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Empowering Kids: The Untigering Approach to Parenting Transcript

Please note: Transcripts for the No Guilt Mom Podcast were created using AI. As a result, there may be some minor errors.

Iris Chen: for me in my generation, or maybe it was just me in my more compliant rule following nature, I learned how to be the good girl. all those rules, all the fear and the punishment like made me behave. And I thought that that would work with my children. And what I discovered was that it didn’t work. It just escalated their behavior. 

 JoAnn Crohn: Welcome to the No Guilt Mom podcast. I am your host, JoAnn Crohn, joined here by Brie Tucker. 

Brie Tucker: Why, hello, hello, everybody.

JoAnn Crohn: You just heard a little clip from our interview with Iris Chen and we get into it today with giving kids more power which I think is really scary for people. I, I would think it’s really scary. Wouldn’t you, Brie? giving kids more power when you’re used to as the adult, like you’re in control? 

Brie Tucker: think that’s a big factor right there, a lot of us, and we talk about it in the episode, how, like, we were brought up a certain way, and when we were getting ready to have our kids, or we just started having our kids, we’re all like, okay, well, it worked for me, I’m a good person, I have a good life, this is fantastic.

And then we find out that it don’t work so great. Because there’s key elements of it that we’re not willing to follow with. I mean, I loved my parents, but I was scared to the bejeejees of my dad because he could spank and leave like that hand mark. So as much as I love my parents, like trying to parent the exact same way they did didn’t work because I would refuse to have my kids be fearful of me. 

JoAnn Crohn: Yeah, that’s not the relationship that we want with our kids. So I think that you are going to love our guest today, Iris Chen. She is the founder and author of Untigering, Unschooling Mother, which we get into in this episode because both Brie and I were fascinated with unschooling, and Peaceful Parent Coach.

She helps parents practice anti oppression in their families and shift from power over power. To power sharing relationships with children. And Iris is the proud mom of a 13 and a 15 year old. And we hope you enjoy our conversation with Iris. Welcome to the podcast, Iris. We are, we’re so happy to have you here and I am really excited to dig into everything with you. Now, a lot of us know you from your book, Untigering. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you came to this work?

Iris Chen: Yeah. Do you want me to talk about the book or my journey or where do you want me to take this?

JoAnn Crohn: Well, I guess what I’m really interested in is, what led you to kind of. Wanting to parent in this way. What was the realization that you didn’t want to take these things forward? Yeah,

Iris Chen: their child comes into the world and they’re holding their sweet baby, they look at their baby and they’re like, I will never hurt you the way that I was hurt, or I will not do what was done to me.

And I was not like that at all. I had not processed, I guess, a lot of the things that I experienced. And in many ways, I, thought that Authoritarian parenting, while not as extreme as maybe what I experienced, was a good, way of parenting. You know, I had turned up pretty well, my siblings had turned up pretty well, and, we stayed out of trouble.

Well, some of us did. and so just moving forward, when I had my kids, I was like, okay, I’m not going to be as extreme as my parents. I’m not going to be as strict as them. They were Chinese immigrant parents who had a very a certain way of thinking about their role as parents, protecting us and needing us to get good grades and everything And for me, I was like, okay, I’m not going to be that extreme, but I still expect my child to listen to me and obey and not talk back. And, you know, all of those things. And so I really leaned into expecting obedience, focusing on behavior. more punishments than rewards, which is pretty typical in tiger parenting. Yeah, exactly. And, it just wasn’t quote unquote working. for, for me in my generation, or maybe it was just me in my more compliant rule following nature, I learned how to be the good girl. 

Brie Tucker: Yeah. 

Iris Chen: like all those rules, all the fear and the punishment like made me behave. And I thought that that would work with my children. And what I discovered was that it didn’t work. It just escalated their behavior. my oldest child in particular would just have huge meltdowns, you know, flailing in the middle of the street type of thing. And I. I thought that it was like power struggles, reframe it as power struggles and you as a parent need to show them who’s boss.

And so I would punish harder. It would make, the punishments more painful, whether that was physical or psychological. And there was just so much, angst and trauma and conflict in our relationship, and they also weren’t behaving better. And I was like, what is happening? Why is this not working? and I think that’s part of tiger parenting as well. It’s like a very, I’m gonna tell you what to do, you need to obey. And.

JoAnn Crohn: you’ve said so many important things in there that I want to circle back to because, first of all, the concept of the good girl, um, because I too felt like I was the good girl and it worked with me. Like my parents said something and they’re like, don’t do this. And I’m like, okay, I’m not going to do this.

And you look at that based on your own parenting and think, well, I, it worked for me and I did it. So why aren’t my kids the same? But. Also, and I don’t know if this applies to you too, Iris, I have high anxiety and people pleasing. and I think it’s because of that, of not like being ever heard as a child or never having my opinions matter, of always listening to other people. do you have that in your own life?

Iris Chen: I definitely feel like I am highly sensitive, very attuned to what’s going on around me and I actually realized that about my son, my oldest son first, and then that was why he was reacting to these things because he was so overwhelmed. He was overwhelmed by these emotions, by, by By, the control by fears that he was having anxiety and that’s why he was maybe acting out in these dysregulated ways.

And once I recognized that about him, I recognized that about myself. I think in terms of the people pleasing, I was definitely a rule follower and wanted to like, know what was expected of me. But I also have this very independent streak where when I’m told to do something I resent being told. Like, I still might do it because, 

Brie Tucker: of you, the two of you are like twins, I swear. 

Iris Chen: know, 

Brie Tucker: Listening here going, oh wow. They were separated at birth.

Iris Chen: that’s so interesting. Like I have this, you can’t tell me what to do. Like even like Brie, who’s the project manager for our team. Like I’m like, no, I’m not going to do that today. It’s the most frustrating thing.

JoAnn Crohn: I’m sure. 

Brie Tucker: I love you. 

JoAnn Crohn: I love you too, but another thing that I wanted to talk about, which you mentioned in there is this whole power struggle concept, because we get that a lot in our community of our, the women in our community are all on board with. Conversing with their kids and having conversations and really going into more of an authoritative method of parenting.

But they talk a lot about their spouses and about how their spouses are along this mindset that, Oh my gosh, well, if they’re having this temper tantrum, then I need to be harsher and stronger and you need to like up the punishments.

Brie Tucker: it’s hard though when you keep getting told sorry, Brie’s going to bring in her little bit of marital trauma here. It’s a little hard when you’re getting told by the person that’s supposed to love you and like, you’re in a commitment together, you’re parenting together and they’re like, you’re not doing this right.

JoAnn Crohn: Totally.

Brie Tucker: yeah, we try to keep going back to those 80s parenting routines, but they just don’t seem to work,

JoAnn Crohn: Yeah. I think that’s why it’s so important to bring up and to talk about here, about those, ideas that it’s a power struggle that’s happening. and then you said that you noticed it wasn’t working. And so what made you change?

Iris Chen: I mean, I think it was definitely a process of, my own personal healing along the way. But there was like one moment that I write about in my book where I went to a parenting workshop and I actually wasn’t there for me. I was there because I knew the speaker and I was there to support her. I still felt like I had things under control.

So I was there to support her, but the way that she was talking about parenting and she just brought in a lot of brain science that in the parenting communities and parenting books that I had read, I grew up in a very religious community, so the books that I read were a lot about behavior management, a lot about obedience, and not necessarily about brain science or neurobiology and Child development, Brie, you were talking about studying early childhood development.

And I didn’t know that. So my expectations of children were obey, listen to me, I know what’s best. And so hearing about how their brains are not fully developed yet, how they, parts of their brain that make them, upset or react to that fight flight. freeze part of their brains, get active and reactive when we yell at them when we punish when they experience fear and threat.

And so that makes it even harder for them to calm down to think logically to make better choices. And so I realized that I was punishing my Child when they really needed my help, They needed my help and my support. They were like, in many ways, unable to calm down or to listen to me or whatever I wanted them to do.

and I punished him instead. And so that really broke my heart. I realized that the way that I had been, the. My perspective of him had been totally one of willful disobedience. Like, you are choosing to do this, and so I must discipline that out of you. I must, punish it. I can’t let you get away with it.

I need to show you who’s boss. all of those messages that we get from mainstream parenting. And so I realized at that point, much of my parenting, I had to stop, like I was still using very, abusive strategies to try to control him, you know, it was still spanking. I was sending him to his room, isolating, taking away his toys, like all of those horrible things that I speak against now.

I was doing and I realized I had to stop that. And so you were talking before about like the whole power struggle. What I really hope to do through my own journey and sharing my own journey and the work that I do through integrity is like teaching parents how to go from like a power over type of mindset with children to a power sharing, like how can we share power with our children so that it’s not like. I have all the power. I get to do this to you. I need to protect you from the world and so therefore, I know what’s good for you and can make you do these 

JoAnn Crohn: Yeah. There’s, there’s a quote that I pulled from your book that I want, that I think completely encapsulates this, and I want to get into it more and we will right after this break. Iris, in your book, you write, we can make all their decisions for them now and hope that they’ll grow up to make good ones themselves or we can trust them with freedom now under our loving guidance. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Iris Chen: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the parenting that we have now is, like the parent again, especially when they’re younger, making a lot of the decisions, controlling them, having these rules and limits and all of those things. And then when they’re independent, then they get to figure things out.

But I think what often happens then is when they’re on their own, when they’re independent, they become reactive to the control that they were under. All those strict rules, it’s okay, they’re off to college and they go wild or whatever, because they were never given that freedom. Well, what if we Gave them freedom or honored their freedom, honored their autonomy from an early age, knowing that they are their own person.

Like children are their own people. They have their own ideas. they are their own experts. And so how can we be in partnership with them? Again, that power sharing where I want what’s best for you. I know that you want what’s best for you. So how can we work together? Like I’m going to guide you.

I’m going to, teach you and educate you, but I’m not going to control you. You might make mistakes. You might make choices that are really uncomfortable and maybe to me risky. You know, of course we’re not going to like. Do things that endanger them, but there’s so many ways for young people to practice their autonomy that parents don’t even give them the opportunity to.

Brie Tucker: Well, yeah, we can’t expect our children to be able to go out into the world, having never made decisions for themselves, like they’re, oh man, I forget the name of it, but there’s this, account on TikTok and Instagram where this like guy shares, Text from your kids and some of the questions. Where do I buy pasta water? You know, when does my social security number expire? What’s my job? Do I have a job? Like those are things that you’re like, okay

JoAnn Crohn: a job?

Brie Tucker: and I know those are like, funny, but seriously, if you never let, allow, give your children that opportunity to figure things out for themselves, to like, question things, and to be like, okay, I got a problem, solve this whole pasta water thing. it’s going to be a long life of them living in your basement.

JoAnn Crohn: It is. And it’s so interesting because when you talk about kids having their own autonomy, this is something that Brie and I were very curious about that you do. You do unschooling and I hear unschooling is very like strong in children autonomy. How like I’m coming into this knowing nothing about unschooling. So Iris, please tell me, how does this work?

Iris Chen: Yeah, It’s funny how I went from one extreme to the other in terms of like extreme Like authoritarian tiger parenting and then really moving away from that like the more we get into respectful gentle conscious parenting and unschooling is just It’s just a manifestation of, of cautious parenting because what it is, is, is the belief that children deserve dignity and respect are their own people, that they have their own, goals in life, their own way of being, and so how can we honor that in all areas of their lives, like bodily autonomy.

So we talk a lot in, peaceful parenting circles about bodily autonomy and if your child doesn’t want to hug a relative, you know, they have the right not to. We can protect them. and, and how to extend that. Believe in bodily autonomy to all areas of their life, including the way they use their minds, the way they use their bodies for most of the day, which for conventional schooling is they have no bodily autonomy.

 they cannot use their bodies, move their bodies, use the bathroom, eat, rest. They just cannot do that in a conventional schooling system. And so that’s not necessarily how I came to unschooling. I came to unschooling because I was living in China at the time. We were unable to send our Kids to the local school because we weren’t locals we were American citizens and their schooling options were really limited for us at that point.

We were out of options I Knew that an option was to homeschool but because of my tiger parenting tendencies and my need for control and all of those things I knew that if I was to Homeschool in the traditional way where there’s like a curriculum. We need to get through these worksheets. There’s these things that we need to accomplish standards We need to meet that I like that would just trigger my tiger parent  To come out. Yes. Yes. I knew that that just was not how I wanted to be Um, especially if I was going to be around my children all the time, you know 

JoAnn Crohn: It’s a very stressful way to be. just as a former teacher, just trying to get, kids to do stuff, I couldn’t even imagine doing, getting my kids to do all that. 

Iris Chen: Yeah, yeah, it’s again, a very, power over type of mentality where again, as a teacher, as an adult in an authority, I have my idea of what I want you to accomplish. I have my lesson plan, my agendas and my goals. And, How am I going to enforce that on you? That’s pretty much like what homeschooling can become, what teaching can become.

And so, I came across unschooling. I heard about it at a parenting conference, an online parenting conference. And I was like, this is so interesting. What is it about? I did a bunch of research about it. And, so to me it has really become a lifestyle. It’s a way of life where we de center school.

we. Learn how to live life without school, just like, adults, after they leave school, graduate from school, there’s like all this life that they live and they’re learning, we continue to learn as adults and, and engage and grow and gain skills and all of that. And, That’s how we began our unschooling journey of just not thinking within the school model where it’s like you have grades, you have tests, you have standards, you have certain curriculums, or certain subjects that you need to study.

Okay, what if we just Got rid of that because that’s not really what life looks like. Life is so, integrated. It’s so unique to each individual. so how can we honor each of our children, allow them to live life? In ways that make sense for them, learn and, Pursue interest in ways that make sense for them individually, instead of me again, coming in as the authority and say, these are the things that you need to learn.

JoAnn Crohn: So, what is, a typical unschooling day look like? Like, what, what does it look like when you’re unschooling?

Iris Chen: Yeah, so it’s a great question, because there’s no one answer again, because it’s really about each individual or each family following what works for them. So that can mean sleeping in that can mean going to the beach all day and playing outside that can be gaming. That can mean reading. So for my kids, they are now 13 and 15.

And we’ve actually the The Um, because they wanted to, or especially my oldest wanted to have more social interaction, you know, when they become teens, they want, to be around their peers more. And so we found a self directed learning center, in our area. And so he goes three times a week to that self directed learning center, um, which is different from school in that, again, it’s not.

Authoritarian. It’s not compulsory. There are no classes that you are required to take. There are no tests. There’s no homework. there are courses that are offered to, the members, but nobody’s required to take anything. So it’s just a safe space for people, for the members, to learn together and socialize together and be in community together.

so my oldest does that on the days that he’s home. He does a lot of, Digital art, so that’s something that he’s really interested in. My youngest is really into music production right now, so he spends a lot of time just making music, making beats and we have the

JoAnn Crohn: Sounds like a dream. I mean, honestly, like my daughter right now is, a sophomore as well, like same age, but the stuff that she is dealing with right now in school, like even as a former teacher, I’m like, this is incredibly pointless. Like she, she complains a lot about her chemistry, class and she brings home chemistry homework and my husband is sitting down and she’s they’re not even teaching this.

Like they use it in the real world. Like this isn’t even. It’s not relevant the way they’re going through this. And I think that is the problem with schools today, because what you talk about is actually, when I was an elementary school teacher, it’s how I would teach my class post testing. Because prior to state testing, Schools are very regimented and you have to turn in your lesson plans or you have to do your lesson plans and leave them on your desk for your principal to check, which, my principal never did, but you’re describing something that’s really like a project directed learning, but it’s individualized for your kids based on what they’re interested in. And I think that is amazing.

Brie Tucker: brain is trying to categorize this and it sounds to me like from my understanding it’s a cousin of Montessori type. education. It’s a cousin! Not, not the same household, but in the same neighborhood, roughly, maybe. I don’t know.

Iris Chen: Yeah, I mean, other people might call this, like self directed learning. because it is really. Giving children the autonomy, the agency to take, I don’t know if charge is the right word, but like to, to bide their own learning. And of course the parent and adult is there to support them. Like, we’re not just you’re on your own and figure life out. We’re obviously there to support them, but it’s really, just allowing them to explore. 

JoAnn Crohn: It’s so cool because how often as an adult for me, I had the hardest time figuring out what I wanted. Because for so long as a child, you’re told what to do, and you’re told what to study, and even in entrepreneurship, no one tells you what to do, but in school, you were always told what to do to get the A, and that’s not how the real world works at all, like, nobody tells you, you have to develop these mindsets of problem solving and experimentation, and everything that I see You’re doing in self directed learning and your kids are doing and gosh, I love it. I love it.

The only thing I see is like the practicality of trying to do it when you’re pursuing your own thing as an adult. do you find like you’re constantly trying to balance those things of things you want to achieve versus helping your kids learn the things that they want to learn?

Iris Chen: yeah, I mean, I think that’s again,some people view unschooling or maybe even like gentle parenting or whatever they want to call it in, like permissive ways. Sometimes, you know, where it’s just let the child do whatever they want. but I think because we’re a family, we do things in community.

So these are things that we need to figure out as a family. And when you do, when you unschool as part of the self directed learning center, you’re also doing it as community. So even though it is about individual autonomy and, self direction and all of that. there’s that tension between individual autonomy and community and relationship.

And I talk about this in my book as well, where it’s, it’s about respect, like respecting the individual and it’s about relationship. And how can we, wrestle with those two realities in our everyday life, which is what love is, which is what relationship is. Any relationship, there are those two aspects and so how can we also engage in that way with our children where, yes, I respect you, I want to help you, but we’re also a family and I’m not I’m not going to cater to your every whim. 

Brie Tucker: Right. 

JoAnn Crohn: you’re not mom is a martyr. Like you’re not giving up your whole being for your kids. Like they are respecting you in the best of ways so much more than like versus the authoritarian method of parenting where you were dealing with power struggles.

Now they like are actually respecting you and seeing what you need in addition to having their own needs met. I think that’s. 

Iris Chen: also, yeah, and I found also that with unschooling, because my job is not actually to teach them. It’s not actually to hover over them or make sure that they’re doing anything. In a lot of ways, it’s just about creating space for them, making sure they’re safe, making sure they have the resources they need.

And especially now that they’re older, it’s like they’re on their own. So they know how to find the skills and get the information they need and, I don’t have to, it’s not like a high intensity sitting over them, teaching them the way we think of when we think of homeschooling or when we think of teaching, it’s really trusting in the child and trusting in the child means you give them a lot of freedom to experiment and you make sure they’re safe, of course.

JoAnn Crohn: Yeah.

Iris Chen: But there’s just a lot of freedom. And for me as an unschooling mother, for me also to model for myself, for my children, what it means for me to pursue my own interests. So that means I’m going to tell my children I’m on a podcast and, or I’m working on this blog post or whatever. And, you know, you, you guys can do your own thing and I’m doing my thing.

And, we’re, we’re. Each pursuing our own interests and our own passions in, in ways that work for us. So I think it’s actually a really a way of life that empowers even the parent to be able to do their own thing in many ways.

Brie Tucker: Yeah. 

JoAnn Crohn: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I, I am enthralled now with unschooling. Iris, you, you have gotten me even more interested, and it has been so wonderful talking with you about this and giving kids more power. Where can people find you?

Iris Chen: Yeah, so I’m most active on Instagram and Facebook. You can find me at Untigering or, at my website, untigering. com. I offer parent coaching. I do speaking, uh, workshops and stuff like that. So really encouraging parents to move away from that. Power over model that, authoritarian, control model. And again, learn how to trust children, learn how to cooperate and collaborate and partner with them.

JoAnn Crohn: That’s awesome. thank you so much for being here, Iris. It’s been amazing.

Iris Chen: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

 JoAnn Crohn: I have to say, I was super excited with Iris to talk to her about, letting go of the parent guilt and everything, but this episode, as soon as she started talking about unschooling, you and I were both like, can we switch to that? We’re like, no, yeah, let’s talk about unschooling

Brie Tucker: I hear about it. But I don’t know

JoAnn Crohn: but there’s so many questions about people. I think they do it the wrong way because there’s a book about that, about unschooling. It’s called uneducated. I know. What is it called? I can’t remember like uneducated or something like that, but I don’t. I need to read this book. So this is me totally coming at it from an uneducated point of view. If, like,

Brie Tucker: Not uneducated, it’s, it’s un, not being able to come up with the right words at the right time. again,

JoAnn Crohn: No, not. I got miseducation of Lauren Hill. Amazon is failing me right now. So I’m sure that. If you’re listening right now, you probably know the exact book I am talking

Brie Tucker: you know what?

JoAnn Crohn: tell us in a review.

Brie Tucker: Yes, I was gonna say, leave us a review and let us know. Like, actually, I am very curious. If you are listening to this podcast and, you either do Like alternative schooling or your thought, you’re thinking about it, share that with us, leave us a review, let us know, who else you would like us to talk to, because this is an area that both JoAnn and I are very curious about, but are not as familiar with as, as per the public school system that we both worked in, that we got. I am so interested in all the different educational options and plus, I feel like you see it all the time. Especially with where we live here in Arizona, specifically here in the Phoenix area, we have a lot of school choice options out here. I mean, like, you throw a rock and you hit five different public charters and or,

JoAnn Crohn: Yeah.

JoAnn Crohn: There’s a lot of different options out there and it’s very interesting learning everybody’s options because, not everything’s the right way. 

Brie Tucker: Well, and I love how Iris, also brought it back to, like, a She fell into, I feel like it’s an appropriate way to say it, like she fell into the unschooling because of the untaggering, and And just how that path unfolds and like we talked about ourselves to like my kids went to a back to basics traditional elementary school, which I really felt like was good for them in the very beginning, but now 10 years later when they’re in high school, they’re like, yeah, that was not our cup of tea.

But like you find out things over time and you fall into them and you move and it’s different. It’s different things for different people at different times, which I think is another reason to why. we try to tell moms, like, because you were using the, the parenting techniques that were used on you, you can’t blame yourself for trying what you thought was going to work at the time. We, we learn more, right? we learn more.

JoAnn Crohn: you learn a lot. Yeah. And when she, she talked about that bodily autonomy not happening at school. She’s absolutely right. when I was in my teacher education program, I went and observed a classroom and the kids were third graders sitting on the floor, listening to a book being read and she would read the book and then she would look at a child and be like, fix your body.

Fix your body and look at every fix your body because they were like fidgeting or they weren’t sitting up straight or I’m like, this is Insane, like what is this? Because as a teacher you are in the classroom and Administrators will come in and observe you and they’ll be like 96 percent of the class was engaged This one was like twiddling their thumbs over here in the corner and you feel like you have to fix that. But really, I love Iris’s approach. I’m like, that’s not giving bodily autonomy to any student. And that is something that we need to change. Absolutely. We can go on and

Brie Tucker: And apparently after we, after we finished talking, we talked to Iris and she’s got some ideas for writing a book on unschooling. It’s, it’s still in the beginning process. So you know, when that comes out, you gotta be listening for her gigs. I wouldn’t, I won’t learn more. I’m just very, very 

JoAnn Crohn: It’s very interesting. It’s very interesting. So remember, the best mom is a happy mom. Take care of you. We’ll talk to you later.

Brie Tucker: Thanks for stopping by.

Brie Tucker

COO/ Podcast Producer at No Guilt Mom
Brie Tucker has over 20 years of experience coaching parents with a background in early childhood and special needs. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Central Missouri and is certified in Positive Discipline as well as a Happiest Baby Educator.

She’s a divorced mom to two teenagers.

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