Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sudbury Parenting: Relationships

As parents, we all want to support our children and encourage them along their educational journey.  However, a Sudbury school is likely very different than anything your child has been to previously.

What can you expect to hear from your child at home?  How should you respond?  What should worry you?  What is normal? 

In a more traditional educational setting, students are not allowed to talk freely in school except at passing periods and break times.  Social interaction is shut down to what is minimally necessary to operate a traditional school.  At home, students may talk about homework, tests, classes, rules, grades and other topics.  When we remove these lightning rods from the educational environment, the student focus changes.

Self-Directed Learning is the Easy Part
Learning comes naturally for young people.  So, pursuing their own learning may not seem particularly notable for your child.  Trying to have a conversation about what they are learning can be similar to asking, "how is the air you are breathing?" or "how was your blinking today?"  "Fine" and "good" are common responses you will hear.  In reality, your child is engaged in non-stop creativity and social interaction.  They are soaking up information like a sponge even if they don't verbalize it.  Because this is a natural process, they likely won't talk about it much.      

Focus on Relationships  
What they will talk about quite regularly are the relationships at school.  Sometimes, it may be the only thing your child talks about.  They will talk about high points and low points.  You will hear about giggles, arguments and accomplishments.  You will hear about every push on the playground, every tear that was cried and every knee that was scraped.  Should you be alarmed as a parent?  No.

When you can't talk in a traditional school, there is little opportunity to develop interpersonal skills.  At Sudbury, students are constantly discussing, negotiating, mediating, role-playing, creating friendships, creating conflicts, resolving conflicts, testing boundaries and processing their experience.  They are vibrant social scientists conducting social experiments all day long in the laboratory of life.  What is notable for the students is that their experiments have emotional outcomes: happy, sad, angry, funny and indifferent.  Because of the emotional component, their conversations at home are going to focus far more on the relationships at school than on the non-emotional ant hill they watched, the book they read or the Lego ship they constructed.

Your child is on a steep social learning curve.  Remember, if you are coming from a traditional educational model, your child has had restrictions on their social interactions.  At Sudbury, their freedom to interact has been restored and they are wobbling through social situations much like learning to ride a bike.  

So, as a parent, know that you will hear a lot about relationships from your child and that is normal.  

What Do I Do as a Parent?
As parents, we spend many years kissing booboo's and "making everything better."  We cringe when our child skins their knee because we weren't there to catch them or hold the seat of their bicycle.  We want to fix things.  We want to make things better.  When your child says they were upset or hurt at school, you will have the incredible urge to call the school and try to fix things.  This too is natural. 

Pause and breathe.

What your child is telling you is likely a 30-second episode from a six hour day of exploration, play, creativity and involvement.  They are processing their experience.  They are talking through the data of the social experiment that didn't turn out the way they expected, good or bad.  Most of the time, the situation was resolved even though they don't mention it.  Most of the time, they just want someone to listen.

So listen.  Reflect back to them what you are hearing.  "It sounds like that was an (exciting, frustrating, confusing) time for you."  Ask how they might address the situation next time.  Then support them.  "I know you can figure it out."

And if they ask for your help?  Share your personal experience and how you deal with situations like that.  Invite your child to keep trying or talk to the staff at the school.  As staff, we talk with students regularly about the many tools they have to solve problems at school.  Empower your child to solve the problem on their own.  "I know you can figure it out."  That is the only way they will learn to navigate the social waters they are encountering.  

If you find that your child is complaining repeatedly about the same interpersonal issue for multiple weeks and things aren't changing, even with your child talking to the staff regularly, feel free to contact us.  We are happy to sit down with you and your child to talk about the experience and new ideas and solutions.  

-Dave Soleil     

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