Whenever I need to learn something really well, I teach it. That is what has brought me to you today. I need to remember and fully believe what has worked and what has not worked with helping my children to resolve conflict. Even among unschoolers it is not uncommon to hear that people are struggling with their children not getting along…
As I write this, winter seems to have us inside a lot. Lately, our house has been tense. I cringe at the sounds of children fighting in the next room. I squish up my face and wish it would just stop. Why can’t they just get along? Because they are children? Sure, but I have met adults who need to learn to resolve conflict, too. It seems almost to be an epidemic as people angrily project their emotions and expectations on to one another and my wonderful children have been no exception.
As unschoolers we are together a lot, a lot more than most families. Much of that time is spent without a directed activity or goal. Without the distractions we are forced to really learn how to live with each other without violence, aggression or control. That is my goal. Also, when we do want to do an activity, there is much to be decided. It seems when one spawns an idea, the other three immediately want to do what that person is doing. What an amazing opportunity to learn!
That is the first step: Be open to the learning of it. Whenever I start to think that they should not be fighting, we suffer. I begin to feel angry, frustrated, sad and desperate when I live in those beliefs. With my beliefs we suffer from an inability to learn how to peacefully bring it all together. So, that is what I think now when I hear the cries, the whining and the yelling: “Here is an opportunity to learn.” That thought alone has made all the difference in the world.
The second thing I do is go into it without my judgments or ideas of how it should be solved.
I ask questions. I listen. I have found that more can be resolved and brought forth in my silence than anything else. I know and trust that my children have everything inside them that they need to work things out. Often in my silence I can offer each child an opportunity to speak. Other times I say it. I reiterate and then ask if they have any ideas of their own on how it can be solved. From there, the problems are almost always resolved. But sometimes this ends up in more arguing, and so I tell them that they can think about it we can revisit it later. They know that I trust they will have the answers. Sometimes I will suggest a resolution. The important thing is not for me to be stressed about it or to pick sides. That seems obvious, but how can we really learn this to our core?
We let go and we live it. I forgive myself immediately when I fail. My oldest son, age 12, was very upset about how their shared laptop was being used. The younger children had our bubbly, fermented beverages by it and he was afraid they would wreck the laptop. He was refusing to let anyone have a turn because of this. My younger son had an idea. He suggested in a soft tone that we say to the other children, “Could you please not eat or drink by the computer?” Simple. And beautiful. I was touched that he believed that such kindness was powerful enough to resolve this. However my older son was not convinced. We kept inquiring as to what would resolve this. It took a few days for us to figure out that if I sat with them while playing, I could monitor. And I was ok with that. It reminded me to slow down and be with them. It reminded me to take an interest in their interests even if they seem small and meaningless. From this I was able to explore a whole new world––the world of Minecraft, where children can build their dream houses and their perfect villages. I got to see their dream worlds. I then went around putting up little signs, saying “Love from Mom” and other warm and silly things. It brought me back to considering those huge possibilities that childhood holds and it was all sparked by a stressful moment. I would have missed out on all of this had I remained in the stress of “My children should not fight!” It unschooled me to my core and left me wanting to know them more. It made me want to know me more. What kind of world would I build?
Something I’ve been thinking about is how I see children’s interests being labeled as wasteful. Children and video games are seen as wasteful of time, resources and brain cells. But what is the alternative? Control them and have them hate us, not trust themselves or us, and have them wanting more and more of what we are denying them? I remember someone telling me of times when books were considered a waste of time and now they are highly regarded. Be with them and do it authentically, within their passions and yours. My experience has taught me that an overuse of electronics is merely a symptom of something lacking, like connection to other people. I have also seen excessive use of electronics fueled by intense passion. My oldest son used his Nintendo DS for a few days straight after he got it. I was beginning to worry and it took a lot of work to get me trusting again. He came to me and said that he was noticing that he wasn’t sleeping or eating well and that he needed to give himself rules with the DS and then he listed them off. They were things such as “No playing DS before bed,” and “Eat before playing DS in the morning.” What an amazing thing to learn on one’s own without the incessant nagging of a parent. I am continuously humbled and in awe of how children can live and learn naturally what is good for them. My son has also immersed himself in things like learning to play the piano. Now he can play numerous songs effortlessly and beautifully.
What can I learn from this? That everything is an opportunity. Especially the situations that are hard. I’ve learned to examine my worries and my fears and in doing so, that is where I will learn the most and find the greatest joy. I will learn that everything is unschooling. Will you embrace it?
Nadine LeBean is a mother of five living in the small town of Saskatchewan, Canada with her partner, Michael Neuman. They are currently living a life totally out of the norm for their area, focusing on freedom, passion and love as education instead of books, teachers and lessons. Her current passions are rainwater collection and storage, permaculture, wild food harvest and preservation, natural medicines, fermenting foods and teaching workshops on it.
This article was published in Home Education Magazine’s July-August 2014 issue: