it is always your family’s choice.
And, as Erika mentioned, if you’re not doing screens right now and everybody’s happy, we don’t need to introduce challenges just because we think we’re supposed to. Yet, you know, as you mentioned in the question, this is going to bubble up again soon. Like you said before, he started asking again and he knew what the response would be, so he couched it very carefully to say, “Just for a little bit, just for a little bit,” and then his joy and interest grew and grew and you saw it get bigger and bigger.
And then that whole self-regulation piece where it’s, they are self-regulating well if they’re making the choices that I want them to make, that outsideness, that going to grandparents, the value of saying “yes” to going to grandparents as better than saying “no” to going to the grandparents. There’s just a world of context in both of those situations that make a night and day difference. And that answer made so much sense for that child in each of those moments. They weren’t right or wrong. They were a product of them in that moment. So, I love all those pieces to think about.
Another thing that jumped up for me is to be careful of that thought spiral of wishing you didn’t have to do something for your child’s own good. Like, oh, I need to regulate this for them because they can’t do it themselves and it’s for their own good, because, look, they’re happier. Or maybe they’re just resigned to the fact that, I don’t get to do this thing that I love. There’s another way of looking at it that way.
When you’re using language like that, it’s just a great clue to look at. Maybe I have a vision for my child, back to that regulation piece, that doesn’t match the amazing child that’s in front of me. And it can be so helpful to just take that switch, even just to play with it for now, to find and celebrate the amazing actual child that’s in front of you. What do they love?
There’s also that presumption of authority that comes. I’m going to keep bringing up self-regulating again, that presumption of authority that, I know what’s best, that I know what regular good regulation would look like for this other person. There is just so much of an, I know better energy there versus a I’m going to help them figure out what works well for them. That, I know better for you than what you know.
And alongside all of that, it can also be so helpful to talk with the child about it. We were talking about this in the Network this month, right now, communication and ways to chat with our child. And so often it’s not a sit-down conversation, “Why do you love the iPad so much? Please tell me now. And then I’ll listen to what you say and I’ll tell you all the reasons why you love it too much. Because going outside is lots of fun and visiting grandparents is lots of fun!” But life can be all those things. But going in with the expectation based on your lived experience that, right now, that’s all he wants to do, but there are so many good reasons why what you’re seeing is that’s all he wants to do right now. So, yes, back to that Connect with Courage book. So, just having conversations with him, asking him what he thinks.
That’s the other piece, too, even though it seems like the iPad is the interest. You kept saying iPad, iPad, iPad. Really, the iPad is the tool. What is the interest that he’s using it to explore? Is it shows that he’s watching? What kind of shows? Is it videos? What kind of videos? What is it that he loves about it? If it’s games, there are just so many kinds of games out there in the world. What is the actual interest? What is it that he’s exploring? What is filling him up so much that he just wants more and more and more and more and more of that?
And then even conversations, they don’t have to be long. They don’t have to be chatty, but even asking him, “It was so curious. You were very excited to go see your grandparents and then a couple of weeks ago, you weren’t. How did that feel? What was different between those?” And just getting his perspective. Because once we start chatting with them, instead of telling them things, then the energy shifts to us working as a team, us figuring out things together. My, I like to go outside, with your, I like to play games, or I like to watch these kinds of shows, all being valuable, all being equally valued.
I’m not quite sure why the iPad couldn’t come to the grandparents. That could have been a lovely transition piece. And, and back to those transitions, it just reminded me as you were talking, Erika, there were times when there was something that, as a family, we needed to go out, whether it was an appointment or whether it was a visit that was planned or anything like that, that I would spend 20 minutes sitting, watching the game that they’re playing or their show that they’re watching and having conversations and getting right into it so that we are closely connected, so that either I can find a good moment, “Hey, after this upcoming boss or after we found this last whatever it is that we’re collecting,” like whatever the game is, “That would be a great time to save it so that we can go. Remember, we’re going to go here,” and start talking about the fun stuff about that or maybe not so fun. And the other thing that we’re doing that’s fun. Like the plan that we had already come up with together, but they needed that help with that transition.
If it’s like, “Okay, it’s time. Turn it off. Let’s go.” I mean, that barely works for me at 56. Don’t do that to me. As I’m running to start this call, I was like, no! I was just trying to finish this thing. This is humanness. This is human beings.
Anyway, I have talked enough for someone who said, “Just listen to Erika’s answer.” What about you, Anna?
ANNA: Listen to Erika’s again and then you can come back to this one. So, I just want to reiterate that there is no one answer, so we’re just going to keep saying that over and over again. There’s no unschooling expert. There’s no one answer. And it’s really difficult to understand the dynamics in another person’s family from the snapshots that we get through questions. We each have to find our own way. Each family, each person is unique.
And something that jumped out to me and as you guys pulled it out, too, is this grandparent example. And so, something we’ve also been talking about in the Network is confirmation bias. So, basically, he didn’t want to go to the grandparents that time, and then he did this time. We’re honing in on iPad, when maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was, he didn’t feel like it. Maybe he didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe he was hungry. He didn’t like the food that was going to be there. We don’t know, but we look for the things that confirm what we want it to confirm, which is, again, another subset of the whole, self-regulation is really just doing what I want you to do, which is such a great point. Oh, my goodness.
Another thing that jumped out to me, also Erika mentioned, which was how he would like your involvement, how he’s organically bubbled up that he wants you to understand it and to share that with you. And that’s so beautiful, but there clearly is so much judgment around technology and that can definitely make someone who loves it feel misunderstood and confused.
For us, we never had limits on technology or really anything. And we lived full, engaged lives, doing a variety of activities. We had plenty of deep dives and seasons that ranged from outside from dawn until midnight, as well as nothing but video games when there was a new release that came out, and everything in between. And I’m sure during some of those seasons, people might think that the focus was too singular if they were looking in.
But what I observed, when I felt like something was off, it was that I was often not as engaged as I needed to be. Something was taking my attention away from being fully present and that that threw off the flow for everyone in the home.
And personally, again, I don’t think there’s one answer to this question and this is a bit more of a general comment about technology than this particular question, but I’ve noticed that so many times when parents bring the concerns about technology, they are stepping back. They’re sitting apart from their kids and they’re just wanting them to do something else, something that looks more like the picture they have in their heads of what children are supposed to do. They aren’t engaged with them to understand where they are. And funnily enough, are often on technology telling us about it.
But it boils down to that they just want the child to make a different choice. They like the idea of autonomy, as long as it falls into categories that they find worthy and I think that can be really hard for children, or apparently even me, to understand.
So again, I just look at what’s going on with me. What am I doing with my time? Am I connecting? Or am I just wanting them to entertain themselves, but then judging how they’re doing that? I found time and time again, my children wanted to be with me. So, making that time fun and connecting and fulfilling for all of us was such an important part of cultivating a rich environment to learn about ourselves and how we move through the world. And I think you’ll find that limits and coercion work until they don’t. And that hopefully, when that time comes, you can come together and repair any trust ruptures and find a way to move forward in a way that feels good to everyone.
For now, it sounds like you’ve found something that’s working for you, but as we’ve all mentioned, it is going to bubble up again. It is something that your family’s going to approach many times over the next coming years and what you want that to look like, I hope some of these seeds will just be like, hey, have I been looking at it like this? And just looking at yourself, because that’s what I have to do. I have to look at myself. Where’s this coming from? Where are these ideas coming from? Am I engaged? What else is happening in the environment?
And that’s something so often we don’t know about these questions is, later we’ll find out some trauma has happened or some big outside thing or, “We’ve just moved,” or, “We’ve just done these things.” And so, all these context pieces, but that’s something each of us listening can take in and say, hey, what is the context in our family right now? What is happening in our environment? And try to avoid that confirmation bias and look at the whole picture.
ERIKA: That just made me think when you’re talking about the interests, how valuable the information is when I get to know the things that they like. That really is how everything expands. And so, if I try not to look at it and just call it iPad, I’m missing every opportunity to have activities that are out in the world that relate to the things that he’s really loving or to get the toys that then they want to play with, because it’s the characters from the shows. That’s just such a huge part of our life is me knowing what they’re interested in on their iPads.
ANNA: It’s so true! That is. When I’m thinking about our lives and the flow of it, it informed our lives. Those video games and those things led us to so many amazing places out in the world differently, but right. We have to engage. We have to understand. We have to speak that language, too, to understand what they love about it.
PAM: That’s why, in my first book, Free to Learn, and especially with newer people, I talk about replacing the curriculum with following their interests, because what else are you gonna do? Either I’m imposing something from the outside, because I think it’s something you should be doing or learning or whatever, whatever, or what’s our other choice? We’re following their interests. Something’s got to bubble up for us to do in our day. And where are they going to be learning more? Where are they going to be enjoying themselves more? Which is how they pick it up.
But we don’t see it unless we’re engaging with them, unless we see what they’re interested in. We see what leads to what, to what, what. You can’t look forward, but you can look back over the last few months or few years and see how all these different things led to other things. This show led to this game, led to this show, led to going to this park, led to this toy, led to creating this story, led to some fan fiction, led to some music.
I mean, that is where the fun and excitement is with unschooling, because we don’t know where it’s going to go. All we know is that it’s going to be so meaningful for the child and it’s going to be different for each child. So, when we can engage and be there with them, that is how we can make their world and their lives richer. Even without leaving the house, per se, all the time.
ERIKA: I like, too, that she mentioned that all the, you know, she has friends who seem to be able to self-regulate. And I was thinking about that, too, because it’s true. Not every kid will use an iPad and be that intensely excited about it and those are differences, but then that makes it so clear that this is a strong interest for him. It’s that important to him. And so, I think that’s just good information.
PAM: Yeah. I love bringing that out. It just emphasizes how different we are. And again, if we’re seeing that as better, that’s another thing for us to dive into. Very cool.
Okay. Our last question is not so long. I should not have to take a drink after I read it.
“How do you find other unschooling families to connect with? How do you start up a group of such people? When did you personally start to do so? And what did you do together? My oldest just turned five and with several friends heading off to school in the fall, I’m realizing we need more support and connections from those who aren’t.”
Okay. I mean, mine may be a touch different, because my kids were in school. My youngest was in junior kindergarten when they left, but for us, we focused more on connecting with others through my kids’ interests. Look. We’re back there.
So, I remember literally laughing out loud at myself and I realized unschooling wasn’t an interest of theirs. Unschooling was an interest of mine, but for them, it’s just a way of life. I don’t even really use the word unschooling with them. They just weren’t going to school.
So, the other piece for me was they were older than five when they seem to start to want to expand their interests beyond the family. The things that we could do together and the activities we could do and things we could bring into their world to pursue their interests within our family dynamics were enough for them until they were a little bit older. I don’t know, 7, 8, 9. It definitely is not an age thing. It depends on the person, but they were older than five before they really wanted to be out and about more specifically.
So, from the question and trying to find a group of people for more general hanging out with other kids, I know as homeschooling and unschooling has grown much since I started 20 years ago, there are park days in lots of places. There are organized like trips to the zoo and trips to the science center. So, if you’re just looking to hang out with other families with kids who don’t go to school and your child enjoys those kinds of activities, that might be something fun to hook up with. If there isn’t, you may just want to start a park day yourself, just put out there maybe in a local homeschooling group, “Hey, you guys want to gather at the park?” You can do those kinds of things.
But there’s also recreational activities, like Scouts or Girl Guides. There are after-school hangouts. I know locally here years ago now, there was an after-school community center drop-in place. And we dropped over there for a few times just to see what was up, see what activities were there, see who was there, that kind of stuff. See if that made a connection or an interest for ourselves.
The other thing to consider is that the interest doesn’t need to be a passion either. It can just be something they’d enjoy exploring. So, maybe rec classes for swimming or painting or dancing or robots, or astronomy, whatever things that are interesting to them. This could just be like an initial, let’s go try it out. There are ways for us to explore those things on our own, and if they are interested in hanging out with other kids, those are those options as well for pursuing the things that they’re interested in.
It would be interesting as these families’ kids are heading off to school, just ask yourself, is this more of a need that I’m feeling to hang out with other people or is it my child’s interest? Because we can definitely value our own need to find connections and things, whether they’re virtual, whether they’re in person, all that kind of stuff. But it’s nice to untie it, untether it from our child. Ask yourself, do I feel like I need to have an excuse? Will I respect it more because I’m doing it for my child than for my own need? Just teasing that apart a little bit, because then different opportunities, different things might work better if it’s you that’s looking for more connection and community.
ANNA: Yep. So, I covered some of those same bits. I do wish we knew where the person was because there could be listeners nearby. So, maybe that can be popped in the comments somewhere, but we have tried many things over the years and we tended to focus, like Pam, on shared interests. That seemed to really work best. I have started many groups over the years. I kept them fun-focused, relaxed. That helped attract people that were fun-focused and relaxed. And planning fun events during the day really seem to help with that.
But just like Pam said, I think it’s really important to tune into your child and their personality. Are they introverted or extroverted, for example? Some people like having a couple close friends, others feel energized by a big crowd and they don’t need to be the same people each week. So, a park is a great option for that.
Also just checking in to see, is your child asking for this? Or is this coming from an idea that you have about how children are supposed to be at this age? And I think especially because the kids are going to school, you’re thinking, ah, they’re all with all these other kids, but I would argue that’s not really a natural environment for five-year-olds and that’s not what most five-year-olds want. Many children, especially at young ages, just want to be with their family and that’s beautiful and enough. Others do want outside friends. And so, really tuning in and looking to your child will help, whatever you all decide to work better.
And, like Pam said, looking at your own needs. Are you needing support from like minds, which is perfectly reasonable and wonderful. And, if so, you might be able to meet those needs locally, or maybe you’ll come join us on the Network. I would just seek some clarity about what the need is that you’re trying to meet.
It can be so disappointing when we plan big meetups and then realize our kids have zero interest at all and then you’re in this position of balancing your personal commitments and honoring your child. That’s another reason that we kept things very light and open when I would create groups. I wanted everyone to feel they could freely follow their child’s lead at the events we planned. But I think just, again, once you tune in and figure out what need you’re trying to meet, then the opportunities will unfold. And then you’ll see that there’s this great big world of fun times ahead. Erika?
ERIKA: Hi, Amelia, and thank you for your question. So, I mean, all of that is so true and the way that I tried to meet my needs over time wasn’t always necessarily what my kids were needing. And so, it was this tricky thing of like figuring out like, oh, well that was really fun for me. They didn’t really like it, that kind of thing.
But when my kids were that age, I was the organizer of a local group for parents of young children. I actually started the group within a few months of moving to Miami when my kids were a baby and a toddler. And I just started hosting park play dates and other events like that. I kept my focus on events that were just for play and fun and we met so many people over time.
Once the kids were school age, we continued to meet up with those friends who were still available during the day. So, it was usually homeschoolers and unschoolers. And there were local homeschool groups that I joined as well, just to make more connections.
The groups I’ve been a part of, just logistically speaking, have either been on Meetup.com or Facebook groups. And I think most everyone is just on Facebook now. I do feel like it was easier to grow a community through Meetup. So, maybe you can check your local area and see if that’s at all popular there, but locally for us now, the groups are hosted on Facebook.
I planned a lot of events that, like Anna was saying, was just stuff my kids wanted to do anyway, at times that would work well for us. And as the result of just being out there playing during the day, basically, it seemed like I attracted my people.
And something else that also helped me was I started a parenting book club, where we read some gentle parenting-type books. And so, I attracted the people who were resonating with those ideas.
And once some of us were more involved in homeschooling, we eventually started an unschooling Facebook group and formed an unschooling book club within that. We only read Pam’s books. It was through that group that I really got to know some of the families and that grew into our local friend group. It all happened really organically with various events and play dates over time. And then, now it’s a lot of online gaming and play dates and conversations.
And so, we were just always really clear about our priorities and the way that we lived so that the people who were drawn to be in relationship with us knew us and liked us for who we are. As an example, it’s so fun that my kids’ best friends can also stay up late gaming together if they’re in the middle of something exciting. And I know that the other parents are all understanding that our children’s comfort zones are important and that we all want to help our kids communicate and navigate relationships. It’s helped us a lot to be on a similar path and to have the vocabulary of Pam’s work and all of our discussions as a foundation for our friendship.
I think if you’re willing to host events that are the kinds of things that you like to do, you will attract people who you can connect with. And it does take planning and time to grow the community. But I just found that being willing to do the organizing meant that I could find exactly what we were looking for.
I think I got really lucky to find local connections that were good friends for me as well as my kids. It’s probably more likely that everyone’s needs would not necessarily be met through one connection.
Finding kids who click with your kids through park days feels so good, even if you wouldn’t be close friends with their parents. So, I would just notice who they connected well with and try to help nurture those relationships with opportunities to play. And, as my kids are growing and wanting to expand their social circle, I can continue to support them in their relationships with their friends and those relationships have less and less to do with me, which is kind of cool.
So, it’s possible that if you’re looking for unschooling support for yourself, as well as local friends for your children, those two things would be found in different places. For my personal growth, I found the Living Joyfully Network to just be hugely inspirational and connecting. We know that so much of deschooling is digging into our own baggage, peeling back our layers. And I’ve found that the Network gives me a really great place to dive into all the things. I’ve made really amazing friends there as well.
I really didn’t expect it to be such a powerful addition to my life, but there’s just this feeling of knowing that there’s this beautiful web of amazing families around the world who are all doing this work and living intentionally and respectfully with each other. And it just helps me in my regular life to have that image in my mind to draw from. It fills up my heart and helps remind me of why I’m on this journey.
ANNA: Me, too!
PAM: Me, three! Regardless of where you are on your journey, beginning or end, I find it very grounding and centering and inspiring. So, I enjoy it.
All right! Thank you so much for joining me. It’s always such a pleasure to dive into these questions with you. And I hope we’ve planted some seeds for people. Submit your questions. There’ll be a link in the show notes. We would love your questions. We love to dive in, chat about things, see what’s going on, and see if we can maybe help you see things a little bit differently. Bye, guys!