Freedom to Learn – The benefits of loosening parental control

Probably one of the hardest things to do for most parents is to back off and relinquish control, it’s not that we don’t trust our children but we feel a duty to ‘make’ them the best they can be. Well, spoiler alert, children want to be the best they can be too.

Before my son was diagnosed as autistic using the PDA behaviour profile I was accused (amongst other things) of being a ‘helicopter parent’, i.e being over concerned about all aspects of his life. A lot of this of course was because I could see my son was not thriving in a school environment and found social interactions complicated and perplexing due to being autistic in a non autistic world and I just wanted to help.

By the time he was diagnosed things had broken down for him at school and I had to home educate. I felt guilty that I couldn’t make the school system work for him and wanted to make sure he didn’t ‘fail’ as a result. I looked at different therapies and all sorts to try and aid in the recovery of his mental health. Eventually I realised that he couldn’t learn while he was still trying to recover from being overload and that ultimately what he need to fix it was time and a safe space to do so.

Fast forward almost 3 years now…

I am the parent of a happy, healthy 13 year old who corrects me on my history knowledge, picks me up on my sexism and asks if we can ‘rescue’ his friends and bring them into our home ed fold. So what changed?

Quite simply I backed off..

Pushing a demand avoidant child or indeed any child is;

A) unnecessary.

B) often counter productive.

This goes against everything you know about raising a child, I know right? But it has been my experience. Allow me to elaborate.

For example, once upon I time I worried about screens, my son seemed to want to spend his whole life on them. When I adopted the low demand approach (read more about that HERE) I also dropped screen restrictions. I am not going to lie, first of all screen use increased but as my son’s mental health improved screen time reduced. Currently my son hasn’t gamed, other than on the odd visits to my brother as part of their social interaction, for more than 6 months. He does however still enjoy TV and loves a good documentary, he recommends programs to me and we watch many of them together.

TV often inspires things such as ‘who do you think you are’ inspiring him wanting to find out about his own history, an on going journey we have been travelling for 2 years now and still going. As well as learning about our own family and self identity, he has also learnt so much about social history, the class system, politics, the first and Second World Wars, geography, colonisation, the list goes on from this research as well as how to research.

While watching another of his favourite shows ‘Elementary’ my son fell in love with tortoises and decided it would be the perfect pet to replace his beloved hamster who died last year. I was reluctant at first but we did a lot of research and for his birthday early this month he got Clyde, a one year old marginated tortoise. Taking care of a tortoise takes a lot of measuring, measuring temperature of his environment, measuring of size and weight to keep tract of growth and so on, so exercises his maths shills. He also undertook research into Clyde’s natural environment and geography of that area (Greece) so he could get his pet’s environment just right. My son has not only come out on foraging trips to collect fresh greens for begun to recognise different wild flowers and learn the ones a tortoise can eat and the ones that might harm him. Having a pet is teaching him about responsibility and caring for others as well as about biology and natural history.

On a different occasion my son was watching American pickers and saw them find a Pez dispensing machine and decided he wanted to collect Pez dispensers. He is now a member of a Pez collectors club, has asked to travel to the convention next year, has improved his maths, understood how to look for a bargain and the skill of negotiation understood the principles of budgeting, profit and loss and made some pen pals which means he is writing. It was actually the Pez collecting that made me realise how important taking a step back was as he said I was ‘Putting him off’ in my enthusiasm to support him. Yes a parent’s enthusiasm can become a pressure and that pressure a demand.

Tv plays just a tiny part in all the things that have inspired my son to learn and the things I talk about here just a drop in the ocean of what he has taken it upon himself to explore and learn about. None of this was instigated by me, I am simply my son’s facilitator. The hardest part is stepping back and not taking over or trying to maximise his learning but just be led by him.

I have learnt so much myself, not just by researching along side him but from the process and my most important lesson was;

Children naturally have a desire to learn and a drive to succeed often DESPITE us pushing them in the wrong way/direction……

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2 thoughts on “Freedom to Learn – The benefits of loosening parental control

  1. Hello, spoke to you a while back about my decision to EHE my now 12 year old son (no diagnosis) in April after a gruelling few months in mainstream Secondary school. Have not had any positive developments yet in my son’s ability to learn or move forward , reluctance to instigate and motivate , refusal to follow the autodidactic way. Just disengaged and constantly seeking \numbing out with screens. I have stopped pushing and prompting and have not done this for at least 2 months and its not changed for my son. Still very avoidant of daily tasks never mind learning and resistant to most social stuff, visiting places , doing things out and about. My suggestions and invitations fall on the ground with a No! Cant. Constant low mood and down on himself about everything. Still sees himself as a failure. CAMHs have discharged him . I am stuck and cannot see a way out of the mire…. I know everyone is different and we all need time to adjust ,to process the pain of hard times but I cannot be optimistic when I am running out of stamina and motivation myself…. it is so tough to be the only one giving and making the effort to gently insist , to be creative and interested when schooling is the last thing I need to be doing to be honest. life is hard enough as a single parent . I don’t know how to remain confident when Home schooling seemed like the only option in this ridiculous , failing education system we have in the UK. I think I am on a rock in a hard place right now. I am glad you are writing with such honesty and courage as it makes me feel less alone.


    1. Hi Susan, I have been where you are now and it is a tough place to be. All I can say to you is with time it can change. Please also remember that while you still have (even unspoken) expectations or are making suggestions or trying to prompt these are still demands. It is so hard I know and goes against what you wish to do as a caring parent but I dropped everything that was not life or death completely and it took a few months before my son really started to pick up and that process did not even start until my son was reassured that he was no longer registered with school. The worst period for him was the uncertainty during the period he was not able to attend school as he had shut down and me deregistering him from school despite as low demands as I possible from me during that time. I am also a single parent and completely get what a lonely time this is. It helped me to get as much support as a could at this time by asking for help, being honest with people and getting a professional counsellor to help me through. If you do decide/are forced to home educate then I would suggest you do not try and ‘school’ your son but rather both take a break to recover until such a time as he shows an interest in learning again. I really hope you find the path through soon. It was never my choice to home educate and it was not what I wanted but once I realised it was my only choice and let go of the anger and let down of the education system so much of the stress lifted and we have honestly never looked back. X


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