You Don’t Have to be Like Your Parents

You Can  Change Your Parenting Style


by Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE

Do you come from a “dysfunctional family?”  Is your ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score so high that you worry about doing the same to your kids? Can parenting habits change in one generation? Yes, you can change your child’s destiny! Many parents with ACE scores as high as 7 has raised children with 1 or less. You can too!

If you were raised by less than stellar parents, here are some changes you can make to become the parent you wished you had, for the next generation that you are raising. You do not have to repeat negative parenting habits with your own children. You can change your parenting style from over permissive or authoritarian, to a collaborative/democratic positive parenting style.

  • Fake it until you make it. Act like the parents you admire. Copy what they do.
  • Start with yourself. Learn to love you. Change self-talk into positive, loving thoughts about how you look, and what you do, and who you are.
  • Learn the language of respectful communication. Take a course through colleges, universities, churches, parent centers or community centers. Learn how to use I-statements, active listening and problem-solving.
  • Learn child development through courses, or books, to help you know what to expect from children at different ages. Only 23% of parents know child development past the infant stage, and it’s essential for parenting.
  • If you were excessively criticized as a child, consciously make the effort to encourage your own children and hold back the negative.
  • If you were not hugged or touched as a child, make a concerted effort to hug, cuddle and hold your own children, even if it feels alien to you.
  • If you were hurt, upset or sick and were told to “buck up, suck it up, or shut up”, give your child comfort by saying “It’s okay to feel what you do.”  And hug, caress and pat your child with non-sexual touch.
  • If you were ignored as a child, respond right away to your own children.  Give focused attention when they need it and even when they don’t. It’s ok to have fun with your children.
  • If your parents never played with you as a child, read, talk with and play with your own children.
  • When you are angry, take a time out. Your time-out. Not your child’s. What need of yours is not getting met?  How can you meet it? Work on your anger first and you will make better parenting decisions when you are calm.
  • Forgive your parents. They probably did the best they knew how at the time, with the resources they had.
  • Know what your triggers and hot buttons are. We all have sensitive areas in parenting, no matter what our background was, and our awareness of them helps us to come up with alternative behaviours and coping strategies.
  • Start looking at your life through the lens of gratitude. Being grateful enriches life.

Parenting, for the most part, is a learned pattern. We can change parenting patterns and develop new ones. When we become aware of our shortfalls and make a conscious effort to change how we behave, we become really good at parenting after lots of  practice. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. Rome was not built in a day. Even with new learned behaviours, in times of stress, we tend to fall back on our old habits. Apologize and vow to do better next time. With renewed commitment, we get better at changing old habits with time, practice, information and continuance. You can change family dynamics in one generation and give your child the healthy gift of less ACES in their childhood.  It all starts with you!



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Benefits of Travelling With Your Children


February is the time of the year that I get the travel bug.  Winter is dragging on and I want to get away and see something new.  Travel is so easy when you unschool.  No schedules.  Just plan a date, pack and go.

We brought our two children (a toddler and a baby) to England and Ireland on our first family overseas trip in 1996. During that first trip, we were introduced to the travelling perils of sick infants on cars, trains, ships and aircraft, and jet-lag sleep schedule disruption, and the wonderful task of hauling cumbersome baby travel gear around. Since that trip, our family has grown to five children, and we have logged another 10 overseas trips. One holiday was to Australia with our five children, ages 5 to 16, for six weeks. No school course could ever rival all the things we learned in six weeks. During our flight home, listening to a mother in front of me coping with a toddler tantrum, I reflected that it is easier in many ways to travel with older children. They can carry their own bags and they can immerse themselves in books or movies during long flights. My children don’t remember much of our travels before age 12. But older children do have their own challenges, such as becoming downright uncooperative when facing situations that they don’t like, picking fights with each other when bored, and becoming just as expensive as adults when venues charge full fare for kids over 12.

Although it can be hard work for parents, children of all ages benefit immensely from travelling.  Travel is a multi-sensory learning experience that is much richer than textbooks, videos or classrooms. In addition to the obvious academic facts that they absorb from visiting science centers, zoos, aquariums, art galleries, wildlife parks and museums  (such as the quantity flow model demonstrating Pythagorean theorem at the Perth science center), children learn many important life-skills while travelling, such as these:

  • Perspective: They learn that home is actually not that bad, compared to some of the rest of the world. Tripping over each other in a 500 square foot cabin helped us appreciate that we have a home to call our own.
  • Group decisions: They learn that they must either provide positive leadership to the group, or must go along with group decisions. Not everyone can get their way even some of the time.
  • Consideration: They learn that when we are guests of others, we must be considerate of their plans, their home and their possessions. They learn to ask permission, that they must limit noise and clutter, and cannot just raid the fridge. They also learn how to socialize with hosts.
  • Adaptability: Things go wrong, such as missing sleeping bags, not enough pillows, unexpected weather, no transportation, lost mp3 players  as well as dealing with clean laundry too wet to pack. Children learn to accept and/or make-do. Our motto when things went wrong while travelling was “Oh well”. Sometimes it was either laugh about it or cry about it!
  • Problem solving: When adapting to new situations or circumstances, children learn how to solve problems. They can brainstorm options and help choose the best ones. Our 15-year-old and ten-year-old son got lost on a hiking trip. I was astounded at their problem-solving ability to find their way back to the camp, all the while not knowing what camp, city or state we were staying at in Australia.
  • Different rules: Rules and courtesies we take for granted in our country are not the same in many other countries. For example, chewing gum is illegal in Singapore.
  • Patience: Travel requires so much waiting around that children learn to be patient. They wait in long lines for check-in, for security, and for boarding. They wait for take-off, they wait for food, and they wait for the washroom. They wait for landing and more line-ups. It’s endless.
  • Self-entertainment: Children learn how to cope with boredom from lack of media devices and electronic devices. When mp3 players, DVD players and laptops are not available for playtime, they get into sandcastle building, drawing, card games, board games, word games, scavenger hunts and good old-fashioned conversation.
  • Socializing: They learn to be polite to relatives that they have never met before, and discover to their surprise that they find them likeable.  They learn that strangers can be friends for travelers and it’s okay and enjoyable to strike up a conversation with them.
  • Logistics: For older children that wish to get involved in trip planning, they learn useful skills such as how to book itineraries, rentals, and accommodations. They can learn how to acquire documentation such as passports, visas and consent letters. They learn the protocol for security at airports and museums. They also learn mapping, budgeting, and documentation (photos and journals) skills. They learn how to secure transportation and groceries.
  • Tolerance: Travelling with family members means that for a few weeks or days, family members live in close proximity with each other full time. That means siblings constantly in each other’s faces.  Children get very practiced at learning how to cope with different quirks, personalities and people’s feelings. They may discover a side of a sibling that they never noticed before and actually quite like.
  • Skill Building:  Children learn how to keep themselves and their luggage safe, as well as how to save money, avoid crowds, avoid scams and keep healthy while on the road.

With all these travel benefits, it’s no wonder that many families take several vacations a year together. Whether staying in a tent, trailer, cabin, cottage, hostel, hotel or visiting relatives, travel provides an experience of a lifetime for both parents and children.

And the best part is……as adults, children still want to travel with you.  Visiting new countries with adult children is one of the best parts of parenting and home education.  And they even pay their own way.

Guaranteed, life will never be boring.  Have a fun and safe summer!









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Creativity is making something new out of something old.  Unschooling is education acquired in a new way.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University Children Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Winter Play Ideas


By Judy Arnall

Schedule Downtime

For people whose personality is one that craves structure, uncharted, relaxed empty space on the calendar can be very stressful whether they are kids or parents. They feel out of sorts without something they should do and may wander aimlessly, or become cranky (kids especially). It helps to have one activity scheduled on the calendar each day to satisfy the need for order for those people whether it is visiting friends, or bowling or cleaning out the basement.

Structured time is okay, as long as it is relaxed and not rushed! Time with family and new experiences are always fun.

What kids hate is anything that is hugely time-demanding or anything that resembles school type structure – something they need a well-deserved break from.

Playing video games is downtime to many teens and even adults. If parents want family time, they could join them in game playing.  Get some games as presents that have 4 players and buy/borrow some extra controllers.  (In my DVD, Plugged-In Parenting, available on Amazon, I’ve listed the academic and social benefits of computer and video games, so playing benefits the whole family.)

Connect with Each Other

  • Have one on one time with one child. Go to a movie, restaurant, or coffee date with one and just enjoy that time together.
  • Get to a job that is on your to-do list and invite a child to help. Promise a goody after! Kids open up when doing activities with a parent.
  • Volunteer for an organization. Grab a group and go caroling at a hospice, serve dinner at a drop-in centre, or make beds at a homeless shelter.

Create Traditions:

  • A weekly Board game night could be a Christmas holiday tradition that can includes several board game nights over the holidays with different family friends. Our “family” (I say family so that no one child gets ownership of the games and veto rights) gets two new board games for Christmas and invite another family over to play. (Preferably with same age kids). Everyone brings snacks to contribute. My five kids have loved this tradition.
  • Skate, ski, snowboard or toboggan day where the whole family goes and participates.
  • Watching the same family movie every Christmas holiday. Ours is “Sound of Music”.
  • Baking. Not during the frenzy before holidays but during or even after is better. Get some new cookbooks from the library and have a pie or cookie baking session with jobs doled out to the whole family. Wrap the presents up and deliver them to people over the holidays – the lady at the post office, the garbage collectors, the hairstylist, your favorite cashier at the grocery store. People, who don’t expect a gift from you, but know you, and would be delighted. Kids can really feel the joy of the season when they do something that is fun, yummy, not rushed and done together with parents.
  • Home movie, or photo night. Review the year on the big screen TV by hooking up videos and photos taken throughout the year for the whole family to enjoy.
  • Give holiday movies as presents and watch them.
  • Christmas craft kits and gingerbread house kits are on sale after the 25th and its a tradition to buy them then and make them when time is more relaxed. Not everything has to be done BEFORE Christmas. Save old Halloween candy to add to the houses.
  • Learn a new card game. This Christmas, we are going to learn how to play poker as a family. Some of our favourite times were playing blackjack with wrapped caramels, chocolates, and candies as betting items!
  • Go to second hand shops (which really not busy this time of year) and pick up new games and kits.

The most important point is that kids remember the “doing” part of Christmas the most rather than the “getting”. They don’t remember what they got for gifts the last year or previous years.  But they do remember the family times spent doing activities that are fun, relaxed and stress-free.  Happy holidays!


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Play Ideas for The Dogs Days of Summer

Here are some good play ideas for keeping preschoolers to teens busy, whether they are unschooling or heading back in a few weeks. Retreived from August 2014.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The “Back to School” Schedule When You Unschool


By Judy Arnall

  1. Early August: Schedule the “Not Going Back to School” picnic for the first day the neighborhood school kids go back, so you and all your unschooling friends get the park all to yourself.
  2. Relax
  3. Relax
  4. Middle August: Schedule in plans to visit the parks, pools, museums, zoos in the month of September while it is nice weather and the schools don’t have field trips scheduled yet.
  5. Relax
  6. Relax
  7. Late August: Go shopping during back-to-school sales in late August and buy nothing but LEGO kits.
  8. Relax
  9. Relax
  10. Early September: Plan your family’s mid-Fall and mid-Winter holiday.
  11. Relax
  12. Relax…………..


Posted in Elementary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Handling a Bad Report Card


When unschooling, our children have the benefit of not being marked or evaluated by someone other than his own self-evaluation.  But what happens if unschooled children decide to take a course because they have an interest or wish to enter a post-secondary stream? Perhaps their first exposure to exams, or essay delivery, yields a less than stellar mark?  How can we support them moving forward to their goals?

First, we need to encourage him.  A first effort in evaluation is always a learning experience, almost as much as the course itself.  Learning to write tests and essays is a skill that gets better with practice.  Acknowledge the child’s effort in tackling the challenge.

It’s good to keep in mind that a report card is only one “view” of your child. It’s a picture to report to parents what the child is like in school. However, he is a multifaceted learner with strengths and room for improvement in all areas of his life, just as anybody is.  Think of your child’s performance like a three legged stool.  All three legs are required for the stool to function and all perspectives can give an accurate assessment of the child as a learner.

One leg of the stool is from the teacher who is gives an academic skills report. This report should include information on how the child is doing learning subject matter in the four cores of math, language arts, science, social studies, and options. Schools like to report on character and other things that are not academic, but they only see the child participating in an institutional setting with many peers. The teacher does not see the child at home, or “outside of school” social situations.

The other leg is the parent who also gives a report card on two of the most important learning’s: life skills and people skills. The parent can present the report card to the child at any given time. Life skills include chores, money management, organization skills, problem-solving, initiative, responsibilities, health and wellbeing maintenance, and volunteer commitment.  In other words – all the skills that parents witness at home. People skills include sharing, sibling conflict resolution, attitude, listening, assertiveness, and politeness, emotional intelligence at home and out in social situations. Most people with academic and technical brilliance lose their jobs not because of inefficiency in that area, but because of lack of people and life skills.  These are the some of the most important skills to develop.  These skills can be learned and practiced by all children.  Not all children can get an “A” in math, but all children can learn to be polite and organized.

The final leg of the three legged stool is the child. He can self-evaluate and give himself a report card on all three components – Academic skills, life skills and people skills.  This is the most important evaluation and parents and teachers can ask how they can support growth and success for the child in all these areas.

Finally, the parent, teacher and child should discuss where the strengths are and room-for-improvement and come to an agreement on how to go about setting improvement in place.

Education is a journey, and is not a race. The letter or number grade does not indicate learning or self- awareness.  In fact, when children only chase a grade, they can be more prone to cheating and learn nothing.  We learn the best when we fail or make mistakes which over insight and reflection, give us ideas for change. When children make mistakes, ask them, “what did you learn from this?”  The ability to self-evaluate, and find motivation to start again is the real learning and the upmost key to success. The Winklevoss twins learned more about life and resilience in their court battle with Facebook, than all those academic years at Harvard.

Parents, de-emphasize the numbers. As a society, we tend to treasure what we measure, but learning can’t be denigrated to a number.  Most of what we do in life that really counts; love, help, volunteering, life learning, and kindness can’t be evaluated by a number, but can be observed, noticed and appreciated.

No one is perfect and we all have room for improvement. Your job as parents is to figure out with your child, how can you pick him up, dust him off and support him moving forward?

By Judy Arnall

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