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Parental Deschooling Part 5: Check Your Parenting Defaults


Parenting Styles: What is Your Default?This is the fifth and final piece in a series on Parental Deschooling, which followed an introductory post, “From School to Homeschool: What is Deschooling?” and “How to Start Homeschooling: Tips for Deschooling.” We’ve treated this topic in detail because the transition from school to homeschooling can be made easier if parents are conscious of the big adjustment involved. 

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Parental Deschooling Part 1 | 23 | 4 | 5

Homeschooling almost always means you’ll be spending more time with your children than you would if they were in school.

This means your parenting style is going to make a big difference.

Parenting Styles: What is Your Default?

What are your parenting defaults? What are your go-to strategies with your kids? Are they effective? Do they contribute to a positive relationship?

The deschooling period is a good time to begin examining your parenting defaults. Although your default parenting style may be healthy and appropriate, there are a few defaults to watch for that might be counter-productive in the long run.

  • Are you the Behavior Modification Parent? In other words, do you regularly attempt to modify your children’s behavior by offering them rewards or punishments? This can work in small doses or to get over certain “humps,” but experience and science both tell us that an over-dependence on rewards and punishments will eventually backfire with most people — children included. And, when you’re with your kids all the time, you will want them to develop intrinsic motivation, not to count on you to provide stickers every time they read a book.Schools use behavior modification a lot, both for academics and discipline. The whole idea of giving grades for performance is based on the idea that students should want to be rewarded by good grades and will thus work hard to earn them. Food also figures prominently in behavior modification at school — candy for correct answers and pizza parties for good behavior.

    When my oldest kids were in school for a few years long ago, one of the most crushing uses of behavior modification was in the Accelerated Reader program, in which kids earned points for passing tests after reading books, and children who missed the cutoff mark for cumulative points also missed out on the Accelerated Reader party. This not only shamed the children who needed the most encouragement in reading, it also devalued the reading they had done, since it “wasn’t enough” to qualify to attend the party. As a class volunteer, I observed that without exception, the students who didn’t earn enough points to participate in the party during the first term read even less the next term. After all, the reading they’d done hadn’t been rewarded, and they’d been “taught” by the behavior modification program that reading for pleasure or learning was not sufficient in itself. So, if you’re bringing kids home from school, they’re well-versed in behavior modification — and they may be well-versed in ignoring it. If you tend to use a lot of behavior modification by default, you may want to examine why it doesn’t always work and what motivates people more effectively. Resources for exploring behavior modification:

    Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel PinkUnconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn

    Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn

  • Are you the Brick Wall Parent? Author Barbara Coloroso describes some parents as too rigid and authoritarian — they are like brick walls. If something hits a brick wall, it cannot flex. The brick wall parent values control above everything else and sees respect as a one-way street: the child should respect the parent because the parent is in control.
  • Are you the Jelly Fish Parent? Coloroso describes the jelly fish parent as one who is too permissive and has unclear boundaries and expectations. In this case, the jelly fish parent may value the child’s immediate ability to “do what he wants to do” over the challenge inherent in helping the child learn important life skills like delaying gratification or respecting others’ needs. Coloroso thinks that parents who have natural defaults to be “brick walls” or “jelly fish” should work hard to develop a style she calls “backbone parenting.” This middle ground is strong but flexible. The parent respects the child as a person and also seeks the child’s respect.

    Backbone parents, also known as authoritative parents (as opposed to authoritarian at on end and permissive at the other end) combine warmth and nurturing with enough structure and stability for children to flourish. As far as homeschooling, backbone parents may allow children a lot of autonomy and flexibility in how and what they will learn, but they will take seriously their role in facilitating learning and providing a stable, secure base from which children can venture. Resource for learning more about parenting styles:

    Kids Are Worth It: Giving Your Kids the Gift of Inner Discipline by Barbara Coloroso

    How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

  • Are you the Better-Earlier-Than-Later Parent? Some parents place a lot of emphasis on their children being academically ahead of their age mates. Some kids really are precocious or even gifted, and they excel without inappropriate pushing from parents. But other kids are stressed by parents who are pushing for them to read earlier, write better, take algebra sooner, and memorize more. These parents may not understand typical development of children. If you feel you may be one of those parents who always wants her child to get it first and get it best — consider that many homeschooling parents (including those who have had bright kids who have grown up to be achievers) actually intentionally delay emphasizing formal academics.Many homeschooling parents are quite patient in letting children develop according to their individual time tables, rather than following what might typically be expected at school. They also strongly value “play,” understanding that certain types of imaginative play are actually more valuable and predictive of future academic success than early worksheets and phonics lessons for preschoolers. Resources for better-early-than-late parents:

    “Delaying Academics: When Homeschoolers Defer Formal Lessons” at TheHomeSchoolMom and  “Delayed Academics: It’s all about Learning” at

    Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education by Raymond Moore and Dorothy Moore.

    “Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills” by Alix Spiegel for NPR

If your examination of your parenting defaults leads you to try to make some changes, keep in mind that there is a lot going on during the deschooling period. If you’ve been a very permissive parent and suddenly move toward lots of rules, or if you’ve been an overly rule-based parent and suddenly try to move toward principles rather than rules, you will add to your child’s stress. Gradual changes will probably work better and provide more security for your kids.

Parental Deschooling Part 1 | 23 | 4 | 5

Jeanne Faulconer

A popular speaker at homeschooling conferences, business groups, and parents’ groups, Jeanne Potts Faulconer homeschooled her three sons in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia for twenty years. Jeanne is director of Brave Writer's Homeschool Alliance, which provides homeschool coaching, community, and "grad school for homeschool" for parents. She is the contributing editor for TheHomeSchoolMom newsletter and writes the popular Ask Jeanne column, addressing homeschool parents' questions here at TheHomeSchoolMom. She is a former college faculty member, former editor and book reviewer for Home Education Magazine, a long-time editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice, and a news correspondent for WCVE, an NPR-member station. Holding her Master of Arts degree in Communication, Jeanne has conducted portfolio evaluations for Virginia homeschoolers for evidence of progress for many years.

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  1. Sarah

    I just read this entire series because we are pulling our oldest child and starting homeschool for both of our kids this year. I will be honest, it is a little demoralizing.

    I loved school. LOVED IT. I hated the peer pressure, bullying, constant feeling as if I needed to be someone I was not, and complications of my people pleaser personality when it came to disappointing teachers, but I loved the structured learning environment. I loved sitting at a desk, being immersed in a lecture. I loved the feeling I got when I was first to turn in a worksheet and when I got an A on my homework.

    I have no idea how in the world I will ever ‘deschool’!

    That being said, I also know that when I was a child, I would have given anything to know that my parents wanted to see me enough to homeschool me. (They could have cared less about me and had no desire to spend a full day with me!) I know that my kids were ecstatic when I asked them if they would prefer to spend the days with me teaching them.

    So, this is best for us. I just have no idea how I will get it out of my head that it doesn’t have to be like school… and all before the school year rolls around.

    (I know. I know. I don’t have to be on a school year. But I DO have to submit paperwork before school starts!)

    Wish me luck.

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