Tag Archives: Gentle Parenting

Our Unschooling Week

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I’m going to be completely honest and upfront with the fact that we had a rough week. There was plenty of fun, connecting, and learning moments; There was also lots of tears and fighting. I’m not sure why, but the kids were just out of sync this week. So we had lots of breathing, conflict resolution, and sometimes just some siblings separation.

Monday, we started the day out with breakfast and books. Hailey then watched some Pokémon while Elijah watched YouTube videos with me. The kids played on their tablets a bit. The boys played dress up. 

The kids did their own separate art projects. Hailey made pokeballs and Elijah painted. 

                                      Crafts and chaos 🙂

The kids played outside for a while. Elijah found a praying mantis. The checked him out for a little while.

Tuesday started out with some porch time. Winter played with Playdoh out there. 

The day was spent mostly switching from playing Pokémon, and watching TV. Hailey and I took a wall in the evening.

Wednesday, I asked the kids I’d they wanted to check out a new park. We spent a few hours having fun on the gravity rail, and snacking too. 


Hailey had Kung fu classes that evening. There was tablet time and TV too.

Thursday, Papa caught a cicada for the kids to observe. 


Grandma came over for a visit. The kids love when she comes. They each worked on their own projects for a bit. The boys taped yarn to paper. Hailey wrote cards to each of us. We had fun writing to each other for a few hours. 

Her first notes to me


When Papa got home he had a Pokémon card battle with Hailey. We read books, and played tablets.

Friday, we watched a movie with popcorn during the afternoon. Elijah built with Lego’s for quite a while. Hailey played her DS.

Today we had a big family breakfast. Then we went to watch remote control airplanes fly and do tricks. We finished out afternoon with a quick grocery trip, and then back home to relax. 

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If you don’t stop then you can’t….

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As a child, it was not uncommon to hear some form of “if you don’t stop that you can’t do this”.  It could be “If you don’t stop crying you can’t [insert fun activity]”, or “if you don’t stop aggravating then you will have to sit in time out”, often “If you don’t change your attitude than you can’t go to that place you want to go”. Etc., etc., you get the point.

These threats were often given in angry whispers while in pubic or on the way to our destination. Public “misbehavior” was a big trigger for my mom. There was no thought given to what need may be inspiring the undesired behavior. No connecting grumpiness to hunger or tiredness. No considering that I may be struggling with anxiety about something (I have dealt with this since I was a child), or having some over-stimulation related to sensory issues (something I now know about myself). No thought to what had happened before we left, such as a disappointment or argument with a sibling. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom very much. I know that she was doing the best she could as a young mom. She did what she knew, and I was always loved.

Kids are often held to a higher standard than adults. Not allowed to show too much emotion in public, not given the benefit of the doubt, or some extra grace for an off day. I know that is how I was raised, and sometimes that old tape start playing in my head and I don’t even realize it. Words come out of my mouth, and immediately upon hearing myself say them I know it isn’t right. Those words don’t represent who I want to be as a parent. Instead, they represent things said to me in the past, things I may have internalized.

As I progress on this journey towards gentle parenting, I am getting better at catching myself before I say the words that flash in my head. I used to always say them and then apologize and say what I wanted to say (whether that be right away or after some further reflection). But now, more times than not, I catch myself right as they start to come out and I take a moment to breathe and rethink what I want to say, who I want to be in that moment.

Sometimes, I start to say those old words and by the time my logical brain has caught up with me, I am halfway through a thought and then quickly try to turn that very sentence around into something else. This happened the other day. We were on the way to a local amusement park. The kids were excited to be going again. We purchased season passes and this was our second visit. My oldest was being grumpier than usual though. She kept snapping impatiently, and was feeling sensitive very easily. I knew she was tired, as she woke up early in anticipation, and she fell asleep for the last 20 minutes of the hour drive.

While we were organizing all our stuff, getting our water bottles in the bag, and putting the toddler shoes back on again, she was just really in a tough mood. I could feel my frustration building because I knew this was supposed to be a fun day, and I worked hard to prepare for it. Not only that, it was mine and my husband’s anniversary so in some illogical way I wanted the day to be smooth and lovely. The old tape turned on in my head and I heard myself say “If you can’t calm down and enjoy your day you can sit out while your brothers ride the rides with your Papa.” I knew instantly that this wasn’t a fix, or would it do anything for our relationship, so I got down on my knees to make eye contact and took her hand. “What I mean is, if you are having a tough time that is okay. I know you didn’t get as much sleep as you normally do. You can just take my hand and I will sit with you until you feel calmer. You can ride rides when you are ready, and I will help you until then.” I could almost feel the relieve in her body. Her breathing slowed, and she relaxed into my body for a hug and said, “Okay Mom”.

That wasn’t the end of her rough times. She had skipped most of breakfast and didn’t eat what I packed in the van, so I had to really encourage her to eat something for some energy. Everyone quickly finished their snack but her, she needed some extra time. So, they went to a nearby ride while I sat with her and waited. She nibbled slowly and then when she was ready she told me. Then we enjoyed the rest of our day.

I am not even close to where I want to be as a parent. I am trying and I tell myself that if I do better today than I did yesterday most of the time, then that is progress. Rewiring our brains to a new way of being, a whole new perspective, a new form of communication isn’t easy. But it is worth it, so so worth it. It matters.

Avoiding childism at social gatherings

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In a world that is filled with unrealistic expectation of children at its best and downright prejudice against children at its worst, sometimes it is hard to explain to my kids why adults say or do certain things in response to them. Many adults were raised in a way that expected children to be seen and not heard, to only participate in conversations they were invited too, and above all do not say or do anything that is bothersome to adults without expecting immediate discipline.

When you are a child that is raised in a way that you are treated with respect, treated in a way that values what you have to say, and seeks your contribution to the family choices, it can be quite a shock to be abruptly cut off, ignored, or talked down to. I try to only take the kids to outings that I know the adults parent similarly enough, or at least will mind their own business and not butt in with my kids. Out in the real world, sometimes it is possible to avoid, but I am very thankful to be able to have friendship groups where children are valued and respected by all.

I was reminded of all this recently. We were invited to a friends house for a graduation party she was throwing her oldest daughter. This friend is a wonderful example of someone who values individuality and cultivates respect for all types of people. She has raised her kids in that vein, and it truly shows with her teenagers. There were many people of all ages at this party. Everyone was having a good time.

 

My oldest, Hailey (7)  is my extrovert. She loves being in social settings, making new friends, and being the entertainment of the room. Many times throughout the night, I seen her sharing jokes, stories, recipes, or ideas with other people. The adults listened to her, interacted, told jokes back, and overall treated her the same as they would any other guest. It was then, a large feeling of thankfulness for these type of people in our life flooded over me. She wasn’t seen as an annoying kid who talked too much or a kid who didn’t realize social expectations (things I remember feeling as a child). Actually, the opposite was the case. My friends shared with me how they noticed her creative side, and they took joy in her. I felt very much the same way about their children. It was so special to me to share that.

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This sense of respecting and admiring all people was present in the teenagers of the house as well. I was outside and Hailey went inside. After a few minutes, I went to go check in on her. She was telling jokes to the group of older kids hanging around. They were listening and laughing. They made her feel heard.

I want my children to feel just as welcomed as I do in social gatherings. That means sometimes we leave when that isn’t happening. That means sometimes people get put into the acquaintance relationship category, instead of friend. That means sometimes, the kids and I have hard talks about why things happen and children are treated differently. I am so thankful to have found people in my life who share similar values.

Honesty and forgiveness and childism

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Today we took the kids to a local nature play area and hiking trail. They played in the play area for about an hour, building their house of sticks, and enjoying some fresh air. After we were all played out, we headed to the trail for an easy, kid friendly hike.

Hiking with kids is always an interesting adventure. Sometimes they are really into it. They immediately start noticing their surroundings, pointing out animals or unique plants, asking questions, or running ahead to play. Other times, they start complaining about the walk only a short while into it. Today, it was a mix of both. Elijah (4 years old) got his feelings hurt pretty early on, and he wasn’t easily cheering up. He asked me to hold him. Winter (17 months) was happily toddling along, so it was easy for me to pick up Elijah. When it was clear he needed some extra cuddles after a few minutes, I told him I needed to put him in the carrier on my back. He liked that and all was good.

We stopped for a short rest break. Elijah was still on my back while I sat down. Hailey (6.5) was sitting close to me, Winter was playing behind in the dirt, and my husband was checking something on my new boots. All of a sudden Hailey was screaming crying. It all happened very fast, but I heard a rock swish by and quickly realized that someone had thrown a rock and it had hit Hailey in the eye. She was almost inconsolably (understandably). All of attention was focused on her until she was calmer. Then I asked what happened. She didn’t know. I asked if Elijah threw the rock and he said no. I felt bad that the baby had grabbed the rock and tossed it without me noticing. He can be pretty rough in his curious toddler way. He is definitely in a throwing phase. I had been watching him, but my attention had turned to my then bare feet as hubby looked at my boot.

Winter was completely oblivious to all of it, as he sat digging up dirt. There was not much to do at that point. Prevention is really the key with that age, and the time for that had passed so I sat and comforted Hailey. All this happened in about 5 minutes. All of a sudden Elijah tapped me on the shoulder. He said “Mommy, actually I threw the rock.” I was surprised at his confession, seemingly out of nowhere. I asked him why he threw the rock. He tried to explain where he meant to throw it, and he didn’t mean to hit his sister. I don’t know if he really meant to throw it somewhere else, or if he didn’t think through how it would feel to be hit with a rock, or maybe he thought he couldn’t reach her and he wanted her attention. His face was full of worry for his sister. I pointed out her bruise beneath her eye, and explained that this is what happens when rocks hit people It is very dangerous and not a game. I said if he wanted to throw rocks, I could help him find a place to throw them away from people. He told Hailey how sorry he was (not coerced from me).

Hailey seemed to calm down more, knowing what had happened. We decided it would be best to head back. After a few thoughtful moments, Hailey stopped and said “Elijah, I am really proud of you for telling the truth about throwing the rock.” I was proud of that too, because admitting mistakes is not easy, even for adults.

On the way out of the trail, a woman passing by asked Hailey why she wasn’t walking and having me carry her (why is this her business?). Hailey said “My brother accidentally hit me with a rock so I was sad and Mommy is holding me.” The woman rolled her eyes and said “Oh yeah an accident, I’m sure”. That really rubbed me the wrong way. Here was this interaction that she had no idea about, but yet she was assuming such negative intent, even given the information that it was not intentional. I can’t imagine a stranger having the same reaction if I was limping and she had asked what happened and I said “My husband accidentally bumped into me on the trail and I fell”. I really do not understand why someones mind goes to the worst possible scenario with these little people. And really, even if it had been on purpose, she had no insight to what occurred. This was probably a situation that was best for others to stay out of.

Overall, I think some important things came out of a hurtful accident. I am really proud of how both my kids handled themselves. I am most proud of the empathy they are both learning.

 

Play can turn it around

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Often, it is very difficult to get the kids ready and out the door. Even when they want to go somewhere, they lose focus while getting ready, wiggle while we try to help them put clothes on, etc. Sometimes, this causes frustration for Papa and I, and that can lead to a not so great start to our outing.
 
Once I start down the cycle of feeling like I am in a battle with the kids, it is hard to pull out of that and before I know it we are locked in a pattern of me demanding something while they resist it (Like get in your car seat and buckle right now etc.). No one likes being bossed around and really, it is not how we want to parent. I believe we operate best, and feel the best, when we come from a place of partnership.
 
So today, I was in the kitchen cleaning up while Papa was trying to get Elijah (4) dressed and he was distracted and wiggling around. I sensed the all familiar pattern, but today, two words popped into my brain. Playful parenting. I read a book about that years back, and still try to incorporate many of the techniques from it. Whenever I turn a situation into an opportunity of play, it almost always makes the day better. The kids have fun, we connect, and they usually are more cooperative afterwards.
 
I ran into the living room and said “who wants to play Simon says?” The kids immediately got excited. So I started giving Simon’s orders. There were lots of silly animal noises, and body movements, but there were also “Simon says lift you foot into your pants leg”, or “put your socks on.” They were laughing and were suddenly happy to get ready in the game. Then they each took turns being Simon.
 
Everyone had fun. I spent some special play time with the kids. As a bonus, they got ready in record time and were happy to do it. There is no negative demanding cycle to break out of as we start our day either; in fact, it is quite the opposite. We are feeling connected and like a team.
 
So next time, before you engage in a power struggle, try to think of a way to play that everyone will enjoy.

The Day After Election Day

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I will be honest and admit this day started off a bit rough for me, at least internally. It was the morning after a rough election night. I am a very sensitive person, I easily feel anxious or worry, and I react strongly to hate. I am not trying to get political, but I will say that I felt quite a shock that it seemed so many in our country are still choosing hate in their attitudes. I truly felt like I was grieving for my idea of what I want our world to be. I knew there were some people who had bigoted views, but I supposed I overestimated the progress that has been made.

Anyway, I was feeling emotional and posting on social media about it. Soaking up my like-minded friend’s feelings added to mine was too much. I felt overwhelmed and recognized that it was not a healthy though path for myself. I knew at that point, I could easily fall into a hole of complaining all day and commiserating with peers. Luckily, a few very loving posts helped me decided to put a stop to it right then. I wrote up a quick thought on my Facebook page and personal wall.

“I’m not going to allow the realization that our country is more racist and bigoted than I thought, to stop me from focusing on my children. I can’t let it distract me from showing them love, because that is how best to shape the next generation. I choose love.

And as my friend said, if you build a wall, I will teach my children how to tear it down.”

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I want to focus on these people

Then I shut it off. I stayed off social media for the rest of my day. I decided that today would be a good day and I would show my babies some extra love and attention. I told my husband my feelings and what I wanted to do and he agreed that would be good for me. I immediately started engaging the kids in a conversation and we laughed and chatted about one silly thing or another from there.

I cleaned up while the kids ate food in the kitchen, us chatting the whole time. Then I asked Hailey if she wanted us to show her how to play some card games. She was super excited to learn. First we showed the kids slapjack. Papa had to help Elijah play, because he couldn’t quite get flipping the cards down, so they became a team. After playing that we played war for a bit. Hailey won that.

I made some popcorn and the kids debated on which movie they should watch. I let them work it out, not by themselves, but I was more a facilitator and a guide. While they watched, I challenged Papa to a card game. We had no played cards just the two of us in a long while. We played a few games of Rummy and it was a lot of fun. I forgot how much I enjoyed playing cards with him.

The kids came in after the movie and asked to play some more. I needed to lay the baby down for a nap, so Papa took over playing Uno with them while I laid him down. I came out while he slept and started dinner. The kids were laughing and super into the game. Papa looked like he was having fun too.

We ate dinner together as a family at the table. We talked about our day, about a game Hailey and Elijah had made up, and about whatever else came up. I cleaned up a bit and the kids asked for ice cream. They are eating that now, loudly talking about something in their game. Soon we will cuddle and read books.

I think I needed this day. I needed to see that I can still chose to love and focus on my children despite my uncertainty of the future. I needed take back my control over my emotions. I know what I stand for and what I want to pass down to my children and I know that I must model it. I can’t promise that each day I will be as successful at pulling myself away from the worry, but I have to try. I must try to not let myself get sucked into the worry, the hateful posts, the arguing. Even when it is hard, I chose love.

 

If she were at school

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The other day we were playing at the park with friends. I had walked away from the playground with the baby for a few minutes, when Hailey came running to find me. She was feeling sad and wanted to tell me what had happened. I was expecting something along the lines of a disagreement with her brother, or a skinned knee. Instead, it ended up being a hurt that included a life lesson.

Before I walked to the other side of the lot with the baby, I had been watching Hailey go down a piece of playground equipment that worked like an elevator. Kids stepped on the platform and held onto the handles and it went down. It went up, only when they stepped off. Another girl and her Mother were watching. The girl expressed her desire to go down it, but stated that she was scared. Her mother tried it to show her how it worked. She was still afraid. Hailey started talking with the girl and found out that she was 9 years old. Hailey showed her how she could go down on it and explained how it worked and how it wasn’t so scary after all. When I walked away, the girl was still very interested, but adamant that this was too frightening to try.

Hailey explained to me “I said something trying to help that girl not feel scared so she could try it. She really wanted to try and was afraid. I was just trying to help but then her Mom told me I was being mean. I wasn’t. I just wanted to help.”

“You look sad. It seems like it really upset you when the Mom said you were mean. Do you want to tell me what you said to her to help her not feel so scared?” At first she didn’t want to tell me. I could tell that she was feeling quite anxious. I bent down and looked her in the eyes, “Hailey, you do not have to tell me what happened if you are not ready. But, I am not mad at you. I hear you say you were trying to do a nice thing and I believe you. I know you were not being mean and I am here to listen if you want to talk about it.”

After a few moments and a big sigh, “Okay, I went down the elevator thing, and then I said I did it and so can you. I am 6 and you are 9, so I know you can do it because you are bigger than me. It can be less scary for you because you are older. Then the Mom said that I was being mean.”

We talked all about it. We talked about how she was trying to encourage another kid and why it might be that what she said was taken the wrong way. We talked about how it feels to have someone misinterpret your words, we talked about good intentions. We talked about fears and how they do not necessarily change with age. She seemed to feel noticeably better after working through it all with me. She happily ran off to play some more.

I felt good about the exchange, but I kept mulling it over. After a few days, I was left with thoughts about how different that could have gone. What if she had been away at school when something similar could have happened? Who would she have talked to? How would she have handled the rest of the day with that weighing on her? Would she have remembered it well enough to bring it up with me when I picked her up? When would be the next opportunity to help her through that life lesson if we had missed that chance?

If she was at school she would not be able to come to me with these grievances throughout the day. They would build up, add up one on top of the other, until she exploded, likely seemingly out of nowhere about nothing in particular, and I would have no idea why. Teachers do not have the time or resources to listen to these issues for each student each time they come up. That is just not possible, even if it were in their job description.

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I wouldn’t be able to walk her through life’s little teachable moments while she was at school. I wouldn’t be able to offer empathy or comfort, validate her, or share my personal experiences. I wouldn’t be able to talk her through seeing other people’s perspectives or plan for what to do next time. I wouldn’t know that she had worked through it enough or watch her apply what she learned the next time.

I would miss very real opportunities to navigate through actual life problems. For what purpose? So, she can be in a classroom supposedly preparing for life? Real life is here, right now. We live in it every day, not some artificial version of it. Real life is not in a classroom, it is in our homes, the park, the store, the library, while visiting friends and relatives.

I don’t need to send her away for hours every day and cross my fingers that somehow we will have enough time after school, in between homework and structed activities, to practice life skills and talk through her emotions. Instead we are with each other all day, trying new experiences, living life, modeling communication skills, listening to frustrations as they come, and practicing problem solving. Life is our school, and she doesn’t have to do it without me.

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Working out their problems.

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The older kids were playing a game. Suddenly, they were strongly disagreeing on how the came should be played. I almost handled it in a not so gentle way. I almost stepped in and told them to play different games. Instead I repeated what was going on.
 
“You both want to be a dragon in this game. Each of you says there can only be one dragon.”
 
At first they just agreed with my statement, aggravated about the whole situation. Each saying why they should be the dragon. This would have been my usual spot to try to get them to take turns, play a different game, or do it one or the other ways. I am working on not taking sides. I am working on them learning how to solve their problems with each other. I am not stepping out completely and letting them “work it out” as some would say. I am still apart of this. I am working on helping them problem solve with each other, with my guidance so that each person feels heard and safe. It is not easy for me. I have to take some big breaths. Fighting is a trigger for me.
 
“You really want the game to go this certain way, only one dragon, but both of you want to be the dragon so much.”
 
I doubt myself. Stepping in and “putting my foot down” would be faster. This is not who I want to be. This does not teach life skills, communication, compromise, negotiation.
 
“I know!”, Hailey exclaims. “We can be a two headed dragon. That way we both can be a dragon, but there is only one dragon all together.” Elijah agrees. He is happy with this situation. I am impressed by the creative idea. I would not have thought about that solution. I would not have seen the problem solving if I had stepped in and dished out a solution.

Choosing connection instead of control

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Today we were going to meet with some friends at a nature play area and creek. Hailey (6) was not really wanting to go our of the house but agreed. She brought her tablet along to keep herself entertained doing.

At first I looked at her sitting to the side of everyone playing and thought “she is really missing out.” I wondered if I should tell her to put her tablet down and play at the nature park with her friends. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted, but I held my tongue. I stepped back and seen that she did not feel like she was missing out on anything, and she was happy.

It didn’t stop there though because we walked down to the creek and everyone was looking for crawdad’s. I knew she would love it but she didn’t want to go in the water unless she could bring her tablet, which obviously not a good idea, so she chose to sit to the side and keep playing on it. The voices in my head crept up again. “She would love this, if I just told her she had to put it down, she might be frustrated at first but would probably have a good time.” Once again, I stopped myself. She was choosing what she would enjoy most at that moment from the options she had. She didn’t even feel like going out today, but got ready without hesitation because she understood that everyone else wanted to go.

It started to rain a little, but everyone in the creek didn’t mind. I told her that tablet might get wet, and this might be a good time to put it somewhere safe. This time the words were not coming from a place of control, but a place of love. Kids can usually tell your heart; they know the true intentions behind your words more often than not. She understood that there was a legitimate reason for my suggestion and she agreed. She put the tablet away and played in the creek. She used the net to help catch some crawdads to show the littler kids. She had fun.

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She was able to enjoy herself the entire time. I was able to stop myself from making choices that were about control instead of connection. Everyone had a good time and all were respected for their choices.

 

Attachment Parenting to Unschooling

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Even if we arrive at a similar place, everyone’s journey to get there can look very different. If you are reading this blog, whether you unschool, homeschool, or send your kids to school, I am assuming that you either already believe in gentle parenting and children’s innate desire to learn or you want to believe and learn more about it. So how did I get here? Check out my post over at Whole family learning.

I love her blog and her Facebook page, so go on over and check it out.

How did you get here? Please feel free to share your journey.