From Chaos to Form

This is a rather short reworked post from my Waldorf at Home discussion forum. An exhausted forum member wrote in, asking for help with transitioning her 7 year old daughter from total unschooling to a more Waldorf – ie formed – approach both to schooling and to parenting. She shared how her daughter won’t do what she’s asked as she has been used to doing as she pleased. The child runs away from the mother and is generally unpleasant to be with.
For me, what is most difficult here is the effect on the child – it is not a child’s job to be an adult or to be the parent. Our children come to us to learn – human beings do not, like Athena, spring ready made and fully knowledgeable from their parents (or from their parents’ head, as in Zeus’ case!). Human beings only gradually learn what it means to be human – and the lessons are long and often painful.
I am concerned with one thing you wrote – that you are tired of her yelling at you. I want to say this to you in as supportive and encouraging a way possible – but Forum Member X, if you child is yelling at you, I’m not sure how you can get anything done together.

Again, I don’t want to sound critical or judgmental about your previous unschooling choices (and as veterans of my work know, I have a lot of respect for certain elements of unschooling). However, I have seen so many people who call themselves unschoolers who have children who are rude, disrespectful and generally unpleasant to be around. And I mean no unkindness toward your daughter – my whole parenting philosophy is about the fact that it is really hard on the child to be the one who calls the shots. It’s no fun for a little one to be in charge. And reading what you wrote makes me think that that is what has happened.

And so it could take a long, long time for you to gradually turn things around. It could seem like it’s not worth it, it could seem like an unbelievable amount of work. But if you, in your heart of hearts, feel that what your child needs is form, rhythm, a parent who parents, and all the things which will allow her to be a child – and not a miniature adult – then you will somehow find the strength to make this happen. And again, a lot of that strength will lie in your ability to persevere when nothing seems to go right.

My curriculum is of no use to you unless you can find a gentle but firm way to create a learning environment. And before that can happen, you and your child need a balanced parent/child relationship. I am not suggesting you forget school work until she listens to you – but I am suggesting that you use school work in a way that will gently bring her into a child-nurturing way of interacting with the world.

Go one step at a time. Work on the big things like no media, bedtimes and meal times. Then have a time for school work and a time for play. Do not be afraid to tell her “Sweetheart, I know you want to XXX but this is what we are doing now.” If she has a tantrum, ride it out. Do not waiver. Send her loving thoughts – and always be at least 3 steps ahead. Do not ask her opinion or tell her what you’d like to do. Present what we are doing now. Do everything with her. If she runs away or starts to scream then – well here is where you need to be prepared. I hate to suggest this, but it might be the only thing that works – this is a repair situation which you describe. So it could be harsh. Tie things into rewards – have an outing set up – if she refuses to sit for a story, then “Oh dear. Well, we can’t go to the park then because we need to share this story first. ” Get up. Put the book away. Don’t sit there waiting to see what she is going to do – waiting to react. You don’t react – you create. She reacts. You must try to get this relationship back in order.

I hope this hasn’t sounded too harsh. But I have seen this kind of scenario many times before. Be patient – above all, with yourself.

Posted on July 14, 2008 in Family Life and Parenting, General Homeschooling

  • Carle says:

    Wow Donna,
    What great advice, I really appreciated the react/create situation. I have never realised that by waiting, I was teaching the wrong lesson. Many thanks for this, it will help me as we progress towards a more formal grade 1 year.
    Thanks for your honest wisdom.
    Peace and Love

  • homeschool mom says:

    I linked over here from another site, attracted by the title chaos to form. Since, it is something we are struggling toward. My oldest daughter is starting 4th grade and we have had many tears and unfortunately angry exchanges.
    I wish someone would have suggested looking into Learning Disabilities and ADD a few years ago. We are working through the LD issues and getting ready to forage into the world of ADD. My increased knowledge of both of these areas are helping us to repair our relationship.
    Her brain is wired differently causing frustration and head butting to both of us, which is extremely painful to her self esteem and our relationship.
    Please take pity on those of us with “difficult” children (not saying that you don’t).
    In Christ,
    a struggling mom

  • Kim says:

    I agree Donna and chaos is hard on everyone. It is a kindness, imo, to gently but firmly lead.

  • donna says:

    Sorry – I was away when you posted and did not see your comment. I hope you see this response…. I wonder if you’d like to listen to my free audio download on Therapeutic Waldorf – then you will see I am completely in sympathy with those struggling mothers whose children present many challenges. This download might be helpful as you – and others – find your own best ways to create the forms which are so calming and healing to children with challenges:

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