My friend stopped over yesterday – and she was pissed. After a knock startling in its violence, she whipped open the door, removed each shoe and threw it down, slammed her purse on the nearest surface and flung herself onto my couch, launching into a loud, nearly incoherent tirade peppered liberally with expletives.
“Whoa!” I yelled, to be heard over the din. “That is not the way we enter this house! Pick up those shoes and put them away. Then sit back down – quietly – and I will check on you in five minutes. When you’re calm, we’ll try this again – with a lot less yelling and a lot more respect for the rest of us.”
Okay, that’s not what really happened. Most of us would be scandalized if a trusted friend spoke to us like that in our hour of need.
Funny how we don’t think twice about it when it’s our kids we’re talking to.
There are times – many, many times – that one of my kids enters the house in just that way. Why is my first reaction to focus on the unwanted behavior with my kids? If it were anybody else – my husband, my friend, my mother – I would see that whole thing in a different light. My thought process would be something like, “Wow, she’s really upset. Something pretty big must have happened.”
With an adult, my first response would be to listen, to give the gift of mindful presence, and to comfort if I could. With my kids, my first response is to squelch that “unacceptable” behavior lest they develop into juvenile delinquents with rage issues.
But these days, as an unschooler, my first response is to squelch that first response.
Unschooling parents learn to see behavior as expressing a need. It may not always be pretty, it may not be all that articulate or adaptive, but it is a child’s way of communicating an underlying need. And hey, under trying circumstance, even we adults resort to some of that “unacceptable” behavior, and we’ve had a whole lot more practice at self-control than our childish counterparts.
In those first few moments of my child’s fury, it helps me to imagine her as a grown-up friend, and to treat her accordingly. Yes, there’s a time and a place to mention some alternatives to whipping shoes across a room. But the heat of the moment is not that time. Children need to know their needs are important to us. When we focus on behavior first, we send the exact opposite message.