It is literally the hardest part of homeschooling. Sometimes you have a child who just loves schoolwork like it’s chocolate. They are delighted to sit at a desk, sharpen those pencils, and neatly write out their assignments. They are eager and say, “Yes, Mommy.” or “Yes, Ma’am.” They like things to look as school-ish as possible.
Then there’s the kids who look up at you, after you give them a fun and enthusiastic introduction to their assignment and they say: “No. I don’t want to do that.” They stare up at you with daring eyes that say: “Make me.”
Ever been there? Ever have that child?
I have been there more times than I can count. I have blamed it on curriculum and changed a billion times. I’ve tried every method in the book. Here’s what works.
Pray for wisdom for both yourself and your child. Remember, the Holy Spirit has access to your child’s heart that far exceeds your reach. Pray for the right words, the right attitude, and a prepared heart. Pray for eyes to see every situation as an opportunity to teach what needs to be learned that day, (whether or not it’s on the lesson plan).
2) Rule out learning problems.
I have learned that 90% of the time, when one of my kids says something is dumb, or I’m being mean, there’s a problem they are facing that I can’t see. “The issue is not the issue” is a phrase I learned at a camp where I used to work. It’s usually dyslexia is rearing it’s head, or they can’t see the page and need glasses, or they just plain forgot how to do it and don’t want to get into trouble and will misdirect. Learning disabilities often look like laziness, because the kids don’t always know that the problem they are facing has solutions if you just knew about it. But they get ashamed and will hide it. Give them the benefit of the doubt and rule this out. Doing this also helps you grow as a teacher, as you research left-brained vs. right-brained learning techniques, or exercises you can do together to get over humps in learning.
Edited to add:
Also take into account the maturity of your child. I think among my circles, the most frustrated moms in this area are attempting to get 4 year olds to spend 5 hours in school to “get them ready.” School is something fun and optional in our house until about age 7. That’s the way Finland does it, it’s the way that some of the best minds in education recommend. So in the early years we focus on quality play and character building. With this system, some of my kids were reading chapter books before age 7, and some started reading just then, but built some pretty stellar Lego creations in the meantime, and started math 3 years ahead of their peers. Please, please, please don’t force a little 5 year old to sit at a desk all day long, and when it falls apart say that homeschooling isn’t for you. Let the kids play, and take into account the amount of work the maturity of your child can handle. Maturity is one of those things that cannot be forced.
3) Think outside the box.
Do math in the treehouse, and jumping jacks during spelling. Hold contests, set timers, be silly. Sitting and writing all day is about the most boring way to learn, and unless your child is that unique one that is wired that way, don’t do it. There are a million games out there, a million ways to learn and do things, don’t restrict yourself to the most boring, and consider that good teaching. It’s not doing anyone any favors.
4) Let consequences fall.
This is my personal least favorite, and yet, I find myself back here over and over again. Let’s say that you started your day with prayer and you’ve worked through the learning issues. You bought the kid glasses. You have a fun lesson planned, and the child looks up and you and says, “No.”
It’s times like this that I want to send my child to public school, just to show them that they MUST do school, and all the other kids HAVE TO do school, and while they can do it in a box or with a fox, or in the house with a mouse, they will do school one way or the other. I have not yet done that, but I’m not ruling it out.
However, this isn’t something you are doing wrong. This is your child’s choice. He or she is making a bad choice. Choices have consequences. One of the common things our kids miss is the morning snack time. If their morning work isn’t done by 10am, then they don’t get their snack. Turning in your work is your meal ticket. The same goes for lunch. Sounds mean, but if you don’t work, you don’t eat. If your afternoon work isn’t done, you have to stay in your room until it’s done while the rest of the family gets to go outside and play. Family movie night? That stinks. Your work isn’t done, so you’ll have to be in your room while the rest of us who did our work enjoy the movie and eat popcorn downstairs.
Nothing gets me worked up as a mother, and flares my temper more than my child feeling entitled to all that is around him/her.
I plan lots of fun things. I want us as a family to work hard and play hard. But when you don’t work, you don’t get the reward. Plain and simple. School is their job, just like teaching is mine.
I have found that the child will quickly shift blame to me when this happens, as though I’m just being mean. The more in control I am with my emotions, the more I can get the message through that they have bad consequences from their bad choices. The more you remove bad consequences, the more entitled they will feel. Let the punishment fit the crime as often as possible.
This is hard because it will effect the whole family. Sometimes the family has to stay home from a field trip because one child is making a bad choice. Sometimes you miss out on date night because one child is acting up. Sometimes you miss out on your down time because they finally come to their senses when you finally sit down with a cup of tea.
The fact is, it’s not just a bad choice, it’s sin. Sin hurts other people. Their sin is hurting you, and others, and as a family, we have to pray for a forgiving spirit. You can try to contain that hurt as much as possible, but the fact remains: sin hurts others and yourself. It never just hurts yourself. When your child sees that, it will make a lasting impact as well.
5) Grab a leadership partner, outside the home.
Our kids’ Tae Kwon Do instructor is amazing. I have sent her desperate texts more than once, and she has spoken with my kids more than once. Other parents have a Sunday School teacher, or baseball coach or piano tutor that their child really respects. When you and your spouse are pulling out your hair, wondering if you are actually crazy, and why can’t you get through to this kid, grab another adult that your child respects to chime in. Whether it’s a psychologist or pastor, let them know that work is not optional is a universal concept, not just one in your home. Concepts like respect should be consistent in all of your child’s activities. When your child sees that work is not only necessary to get the perks in your home, but it will start effecting their baseball, their dance, or their gymnastics, they often snap out of it.
6) Weep with those who weep.
While movie nights and participation in sports is conditional in our home, love is not. It’s so important that my kids know that my love for them is unconditional. However, they will try to convince me that love means that I will do whatever they want and make their life easy and perfect. That’s not love. We must teach them the definition of love from a Biblical perspective, not a feel-good (feelings) perspective. When my child is crying because he/she doesn’t want to do something, I will come beside them and hug them, saying I know it’s hard. When they have to stay home from something because they couldn’t get their work done on time because they refused to do it for 3 hours, I will cry with them.
I remember what it felt like to realize that I failed a test, or I didn’t get my homework done in time. It’s this pit in your stomach, and you feel awful. When what you did sinks in and the shame is overwhelming, it’s amazing to have someone next to you, with their arms around you saying “This stinks. But I will walk it with you.”
This is will make blaming you for their choices nearly impossible. It solidifies in their mind the fact that their choices produce good or bad consequences. It also solidifies that you will love them and be there for them through thick and thin. You will be there with them in the movie nights, and you will be there with them when they are grounded in their room.
Once, a child of mine was sent to their room after mouthing off to us after they realized that their misuse of time would prevent them from going to a birthday party. There were many tears. I brought them up their supper on a tray, with a little flower on it. I brought them their food, and said at the door, “I thought you might be hungry. I know this is a huge disappointment. I’ll be available downstairs to help you finish so that tomorrow can be a fresh day without you being behind. I hate it when I realize that my laziness has cost me something too. I know what you’re going through.”
Weep with them. Comfort them. That’s completely different than removing all consequences. It’s walking through consequences with them, and takes them completely off guard.
Walking through it with them will cost you something. It will hurt sometimes. Let’s not forget that love = sacrifice, and laying your life down for another takes many forms. However, this love and compassion is one of the most powerful forces on earth.
No education would be complete without it.