Ever kid learns the golden rule. In case you’re from a land where it’s not a staple of early learning, it basically reminds you to treat others the way you’d like to be treated. When I was a kid we learned it in school, which is weird, since school is the last place where you are treated the way you’d like to be.
In general it seems people have a lot more trouble applying the rule to kids than they do to other adults. For instance, no adult would reprimand another adult for not sharing their toys, but we do it all the time with kids. No adult would allow another adult (maybe a spouse?) to tell them to go to bed “because I said so”, and yet we give kids directives all the time with no explanation. Adults would – rightly so – react badly to such disrespectful treatment. In fact, a husband or wife who orders their spouse around and manhandles them if their demands are not immediately met would be termed abusive. So why is that kind of treatment seen as acceptable between a parent and child?
Unschooling is the golden rule in action. This is possibly why so many people have trouble with it. You mean listen to what your kid really wants and then support them in it? Help them pursue their interests?
Well isn’t that what you would like someone to do for you?
But what about things like bedtime? You mean I can’t send my kid to bed if we unschool?
My response is that bedtimes are fine if there is a reason for them beyond “Because I said so” or “Because you need your sleep”. Telling a kid who is not tired that he or she needs to go to bed for their own good is condescending. Even if you as the parent know they’ll be grumpy the next day without a certain amount of sleep. How would you like to be told by your spouse that it’s time for you, dear, to go to bed because otherwise you’ll be too grumpy the following day. No arguments, just do it. Yeah, that would go over well, wouldn’t it?
We live in NYC where personal space is at a premium. When my kids were younger – between the ages of about 5-9 – I explained to them that I need some time to myself in the evenings or I’m the one who will be grumpy the next day. My husband and I would read with them or hang out in their rooms with them for a while and then the agreement (I hesitate to call it a rule because it was something we discussed and all agreed to) was that they would stay in their rooms – unless they needed the bathroom of course – until they went to sleep. Now, of course, they disappear into their rooms whenever they want and the issue of time to myself is no longer an issue.
Unschooling has to work for the entire family – we all need to feel that we are in a ‘golden rule’ type of situation, which is why discussion, explanation and compromise are important. And honestly I feel that the ability to communicate one’s needs effectively, without rancor or demand, is an invaluable life skill. Instead of rules we live by, we live according to our principles and the things that we as a family have agreed upon. Even the golden rule might better be termed the “Golden Agreement”, because that indicates that we are all a part of its implementation.
If you are new to unschooling and are concerned about the lack of “rules”, I would tell you to talk to your kids about the things you need (bedtimes, mealtimes, help around the house?), listen to the responses you get and come to some agreements together. Follow that golden rule and you might not need any others.