I remember when we first started unschooling. I thought it would be much easier than it has been. It’s not that I thought I knew it all, but I certainly thought I understood things and had stuff under control. I believed that it was the kids that needed changing, not I, no not I!
It’s not that we forced our agenda as parents. It’s more that we thought we knew what was best. That the ideas we were coming up with were good. We thought we listened and understood. But really we didn’t and we had much more to learn than we realised.
The reality is that it has been a huge learning curve for us all and that wasn’t really something we expected.
The Art of Listening
One thing that unschooling parents need is time, practice and patience in the art of listening. I’m not entirely sure if there can be a guide to it, but this is an attempt to explain it from our perspective. My hesitance for writing this is that it can be a totally different experience with and for each child. The experience also changes as the children grow.
As we have grown together as a family we have learned how to live with each other in support and (mostly) harmony. We become fine tuned to each other’s needs. Our likes. Our dislikes. Our moods. Our interests. Our wants. This is not just about the parents understanding the kids, we’ve also put a lot of intention in communicating to the kids that as parents we have needs too.
When we listen we need to take all of these kind of things into account. It sounds simple, but it isn’t always. And often there isn’t a right or wrong answer.
Sometimes my kids will say no to stuff. I could say ‘fine, they said no, I’m going to listen and respect that and not push it in any kind of way’. This could be ok. But I could also choose to take the idea further, have a deeper discussion around it, explain why I think doing something is important or good for them. They could still say no, that’s fine. But they may just open up their minds and find some courage to agree to ‘the thing’.
Then they’ll do ‘the thing’ and afterwards they may or will know more. They would have opened their minds up to something. Perhaps challenged themselves. Perhaps learned some new things. And sometimes they learn that they definitely don’t want to do that again. Or maybe they will in the future. Or sometimes, just sometimes, they will discover something they absolutely love.
As parents we would also do a post analysis of the event. This is not as fancy as it sounds. Mostly for us it’s a case of understanding the experience and value of what they have spent their time doing and seeing if there are any ideas worth exploring as a result of the event. Sometimes we will make our own personal observations and notes. Other times we may have discussions or ongoing activities with the kid(s).
The great thing here is that both parties have been listening to each other. Really we don’t force our kids to do things they really don’t want to do. But we can both have opportunities to explain things and take action from both our perspectives.
You Can Listen Without Your Ears Too!
Of course, listening is not just about talking to each other. We can communicate in many different ways. And with kids, well, often they don’t or can’t verbally communicate what they feel. It is often a guessing game.
Sometimes a particular behaviour or response can be down to a feeling that we have not paid close enough attention to. The obvious one is feeling overly tired. Or hungry. These are feelings that we all have that we need to pay close attention to so that we can make good decisions.
Decisions made from a rested body, or a satisfied stomach are very different from decisions made when feeling hungry or tired.
Decisions made from fear or insecurity are also easily over looked too. Etc.
Listen And Then Take Action
When we listen we can then hopefully understand the situation better. Sometimes listening to understand creates eureka moments - all of a sudden everything will make sense. The things you were thinking were the problems are normally clearly not an issue, once you take the time to understand!
If one of my kids is acting up, I use to ask them to stop what they were doing. That I didn’t like it. Or I would say that they were upsetting others. However, these days I usually ask them what is bothering them. Or if something happened. Or I ask if there is anything I can do to help them. It can be surprising at the answers that come out and how quickly situations can be fixed.
Of course, there is also the concept that you shouldn’t necessarily be there to fix problems. Perhaps you are there to support them through an idea, situation or problem. Perhaps just talking is enough to help them get unstuck. Perhaps they want your help, but there is little you can do. The fact that we care to listen, to understand and have empathy without prejuidice is so important.
As parents we need to stop assuming we know the answers to things. We need learn to listen. We need to practice understanding the whole picture. And we need to know how to take action.