Let’s review the obedience model, which purports that something is wrong when a child is not obedient or conforming. So much so, that our culture resorts to drugging a child into obedience. This is stunningly disturbing that a school or parent would change the chemistry of a child’s brain to meet its own parental needs…the epitome of narcissism. Children are forced through punishments and rewards to act in a manner that is easy for parents. Such coerced behavior meets parents’ needs, but rarely takes into account the children’s needs. We need to look deeper and realize that we are not here to train our children to be obedient. We are here to raise free-thinking, strong, confident individuals.
As parents living the Radical Unschooling philosophy, we focus on the needs under our kids “behavior.” I put behavior in quotes because I feel the word itself is demeaning. I wouldn’t say to my husband, “Honey, I didn’t like your behavior at the store.” This doesn’t feel respectful to me and sounds like terminology used for dog training. For the sake of clarity, I will use the term in the following discussion.
Traditional parenting focuses on a child’s behavior. Living the unschooling life infers that we choose not to focus on how our child is expressing their needs or their behavior. I don’t judge behavior because I trust that our kids are doing their best through self-expression at any given time. Because parents stop a child’s behavior through punishment, they may feel that their job ends at that point. However the child’s need underlying his or her behavior was not met. In fact, correcting a behavior rarely meets a child’s need. We don’t listen to our kids. We just silence them and make them behave.
An important point to remember and internalize is that a child’s unmet need does not go away. Silencing the behavior does nothing for the child and only meets the need of the parent. The child’s need is still there, present, not getting met. How overwhelmingly frustrating for a child, or any human for that matter!
Do you know how maddening it is to ask someone for something you really need if you were tired and grumpy, only to have him or her say, “I don’t like the way you asked for that. Sit there for 5 minutes and be nice!” Moreover, they walk away and leave you. Can you feel that frustration build within you? Parents treat children this way every single day, and it warps them internally so much.
Again, the unmet need doesn’t go away. Often, the need morphs into another symptom like stuttering or nail biting or something more distressing. Then, we drug kids or bring them to therapy to do away with these troubling behaviors that WE caused! Their need does not go away because you force them to stop expressing it. If only their need was heard in the beginning. If only a child could truly have the basic human respect to be heard, this vicious parenting cycle would never have started.
You cannot punish children’s need out of them. Whatever inside of them needs to come out will do so if suppressed. The point is to notice the need, and when the need is met, then notice the child’s growth: “Wow. She did not scream for her juice that time. She asked me politely. That was awesome.” Just notice and be authentic. Be in the moment and be grateful.