I am right in the thick of becoming an unschooling parent and learning what that means to me. A lot of USers seem to be opposed to setting limits (specifically for screen time and foods) and using punishment or coercion. In many ways, I am all for that. DH and I both come from a pretty traditional/mainstream upbringing, and both want better/different for our children.
I occasionally limit screen time if I see it is affecting DS's mood/attitude. He's 4.5. But we don't have a specific, universal rule about screen time, per se. He will sometimes grow bored of TV and start doing something destructive or disrespectful instead of just turning it off. That is when I ask if he's done watching. If he says yes, I suggest we turn it off and find another activity. Often, video games/TV will be a privilege to lose when his behavior is repeatedly abusive or destructive. I wish I had a better way, so as not to use punishment, but I don't.
I do not limit general food or adhere to a set eating schedule. Kids can eat when hungry, or choose not to join at mealtime if not hungry. I do, however, set some pretty universal limits on what kind of food and when. No jam on toast (or sweet food) until a protein and/or veggie is consumed, no refined sugar in general, can't just eat fruit all day without some veggies and protein. This is entirely for the harmony of the household. My son will go bonkers and make me crazy if he has too much sugar/imbalanced diet. I have a toddler, so it's also for her safety and the protection of the house. I feel like that is a very reasonable limit, and it is met with only a little resistance at times. Sweets are also considered privileges that can be lost for certain behaviors, but mostly are not used as leverage for behavior/cooperation)
Lastly, DS is the type of child who will often start lashing out or getting "crazy" when he needs to use the bathroom. It is quite literally as though his brain shuts down in certain areas. For some reason he won't readily admit this need, but time has shown this to be an irrefutable pattern. So I will occasionally refuse to start a new game or allow a new activity to begin until he tries to use the restroom. This is sometimes met with resistance when he's acting out toward others or getting destructive, but not such an issue during the aforementioned transition between activities. I definitely see how my insistence that he go pee is controlling and coercive, but I can't figure out another way. The same goes for naps- he rarely admits to needing a nap or easily agrees to it, but there is a marked decline in his ability to stay "sane" after about 3pm without a little sleep. Since I lie down to nurse his sister to sleep, he usually joins with little or no fuss to avoid having to stay isolated outside the bedroom during that time. My rule is no interrupting or loud noises when I am putting her down for nap.
It looks as though my limits are pretty much just to keep a safe, healthful and peaceful household. But I still wonder if I'm somehow "doing it wrong" in these areas. If you, dear reader, are of the mind that my ways are wrong, would you please explain your perspective? I am not interested in starting a debate, but want help seeing other ways and reasons. I know every child is different, but do any of you who do not set limits or use punishment find trouble in those areas at times? How do you handle those issues without limits, coercion, or removal of privilege?
You're not going to get any argument from me. It's all about finding what works for you and yours.
My conception of radical unschooling (i.e. unschooling applied to life in general) is that as a parent you should help your child learn to limit his own behaviour by allowing him as much autonomy as is reasonable and healthy, while taking into account others' needs. That doesn't mean that his behaviour is always free of external limits, whether natural or artificial. It just means that as much as is possible and practical, he should be encouraged to learn from his own experience by exercising his own autonomy. If exercising his own autonomy is clearly not producing learning, if others' lives are being significantly negatively affected by his choices, if he's making poor choices and is obviously miserable but unable to make alternative choices, if guidance and feedback have been offered and have been unproductive, then clearly the child is in need of support in the form of some (hopefully temporary) limits.
But of course the ultimate goal is still to teach the child to limit his own behaviour appropriately. Edward Deci has written a lot about how people become self-motivated. He talks about the difference between introjected values and integrated values. Introjected values are "swallowed whole," they're the sort of limits and behaviours that one has had consistently imposed (via extrinsic structure, rewards, punishments, etc.) and which become habitual as a result. Integrated values are those which have become part of one's philosophical understanding of oneself and the world. Values tend to become integrated when the person is given meaningful choices, experiences competence and feels autonomous. Unschoolers tend to want their kids to integrate rather than introject values -- to make meaningful decisions about their own behaviour because those choices feel genuinely good and right, rather than simply because they have repeated those choices many times at someone else's insistence. So extrinsic limits would be applied sparingly and as an adjunct to, rather than a replacement for, guidance and opportunity to learn to self-limit.
There are no unschooling high priests, though. If you tend to come down on the side of your child's autonomy and self-direction, rather than on parental authority and leadership, you are drawing inspiration from unschooling. You'll gradually find the point along the spectrum that is right for you, your particular child and your family situation.
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
Lastly, DS is the type of child who will often start lashing out or getting "crazy" when he needs to use the bathroom. It is quite literally as though his brain shuts down in certain areas. For some reason he won't readily admit this need, but time has shown this to be an irrefutable pattern. So I will occasionally refuse to start a new game or allow a new activity to begin until he tries to use the restroom.
Flashback! DD1 was exactly like this. I would definitely explain it just as you did why I was enforcing the potty, but that was exactly what I had to do, and for the exact reasons. I was slowly able to back off this and give her autonomy as the moodiness waned.
I have tried over the years to become more radical, but the limits I placed early (for other philosophical reasons) seemed to create for an incredibly grumpy household when taken away, and the limits I never had in a handful of other areas seemed to be creating a grumpy household. So, we adjust, and unfortunately that has meant instituting carrots and sticks to get some improvement in some crisis areas. Other areas of milder conflict, I continue to be patient (mostly) and let things evolve, with guidance. It is my constant goal, to continue trying to give my girls more autonomy, more responsibility. I know my kids are up to the task, but I have found that they need extra help and incentive to keep our home peaceful.
Specifically to your taking away sweets and videos, that was exactly what I have been doing just recently. But it took years to get to this point where I would take them away for completely unconnected "infractions". I dislike the method, but my attempts to create peace in instructive ways has fallen short. It was a last resort. I don't take them away for everything--just on the specific issues that have reached a crisis stage. Other, everyday difficulties I continue to work more collaboratively.
Arguments can be made for and against some of the limits we've placed (and ones we haven't)-- the what and the how, etc-- and I like hearing them. But "wrong"? That's a strong word!
Give me a few minutes while I caffeinate.
I am right in the thick of this quandary, and I had to come back and add my thoughts.
Our emergency experiment with rewards and punishments has quickly taught me one thing: it is easy for the conversations to start focussing more on the carrots and sticks and less on why the behavior is not allowed. I have to be careful that I don't fall into negotiating and haggling rewards and punishments instead of the issue at hand. The carrots and sticks are not the point, and it's so easy to lose sight of that. Adults know it, but kids I think can be distracted enough to miss the point if the adult doesn't stress it, especially if they are the children not naturally endowed with enough empathy for them to independently figure out what and why certain behaviors are unacceptable, and respond to imaginary scenarios where they are the victim (a favorite method of parents which has failed to make a noticeable impact in my house).
So, for many behaviors, like screaming and aggressive displays, I've been careful not to bring up those rewards/punishments unless I see that, once again, they are failing to see the point and continuing on. Other behaviors like hits and bites, etc., do get automatic consequences because, my lord, my girls are 6 and 8, not 4yo.
My 8yo is also old enough to see this as a trick to help get her out of her habits. She is letting me know about how she is managing to keep herself from falling into the old habitual traps-- like yesterday she said that when her sister is annoying her enough so she wants to punch her, she has been going into the bedroom where dh is reading and asking him to wrestle. So, I use the carrots and the sticks, but she is cognizant that she alone is creating her own solutions.
I'm not sure my 6yo sees it quite this clearly, and that, I think is a disadvantage. I don't want them to think that "this is just how it is". I want them to know quite clearly that "this is going to help you stop yourself from doing these things". The carrots are there to give extra incentive when the joy of making the house a peaceful, happy place is not enough in that moment to trump the satisfaction of shoving your sister. The sticks are there to remind them not to do it when even the promise of a super-treat next week or a riding lesson after a month does not trump the satisfaction of shoving your sister.
Give me a few minutes while I caffeinate.
WOW. I've really enjoyed this thread, so many interesting things to learn from. I've 'studied' unschooling for over a year now and there are certain funny things that strike me. I tend to run in to these "all limits are bad" people and people who think that anything but radical unschooling is unacceptable and detrimental to children. I've felt certain boundaries ("boundaries" is my favorite words instead of rules or whatever.... I do like "limits" too- that's a runner up) are very helpful for my toddler and it just helps keep our family running smoothly. I've enjoyed this topic... I seriously thought the OP was going to get the smack down from some of the things she mentioned in the first post (I've totally seen it before!!) but no... everyone was very gracious in their opinion and supporting the OP. :)
Edited because one of my sentences didn't make sense! Ha!
DS: Logan 6/14/10
Maybe because I started radicalizing in high school-- starting with animal rights, moving on to non-violence and NON-materialism, environmentalism, to deep spiritualism, that now it's easy for me recognize when I start taking a philosophy to extremes (and proselytizing) without the balance of the complexities of the world. All those were good causes, and I still tend toward the philosophical and idealistic, but I've mellowed. Thankfully, in time for my kids.
Kids, animals, and weather patterns tend to throw chaotic wrenches into our neat little philosophies. Until the extremes of radical unschooling can recognize and embrace more complex, geometric, fractal patterns into their philosophies, the rigid and algebraic dogmas are going to fall short.
Give me a few minutes while I caffeinate.