The homeschooling lifestyle can be fabulous for kids, offering personalized curricula and challenging experiences. Learning has a chance to be move beyond the static and rote, and kids can develop the ability to self-motivate and self-challenge that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
That is, if they are given the chance. I am often contacted my homeschooling parents who are seeking guidance with their children. By the time they come to me, these parents are a bundle of frustrated emotions, over extending and compromising continually to no one’s true benefit. This weekend I received three emails alone and thought the ideas would make an interesting blog post .
The reality is that it is imparative to address some critical emotional and relational facts to have a truly successful homeschool. Far too many parents focus on their ability or lack to master and teach material, yet they are missing the most important key. You can be the best instructor in the world, but if your relationship with your child is filled with guilt, manipulation and justification, you will never be truly successful.
Every homeschooling parent needs to take a good hard look at themselves and do a little self-analysis. What was your educational experience like? What were your social experiences are a teenager? What underlying issues are YOU bringing into your homeschool?
Let’s first address insecurities. Any one who is often seeking approval outside of themselves are in for a humdinger of a time teaching their own kid. Why? Because it is darned difficult to have your own children angry at you, and it is bound to happen! Especially once a child realizes how easily they can manipulate this insecurity for their own benefit . And trust me, kids are smart and wily, and if it gets them out of an unpleasant or challenging situation, they will not hesitate to yank on your heartstrings!
A homeschooling parent needs to develop a mental toughness based on a few facts. Firstly, all kids tend to redirect frustration into anger at their teachers. The hard part for us is that we are the parent as well, and they don’t get to run to us for comfort complaining about Hairy Scary Mrs. Smith at the end of a school day. The anger is pointed right at us, in silence or screams, 24-7, until the situation causing the frustration is relieved. So know that it is perfectly healthy and normal for our kids to be ticked off at us!
Unfortunately for many kids, some parents will just cave repeatedly to this sort of attack. Instead of teaching the child to work through challenges and come out on the other side feeling accomplished and proud, the parent reinforces the child’s frustration by agreeing that “it probably is too hard for you, honey.” Can you see how defeating this is for your child’s psyche? You feed into their phobia, and believe me, it will continue to grow until they see for themselves that they can learn even if the material is not simple.
The flip side to this is the other undeniable truth about kids: they are inherently fun seekers. This desire to seek fun at all times is often at odds with our best educational efforts. We are cramping their fun with all this learning stuff, and they would certainly rather be doing something they enjoy than drudging through history or algebra equations. (Again , I am speaking about the majority of kids here. I read about those who say “Learning=Fun” and even know a few who would prefer conjugating Latin verbs to playing video games, but most of us don’t have those kids in our homes!)
Our clever charges do know the power they have playing upon our emotions. Some take the anger angle, dawdling and pouting until we let them pack it in early to go do something they prefer. How does this help them develop the maturity for adult life, when there are a myriad of un-fun but necessary tasks to face daily? I always say that a few hours of active learning is not TOO much to ask for teens!
Others mask their laziness through a cover of helplessness. We end up jumping through hoops trying to help them learn, yet their reluctance toward whatever subject is the true problem. It is far easier to feign inability in a subject than put forth a real effort to learn. Real effort comes from the heart, and if we coddle instead of challenge, we are perpetuating the problem. Teaching a child with a true disability, and watching her work so hard to overcome it successfully , will give you a real perspective on effort. HoneyGirl didn’t just give up after a difficult morning. She would take a break, and try again in the afternoon or at night. She wanted to learn to read because she knew it was important. And frankly, most kids would rather create a crutch than learn to run.
I speak from experience on this one in my dealings with BuzzBoy and math. He swore for years that he was “not capable” of learning math, and we battled daily. I knew that he certainly could do it, but that he did not like to do anything that wasn’t easy. Any challenge in any aspect of life usually met with resistence and excuses. Math certainly was challenging, but definitely something he could do IF he stopped being stubborn and really put forth effort. My DH did not understand why we were at always at odds, and suggested we outsource math.
After years of fighting, I accepted how much manipulation really was at play here, and wanted no more fighting. We had a family meeting, and BuzzBoy was told that we wanted him to be successful in math and were getting him a teacher that loves math. He needed to be responsible for his work and success: and there would be no missed assignments, and no dropping out. If he failed the class, he would retake it until he passed. We constantly told him he “could” do it, instead of buying into his claims.
This might sound really harsh to some of you. At first, I thought so too. But I am math-phobic, and the reality is that middle and high school math is NOT that difficult for a child of average intellegence to grasp if they put forth effort….period. But it does take practice, and that is a challenge for inherently lazy kids. The issue here really wasn’t math…but weak character.
Once he started taking math classes with other instructors with this sink or swim policy, he suddenly discovered that he indeed could do math. And he was pretty good at it as well. Sure, he balked at doing the work and kept claiming that he was bad at math. But over time, even he realized it wasn’t the case. HE just didn’t like the effort and time that math took compared with other subjects. Fast forward a few years, and he has learned to enjoy math and is not even shying away from his math-heavy major in engineering, something that would have been impossible if we hadn’t stopped enabling him.
Another stumbling block for homeschooling parents is the tendency to unwittingly share our own history with our children. Are you math-phobic, or swear you haven’t a creative bone in you? A lot of parents often project their own dislike for a subject onto their child. We need to look at our children as individuals and honestly access their strengths and weaknesses without excuse or personal bias.
A dear friend is very science and math oriented, and had always claimed that her daugthers were “just like her.” She came to me for help in their writing, as they were struggling greatly because they had “analytical minds.” After just a few sessions, I found that these three girls were highly creative, but didn’t really understand how to put their oral stories into writing. All they needed was a little guidance from someone who wasn’t “closed off” to writing to get them on their way. The mother was shocked at what the girls were able to create, and realized that her negativity had actually stiffled their success.
There is a difference between aiding our children and enabling them. Aiding a child is finding curriculum and method that matches their learning style, and adapting teaching schedules to their natural rhythms. SOmetimes it is giving breaks and redirection. Enabling is creating an atmosphere based on the path of least resisitence that becomes a challenge-less lifestyle. Children and teens especially need things to be proud of, and not just those things that come with ease. Accomplishing and conquering the hard stuff is often the very thing that will help them mature from an attitude of “Poor Me!” to “Yes, I Can!”.
So remember when you are in the midst of struggle, the short term peace almost always undermines the long-term goal. Then one day, your child might turn to you and say “It was a great year, because I finally realized you are on my team.” That, my friends, is priceless!