When I answered a parent’s question about low frustration tolerance, I realized I had a lot to say on the subject. First, I want to define the problem and then I want to share six tips for teaching your child.
What is Low Frustration Tolerance?
When we are discussing low frustration tolerance, we aren’t talking about a child who easily gets quiet when challenged, are we? If a child withdraws to his room to read because he’s frustrated with the first few math problems he’s presented with, his mother is unlikely to complain. Low frustration tolerance means that a child gets frustrated easily. What most parents struggle with isn’t low tolerance, but poor frustration management. They generally aren’t concerned about when a child gets frustrated as much as they are with how they deal with it. I will be discussing how to help a child who yells, cries, or acts out when frustrated.
#1 Observe the situations that lead to frustration
Be an investigator rather than a mommy. We tend to feel helpless when our child tantrums. Our helplessness can lead to our own poor frustration management. We’re anxious about our child’s behavior and our inability to manage it. This is a problem. Children who have poor self-control have to know that you aren’t freaked out by their behavior. If they don’t have control, they want to know that you do. If you have to fake a sense of control, do it. Your anxiety is fuel on the fire of your child’s fit. Stay calm and rather than fretting, take note of what is happening.
By take note, I’m less interested in you observing her screaming, kicking, or crying. I’m more interested in your observation of what led to this behavior. Observe:
Sleep: did your child get enough sleep? My 3-year-old had a tantrum when we were in Disney World. That was not his typical behavior and was directly related to his not getting a nap. Take note of how your child responds to sleep deprivation.
Nutrition: How long has it been since your child ate? Could this be low blood sugar? I often see my husband being irritable when he’s hungry. Conversely, has your child had a lot of sugar? You may want to take note of any unusual foods eaten as well.
Change of routine: Did you do anything out of the ordinary in your schedule? For example, did you say no to something your child typically gets to enjoy? Have you just returned from vacation?
Interruption of fun: Did you demand that your child stop a fun activity or leave somewhere without giving adequate warning?
Too much input: Was your child around too many people, too much noise, or too many options?
Did someone or something keep your child from getting what he wants? Perhaps a younger sibling destroyed a Lego creation. Does your child have a physical or learning disability that makes achieving difficult? Did other children keep your child from playing?
This kind of observation can’t be done in a day. Keep good notes and you’ll likely discover a pattern to your child’s frustration. This is valuable information.
#2 Use your observations to avoid provoking frustration
We all get frustrated at times. We can’t avoid it completely, but we can certainly avoid provoking it unnecessarily. Let’s talk about being proactive in each of these areas.
Sleep: If your child is reactive to sleep deprivation, make regular bed and naptimes a priority. The fun of staying out late one night probably isn’t worth a hysterical child in your co-op the next day.
Nutrition: If your child reacts to low blood sugar, carry snacks with you and make sure your child has eaten before high-stress situations. If your child can’t handle a certain food or drink, look for an alternative that your child will enjoy.
Change of routine: Allow plenty of ease-in time when you are coming off a break. Don’t return to a full schedule immediately when your child doesn’t manage it well. Avoid unnecessary changes in routine and talk to your child about the necessary ones. Explain the change and give your child some choice in the change if at all possible. For example, if your preschooler is used to watching educational TV at a certain time and you know you won’t be home, explain that you will record the show and that she will be able to watch when you get home or after dinner — her choice.
Interruption of fun: Give your child more than one warning before ending the fun. Saying that you’ll be leaving a friend’s in 30 minutes and then 10 will help your child adjust.
Too much input: Avoid these situations for now. If they’re unavoidable, try to minimize them. For example, if you’re at a fun center, suggest that you spend time with your child in one area. Definitely avoid these situations if your child is already at risk for frustration. You don’t want to take a sleep-deprived, low-blood sugar child to an arcade.
Not getting what he wants: Make sure you address any physical concerns with your pediatrician. Difficulty seeing or hearing is frustrating. If frustration seems limited to certain subjects or skills, consider testing for learning disabilities. Many older children are relieved to know why certain work is so hard for them. If another child is interfering with your child’s fun, ask the parent to intervene or nicely intervene if the parent isn’t available. It’s very frustrating for a child not to have an advocate. If a specific social circle isn’t friendly, find a new one or join in the play with the kids to help your child fit in. You can imagine that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the kinds of things that can keep your child from getting what she wants.
#3 Prepare your child to encounter frustration
Once you’ve observed the situations that cause frustration and you’ve taken steps to avoid them, you’re ready to prepare a child to deal with the frustrations that are part of life. If you know your child is likely to be frustrated, tell him so. For example, “We are going to be playing at Joey’s house today and you know his little brother likes to play, too. One thing that might keep him from bothering you is to play with him first. He just wants to be included. After that, maybe you and Joey can play in Joey’s room and we’ll play with his brother. If he is bothering you, though, tell us right away, okay?”
Everyone copes better with challenging situations when they know what to expect. Be honest about the difficulties; don’t say things like, “It will be fine.” Rather, specifically state the kinds of things that may lead to frustration. Then affirm your belief in your child’s ability to cope. That leads me to step #4.
#4 Teach your child the signs of frustration
We expect our children to just know some things when they must be specifically taught. Most children who struggle with frustration management didn’t see the signs before their behavior was already out of control. The best way to do this is to talk about the physical signs you experience. These are some of my signs that may or may not apply to you. My shoulders get tense. I may hold them up closer to my ears and they feel tight and even sore. I may be frowning so much that I have a headache. My stomach may feel tight, too. As I get more frustrated, I start handling things roughly. I may pound the mouse on my desk or press hard with my pen.
Talk about the thinking signs of frustration that you experience. See if your child has these. I may think, “I can’t do it!”; “It’s not working”; “This is taking forever!”; “They’re driving me crazy!”.
Talk about the verbal signs of frustration and see if your child relates. I might raise my voice. I might ask people to leave me alone. I might tell people to be quiet. I may say, “Never mind!” or “You don’t understand.”
It’s a good idea to write down the specific signs of frustration your child has.
#5 Teach your child how to manage frustration
The best time to teach your child these skills is when he is not frustrated. He should be well rested and ready to learn.
Have your child imagine that she is starting to get frustrated. Use one of the situations you know is a trigger. She should close her eyes and picture it. She should notice the physical signs of frustration she would be likely to feel. Then have your child take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Have your child raise her shoulders to her ears and make the muscles as tight as possible, holding them there for several seconds. Then have her quickly drop her shoulders and let her arms hang like noodles at her side. Take another slow, deep breath in. Do the same thing with her forehead muscles. Have her lift her eyebrows toward her scalp and hold them there, making the forehead muscles tight. Then quickly drop the eyebrows. Take another slow, deep breath in.
Then ask your child for smart ways to manage frustration. Ask what she thinks of the following ideas if she doesn’t suggest them: taking a break; asking for help; praying; going outside.
Suggest new ways of thinking about the frustrating situation: “I can get help”; “I can do it with practice”; “It will be easier to do if I take a break”; “I can calm down if I walk away.”
Suggest new ways of verbalizing the frustration: “I can’t get this to work”; “I’m feeling frustrated”; “Can you help me?”; “Will you pray for me?”; “I need to be by myself for a while”; “I need a break.”
It may be frustrating for you to know that this training is going to require a lot of time. That leads me to step #6.
#6 Continue coaching your child in frustration management
When you notice the signs of frustration in your child (and you should be getting better at noticing them), you can intervene by noting your observations. Consider creating a stoplight sign. You would just put red, yellow, and green paper circles on a black piece of construction paper. Explain what you’re seeing and that it looks like your child is at a yellow level of frustration. Ask what your child needs to do to return to the green level. If your child is struggling, make a suggestion. You could suggest taking a deep breath, for example.
Another way to help your child notice the signs is to say what you’re seeing. “It looks like you’re having trouble getting this toy to work.” This is more helpful than saying, “You’re getting frustrated.” If you want to help, always get permission. Your child may be frustrated specifically because he wants to do it himself. If you fix it for him without permission, you’re likely to provoke a tantrum. Instead, ask, “Do you want me to help by holding this piece for you?” If the answer is no, you can continue to suggest options. “Do you think taking a break and coming back to it might help?” Do not take something away from the child in this situation. That will provoke him for sure. Always give your child the choice, unless there is danger involved.
I had a mother ask if she should allow her child to do what she wants or to set limits even if she knows it will provoke a tantrum. First, I recommend you listen to the episode on the #1 question homeschoolers ask me. Then your choice to do something that you know will frustrate your child depends on you. I’m not suggesting that we avoid ever making our children unhappy. That would be very poor parenting. But if you are highly stressed, haven’t had enough sleep, etc. and pulling your child off her favorite game means she will pitch a fit, I am all for avoiding a confrontation. However, this choice of giving in to your child cannot become a pattern. Children have to learn to manage frustration in order to survive and thrive.
You can succeed in teaching your child to manage frustration. Start by observing what provokes frustration. What have you noticed? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.
A good education is something we all want for our children. I believe that full-time homeschooling has been the best choice for my children. But I know many people for whom that is not an option. However, supplemental homeschooling is always an option for parents whose child is in public or private school. I want to explain what supplemental homeschooling is; why it matters; when you should do it; and finally, how to supplement a traditional education with homeschooling.
What is Supplemental Homeschooling?
I’ve been hearing more and more lately about hybrid homeschooling and that’s not supplemental homeschooling. I consider hybrid homeschooling any combination of homeschooling and traditional school during regular school hours. For example, I know people who send their child to a public school on certain days of the week or only in the afternoons. I know homeschoolers who are very happy with this arrangement. But I consider these types of schooling situations to be homeschooling and not traditional school. Supplemental homeschooling means you have your child in a traditional school, public or private, but you want to add to their education when they are not in school.
Why Should You Supplement Your Child’s Education with Homeschooling?
The advantages of homeschooling are clear. Not only can homeschooling produce a superior education with its focus on one-on-one tutoring, but it also builds strong relationships between parent and child. It can strengthen a child’s faith when parents provide an enriching spiritual education. It can strengthen sibling relationships, too. If you are new to the possibility of homeschooling, you’ll want to listen to the episode of The Homeschool Sanity Show called Homeschool Motivation on Demand. In it, I remind homeschoolers of the why of homeschooling.
You may wonder why I’m recommending supplemental homeschooling on a homeschool blog. There are two reasons. First, we all have friends who do not homeschool. Perhaps they can’t afford to give up one income in order to homeschool full-time. Perhaps one or more parents isn’t in favor of full-time homeschooling. Or perhaps one of your friends is just afraid to take the plunge into full-time homeschooling. Whatever the situation, we can suggest supplemental homeschooling and bless both our friends and their children with this amazing lifestyle. However, there is a second reason why supplemental homeschooling is an important topic to address. There may come a time when we send our children to a traditional school. That was the case for me. I did not expect to be sending my oldest son school, but we did. I was thankful that I had these ideas for adding to his traditional education. Even if you homeschool full-time, I think what I have to share will give you ideas for supplementing your child’s education in powerful ways.
When to Supplement a Child’s Education with Homeschooling
The most obvious time for supplemental homeschooling is during school breaks. There are substantial breaks over the Christmas holidays, spring, and summer. Another opportunity for supplemental homeschooling for some students is in the morning before school. Some traditional students have to be at school so early that this may not be an option, but for other families, it would be. Students have time in the afternoon and evenings as well. I was so surprised by how early my son came home from school. In fact, on Wednesdays, he was home very soon after lunch. Those afternoons and evenings are time available for supplemental homeschooling. The next obvious time available for supplemental homeschooling is on weekends. But I know what you’re thinking. Students in traditional school are busy. They tend to have homework and are involved in a number of activities. However, the suggestions that I have should not be overwhelming for a child in traditional school.
How to Supplement with Homeschooling
First, let’s talk about opportunities that would be perfect for longer breaks from school. The most obvious option, which many traditionally schooled kids also take advantage of, is field trips. Homeschoolers love field trips. We tend to take advantage of many of them including those that are a bit off the beaten path. We don’t just go to all the standard institutions of learning like the zoo and the science center, but we find interesting places to take our children to. If you are interested in supplemental homeschooling over a break, I recommend that you look up homeschool field trips in your area. No doubt homeschoolers near you have already put together a list of great field trip opportunities. A second aspect that makes a homeschooling field trip different than one your child might take in a traditional school is the preparation. There are wonderful materials available at some locations’ websites that you can download and work through before you take a trip. But more importantly, you can read a number of books before taking a field trip. In addition to the nonfiction books you would expect, read related fiction. Homeschoolers call such works “living books.” They teach in a more enjoyable and effective way. You can find a list of living books online for just about every topic. If you’re having trouble, request to join a homeschool group on Facebook and ask for tips. I have a safe group that you are welcome to join at HomeschoolScopes.tv. Homeschoolers also have amazing free field trip forms for your child to keep track of what they’ve learned on a field trip. Here’s a link to a free field trip form as well as to the Apologia field trip journal that you might be interested in purchasing.
During breaks from traditional school, you may also want to enroll your child in classes. Now, this is nothing new for traditionally schooled children to do. I’m not talking about the typical camps and after-school classes that kids tend to enroll in. Instead, I suggest using the opportunity to have friends or family members who have a skill in a particular area to teach that skill to your child. This is something that homeschoolers often take advantage of. We asked my father-in-law who was a businessman to share with our homeschool co-op how he got started in business. It was one of my favorite memories of teaching my children. He did such a great job. He passed out fake money to the kids that they had to use to pay their wholesalers for products and materials.
Another option for break time would be to enroll your child in a class that is really of interest to him or her. So instead of a traditional art camp, perhaps there is a class that teaches a particular technique. Homeschool support groups in your area are an excellent place to find information about teachers and classes that aren’t widely advertised.
A final way to supplement traditional schooling during break times is to have your child do a clerkship or internship. This means you would talk to someone who has a skill that your child wants to learn in depth. For example, if you have a child who loves photography and you happen to know a photographer, ask the photographer to spend some time teaching your child on the job. Again, this is something that traditionally schooling parents could do, but may not think of it the way that homeschoolers do. Read about how to teach to your child’s talent.
Aside from large breaks from school, what kind of supplemental homeschooling could you do in the mornings before school? This time of day is perfect for some Bible or character study. Reading a short family devotional, memorizing Scripture, or simply reading the Bible out loud together can enrich your child’s spiritual education. If you’re really short on time, you could have your child listen to an audio Bible or to a sermon online. Character Building for Families, Bible Gateway Audio, and Sermon Audio are some of my favorite resources.
But you’re more likely to have time to supplement your child’s education in the afternoon and evening. Of course, the problem with this time of day is that your child is likely to be tired and to have homework to do. However, this is a great time to supplement your child’s history and language arts education. To enrich your child’s history education, watch historical movies together in the evening. YouTube has an amazing number of short historical videos that you can watch as a family. I created a YouTube playlist of videos that go along with volume I of Mystery of History, a superb evening read aloud in its own right. (Note that some of the videos have been deleted since I created the playlists). That’s a great place to start. If you are interested in full-length movies that teach history, the book Learning with the Movies by Beth Holland is a great resource. You may be able to find these movies for free at the library or on Netflix.
The evenings are also the perfect time to read aloud. Whether you are reading historical biographies or Christian missionary stories like those from YWAM that my family has adored, or you simply choose to read a favorite book aloud, your children will be getting an excellent language arts, history, and even spiritual education in the evening. I created Grammar Galaxy to be a short story-based curriculum that takes just 10 minutes to read. The fun assignments can also be completed in about 10 minutes. If you have an elementary student who does not like to read or who struggles with language arts in school, Grammar Galaxy is a great solution that is perfectly suited to use in the evenings. Download a free lesson to try tonight.
The weekends are the perfect time to supplement your child’s education with science. Kids in traditional school want to spend time with their parents, even if they act like they don’t. Working on a chemistry experiment or robotics project together will be one of your child’s favorite memories. Homeschoolers have amazing resources for doing quick and easy science experiments that use materials you most likely have at home. You can also easily turn a weekend walk into an opportunity for science education. I did a podcast with Cindy West of Nature Explorers, talking about how to do that.
The weekends are also a perfect time to enrich your child’s cultural education. If there are plays or symphonies that are appropriate for children in your area, take them to see them. If you want to supplement your child’s experience of these plays or musical performances, you might watch related videos on YouTube or do some reading about the composer or play. If your child wants to see a movie that is based on the book, read the book first. As you’re driving during the weekend, take advantage of excellent audio materials. I reviewed some historical audio dramas on CD that I think your kids would love. You can learn a foreign language, memorize facts a la Classical Conversations, and much more.
Finally, weekends make an excellent time for service activities. Participate in activities through your church, community organization, or create your own. Have your children help you take care of an elderly neighbor’s lawn or stock shelves at a food pantry. These experiences not only build character but can be added to an older student’s resume leading to a potential scholarship.
What are you waiting for?
Supplemental homeschooling can make a huge difference in a child’s life and can strengthen family bonds as well. Please share this post on supplemental homeschooling with your traditionally schooling friends and keep this information available in the event that you send your child to school. Add some of these ideas to what you’re already doing if you homeschool full-time and you’ll be blessed.
Which of these ideas will you use first? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.
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What is the number one question I am asked by homeschoolers? You may think that it has something to do with socialization because that’s what non-homeschoolers love to ask us about. You may think it has something to do with mental health because I’m a psychologist. But you would be wrong.
To tell you the #1 question, I want to tell you a story about one of my dear homeschooling friends. She had just begun homeschooling when I met her and she was very discouraged. She told me she had spent hours preparing a lesson plan for her kids. Her daughter was doing just fine. Her son, the eldest, however, was not. I’m paraphrasing, but she said,
“I have a plan. but my son isn’t going along with my plan.”
I laughed really hard, but not because I didn’t feel for her. In fact, I had been there myself. So many homeschool moms get discouraged when their child isn’t cooperative, enthusiastic, or diligent when it comes to homeschooling. In fact, many moms tell me they are considering putting their kids in school because one or more of their kids isn’t loving school.
What did I tell my friend? What do I tell homeschool moms who have a similar question about reluctant students? There are two issues I address: One is personality and the other is parenting.
The Strong-Willed Personality
Let’s start with personality. What many homeschoolers don’t consider is the strong will that is required to homeschool. Even in today’s mainstream homeschooling culture, the choice to homeschool often requires a strong will. Preferences of extended family members may have to be rejected in order to homeschool. You are probably making an education choice that differs from your friends. The choice to stand alone and take your own path requires a strong will. Thus, we should not be surprised when one or more strong-willed parents has a son or daughter who is also strong willed. But what do I mean by the term ‘strong will’? These are individuals who are confident, ambitious, and determined to go their own way. They are often passionate about what they believe in. A wonderful example of a strong-willed person from the Bible is the apostle Paul. Strong-willed individuals usually believe they are right. Paul confronted Peter, certain that he was right about a doctrinal issue and Peter was wrong. Your strong-willed students will be happy to tell you why they are right about a homeschool or family issue. If we are strong willed ourselves, we may have high hopes (like my friend) that all our children will gleefully follow our plan. After all, we know we are right too, don’t we? Working with strong-willed children can be challenging and exhausting. But the truth is, our strong-willed children are leaders of the future. Once they have grasped the gospel and made a commitment to Jesus Christ, very little will dissuade them.
If you are dealing with a strong-willed child, you may be irritated by seeing traits that you yourself possess or that your spouse possesses. Work on seeing your child’s strong will as a blessing from God that He can use for His purposes. The Bible says that our children will make us proud when they face their enemies. Then, recognize how to work with a strong-willed personality. The temptation is to try to out will the strong-willed child. This is a recipe for disaster. A strong-willed child often needs to be reasoned with. “Because I said so” may gain your child’s obedience, but it will not gain your child’s heart. Explain your reasons for choosing a particular curriculum, a particular activity, or having a particular rule. If, as you are explaining, you realize that your argument is weak, say so and your strong-willed child’s respect for you will grow greatly.
The second approach to use with a strong-willed child is to give him or her control. This does not mean that we allow our child to dictate and it certainly doesn’t mean that we allow our child to be disrespectful. But we must give a strong-willed child as much latitude in decision-making for their lives as possible. For example, you may prefer that your child does math at precisely 10 AM. A better approach with a strong-willed child is to give him or her a list of chores and subjects to complete for the day. This allows your child to determine the best time to complete the work. Some of your children would much prefer to get up early and finish math ahead of time. Others will choose to complete it at the very last minute. The common thread is that your strong-willed child is in control. The older the child, you might give them a weekly to-do list, a monthly to do list, or even a quarterly to-do list.
When it comes to family rules, a strong-willed child wants to know that you respect him. Part of that respect means that you do not assume the worst choices on their part. Give your child responsibility and independence until such time as this child disappoints you. Even when mistakes are made, be careful to give your strong-willed child another opportunity.
Parenting the Strong-Willed Child
This leads me to the second part of my answer to parents who have a child who isn’t rubber-stamping their homeschool plans. That is parenting. More and more often I speak with parents who choose a passive parenting style or child-led home. I see kids telling their parents no, whining with good results, and even kicking them! You might think that my argument against passive parenting is at odds with what I just said about strong-willed children. But it does not. Imagine if you were a brand-new medical resident. You walked into the operating room for the first time and stood next to the surgeon who was supervising you. You asked the surgeon quite a number of times if you could participate in the surgery. You just wanted to hold the scalpel. You just wanted to make a cut or two. Imagine the surgeon growing weary of your requests and handing you the scalpel. Imagine he leaves the room, telling you that you would be doing the surgery alone. This is much like what happens in many homes today. Children ask for things that they simply aren’t prepared for or things that aren’t good for them. After much nagging, parents give in and abdicate their parental role. Like a new medical resident holding a scalpel, our children are terrified when this happens. These children will act out in more and more outrageous ways in an effort to get the parents to behave like parents. It’s as though they’re asking, “What do I have to do to get you to give me some boundaries?”
Children need boundaries and they require discipline in order to feel loved. The Bible says that he who loves his child is careful to discipline him. Children are very sensitive to the fact that if their parent does not discipline, they do not love him. I have talked with teens personally and professionally who have said this word-for-word. Does discipline have to be physical? Absolutely not. Does discipline have to be harsh? Absolutely not. But there must be consequences for misbehavior.
Let’s talk about what this means with respect to homeschool. Let’s say you have a strong-willed child who consistently says she doesn’t want to do school. Perhaps you have gotten worn down by this behavior. You imagined that your children would love homeschooling. You just knew that that fun curriculum you bought, the new class, or the computer program you bought would do the trick. Your children would stop complaining about school and they would bounce out of bed every morning, ready to take on learning. When that doesn’t happen you begin to get discouraged and also to question yourself. You wonder what is wrong with you and consider that you just aren’t cut out for homeschooling. The real issue is this. It is normal for children to push boundaries. This is what children do.
I have an adorable dog. She is a Coton de Tulare and she is so much fun to have around. She has a great life. However, given an open gate or front door, our sweet dog will escape every single time. This behavior does not mean that she does not love our family. It does not mean that we are doing something wrong in caring for her. It means she’s a dog and she is going to always seek more freedom. I can stretch this analogy even further by telling you that she is constantly challenging the rules that we have for her as well. If your children are challenging you, complaining, or otherwise resisting your homeschooling and parenting efforts, congratulations! You have normal kids. The question then becomes not what’s wrong with your children but what is your response?
There are two foolish choices to make when kids are challenging us. The first is to be passive. I could just surrender and allow my dog to run loose every time she gets out. The result will certainly be her death as she is not wise to the ways of cars. In a very real way, when we stop enforcing rules with our kids, the consequence will be death. I know examples of people who did not have any discipline and become either actively or passively suicidal. Passive parenting is dangerous. Your children can complain and they can question you, but they cannot be allowed to take over the surgery. Children must complete chores. Children must get an education. If your child doesn’t like a curriculum or a class, this does not mean that you cannot require them to complete it. You are well within your rights to do so. If you send your children to school, do you believe that your children can opt out of assignments or classes they don’t like? There will be consequences for those decisions in school. Good, healthy parenting simply means that we provide consequences for choices. Consequences are not only negative. Consequences are also positive. If your child finishes work early, she can have more free time. That’s a positive consequence. A negative consequence is not having free time if work is completed late.
A lie many passive parents believe is that there is simply nothing they can do to enforce their rules. Young children who are living in your home, eating your food, and requiring your transportation have no power to run your home unless you give it to them. I am absolutely not suggesting that passive parents switch gears and move to the opposite end of the parenting spectrum.
Let’s talk about that opposite end of the spectrum now. That is the authoritarian parenting approach. Many strong-willed parents use an authoritarian approach with strong-willed children. This approach is unlikely to go well. The authoritarian parent will often point to a passive child who complies with all of her demands as evidence that the strong-willed child ought to be doing likewise. The real danger is the parent can begin to think of the strong-willed child as evil or unlovable. They wonder if there is something characterologically wrong with the child. The child knows that this is the parent’s perspective and it’s devastating.
Authoritarian parenting is rules first, relationship last. Authoritarian parenting is like passive parenting in that both approaches are focused on the parent. The passive parent is focused on her own time, energy, and self-esteem and just gives up so as not to have to feel tired and discouraged anymore. The authoritarian parent is also focused on self. Compliance of the child makes the authoritarian parent feel good about herself and more powerful, something which is very important to her. But self-focused parenting, parenting that is not focused on love for the child first, is likely to breed anger, depression, and more conflict. The authoritarian parent is often overly concerned about what other parents think of their child. Fear that their child will not make them look good drives authoritarian parents to use ever greater punishments for what is perceived lack of compliance. Oftentimes what would have been dealt with using a reasonable consequence becomes a child acting out even more because of anger over the unjust consequence that was given.
How Would I Answer Your Question?
Do you wonder if I really say all this when parents ask me about their child’s behavior in homeschooling? No, I don’t. Instead, I ask questions about what is happening. I say things like, “I wonder if you…” and then suggest an alternate approach. I do believe there is hope for parents whose children refuse to rubberstamp their homeschooling plan. I believe that it begins with prayer. Even with people I know personally, I’m not in their home every day observing their behavior. I don’t know exactly what’s happening. That’s certainly true with you. I don’t know what the root of your problem is. Your child may have a physical, emotional, or educational challenge that complicates matters. Because I don’t know all of the details and the day to day, I have to send you to the best counselor I know. His name is Jesus. He doesn’t charge any fees but He does insist on complete honesty. He wants to lay bare your heart and show you where there has been fear and anger. But he doesn’t want to know this to shame you or to discourage you. Instead, he wants to show you a new way of relating to your child. Jesus modeled for us how to teach. And if you think your student is bad, read about His students! Ask God to show you how to relate to your child differently. Ask Him to show you if you have a strong will or if you’re relating to your child’s strong will as though it is a parent’s or spouse’s.
Ask Him to show you if you’re a passive parent. If you handed your child the scalpel and walked out of the operating room, confess it. Commit to being an authoritative parent–one who is firm but loving and flexible. Never allow your child to tell you that they will not do something. Never allow your child to disrespect you. You may wonder how your child can express themselves without being disrespectful. One of the best techniques I read about early on in my parenting is something called the wise appeal. If I tell my child that I want them to clean the bathroom and they are playing a game at the time, my child can say, “Mom, I know you want me to clean the bathroom, but would it be okay if I finished my game first?” The wise appeal acknowledges and respects the request that the parent has made but allows the child to make a respectful argument about when to comply with that request. If your children are not used to the wise appeal, you will have to remind them many times. This is child training. If your child says, “I don’t want to do math” or otherwise whines and complains, remind them to use the wise appeal. You may have to give them an example of what to say.
In the same way, ask the Lord if you have been an authoritarian parent. Consider how you have viewed God. So often authoritarian parents believe that we have an authoritarian God. In this view, God is much more concerned about performance than He is about our relationship with Him. This just isn’t the case. You may need time to heal your own hurts from childhood or your experience with your church in order to feel that you can be more grace-based as a parent. If you have been an authoritarian parent you may want to ask for your children’s forgiveness. Admit that you have been too concerned about appearances. That you wanted to look like the amazing homeschooler whose children jumped at their every command. This will be especially powerful for your strong-willed child to hear. Take time to listen to your child without interrupting if you have been guilty of authoritarian parenting. You may want to detox your home by doing some child-led learning for a time. You will get to know the heart of your child and isn’t that the greatest blessing of homeschooling?
There is so much more that I could say on this topic but I will end by saying that I believe there is hope for you, your child, and your homeschool. Sending your child to school will not change these issues. Humbly and prayerfully parenting your strong-willed child can.
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If your student is struggling, the solution may be in finding the right story to tell.
The Power of Story
Storytelling is the first and most powerful way of teaching. The ancient Greeks taught with stories. Jesus taught with stories. Marketers today teach with stories.
Stories arrest our attention when a speaker finally looks up from the script and gets personal. Stories inspire change in people and even whole cultures. Stories are memorable.
Some of the world’s greatest leaders were inspired by the biographical stories of men and women who went before them. Abraham Lincoln read George Washington’s biography. Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspired abolition of slavery. Stories have changed my life.
Years ago, a seminarian told our Bible class the story of a woman he met in South America. She lived in a tin shack near a garbage dump. The shack was filthy and crowded and was in proximity to a river of human waste. The woman had recently come to faith in Christ. But she was also dying. She had excruciating pain in the last stages of pancreatic cancer. The seminarian and his team asked what they could do for her. “Nothing,” she said, “I have Christ. What more do I need?” I was not able to retell this story without weeping for a long time. I have never forgotten it and her faith has never ceased to inspire me in my darkest moments.
My personal stories of wasting my education to homeschool and sending my homeschooled child to public school are two of the most popular posts on this blog. Stories resonate. They also teach.
I read stories from Mathematicians are People Too to inspire my children to learn math. I then successfully used Times Tales stories to teach my children their multiplication facts. Stories are much easier to remember than plain numbers. When I discovered Life of Fred curriculum, I utilized the power of story to teach my children more advanced mathematics.
I used the power of story to teach my children history. Homeschool history curriculum is often written in story format. But I extended the use of story to teach history with historical novels and biographies.
I even used the stories behind musicians and artwork to teach fine arts.
The Power of Story to Teach Language Arts
But one day a few years ago I realized something shocking. I wasn’t using the power of story to teach my children language arts. I certainly read to them. But literature terms, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and composition were divorced from story in our homeschool. We learned parts of speech by dissecting meaningless sentences. Even the rhymes and songs I used to aid memorization told no story. How had that happened? I didn’t know, but I knew the results of it.
When I pulled out our English materials, the children groaned, complained, and begged to skip the subject for the day. English was their least favorite subject. As an avid reader and writer who enjoys every aspect of language arts, this broke my heart. That’s when I had a crazy idea. What if I created my own language arts curriculum using story to teach the concepts? I share the story of not feeling qualified to write curriculum here.
I wanted a curriculum that would harness the power of emotion and not just repetition to aid retention. I noticed that the majority of the same grammar concepts are taught from first grade through twelfth grade! No wonder kids hated it. I wanted to tell funny stories that sometimes used language arts terms as characters. Kids couldn’t forget what a prefix was when Prefix was an evil programmer who introduced the re- virus into the computer system.
I wanted a curriculum that gave kids a powerful why. Textbooks merely defined terms and rules. I wanted to use story to show the results of not having books labeled fiction, of not having pronouns, and of not having adequate handwriting speed.
I wanted a curriculum that used story to make kids feel like participants in something bigger than themselves. I wanted them to see that the kids in the story struggled with reading and writing, too. I wanted them to see that by reading and completing short missions, they could defeat the Gremlin and save the English language.
This is what I wanted to accomplish, but I didn’t know the end of the story when I started writing Grammar Galaxy. I had no idea how it would be received.
Then I heard the story of a boy who was very unhappy learning language arts prior to receiving Grammar Galaxy. “He’s never hugged curriculum before,” his mom said.
Another mom wrote, “I really can’t say enough or put into adequate words just how much Grammar Galaxy has changed our entire homeschool experience. Other subjects like History, Science, Health, etc. have become so much easier to teach now that their reading ability and comprehension have improved. They actually ask to dress in their vests [that I made them] the minute they see the mission manuals come out and wish they could work in them every day.”
A mom wrote to tell me she had misplaced the storybook and had to buy another because her eldest was begging to do more missions. She said, “Thank you for your help and your program. You’ve made a subject that I hated as a kid into a weekly lesson through which we ALL giggle.”
Finally, a mother told me they started Mission 8 of Volume 1. “Let me tell you, it’s been fun, but my son lost his mind on this lesson! I have NEVER seen him laugh so hard during any lesson, for any subject since we started homeschooling. When the queen told Ellen, “I hate you” with tears in her eyes, he fell off his chair. He actually begged me to read the story to him again! I laughed equally hard at your instructions to try mixing up synonyms and antonyms at dinner (but to let your parents know what you are doing). Our 5-year-old was so offended when he told me dinner was just terrible! LOL You really did it. You truly made grammar fun. I didn’t think it was possible but you obviously deserve some kind of medal! THANK YOU!”
The second volume of Grammar Galaxy, Protostar, is now available and on sale. It is specifically written for third graders or students who have completed Nebula level or its equivalent. I would love to hear your child’s story of success in using it.
I had just met a woman in ministry when I told her that after I finished my Ph.D. in clinical psychology, I wanted to be a Christian psychologist.
“You can’t just be a Christian psychologist,” she said.
I tried to listen to what she said after that about qualifications and training, but I was stuck on that sentence. I was annoyed. How did she know? Why couldn’t I be a Christian psychologist if that’s what I wanted to do? What I felt called to do? At the same time, I was scared. When I entered graduate school, my classmates and I were stunned to learn all the requirements we had to fulfill in order to be practicing psychologists. Maybe this woman was right. I would have another whole list of requirements to meet to be a faith-based counselor.
When I finished my internship and graduated, I applied for a job with a Christian practice. I had to complete a questionnaire about my faith as part of my application. When I was interviewed, I worried that it would become apparent that I didn’t have the qualifications. I had earned my degree in a secular university. My father wasn’t a pastor. My family hadn’t even gone to church most of my life. Maybe he would say, “You can’t just be a Christian psychologist.”
To my surprise, he said nothing of the sort. I was hired and given my own office. Then I was scared again. I had never brought my faith into the counseling room. How would I do that? Fortunately, there were books on Christian counseling that I bought and read. I also had a Christian psychologist supervising me for my first year. But many times I found myself at a loss as to what to say or do with a client. I would say, “Let’s pray!” To my surprise, my clients were pleased with that idea.
Not Qualified to Be a Teacher
I was, in fact, able to just be a Christian psychologist. But that lesson didn’t stick with me. I struggled with it when I was hired to teach developmental psychology at the university. I had a Ph.D., but I had never taught students of any age before, let alone college students. I ordered the recommended textbook, did some of the things my professors had done to teach me, and came up with some of my own ideas. I had a good response from the students, ended up loving it, and my supervisor said he would be glad to hire me again. I quit teaching to have a baby, though, and faced a whole new round of qualification issues. I really didn’t think it was wise for the hospital to let me take the baby home. I hadn’t even done much babysitting!
I muddled my way through parenting the same way I had counseling and teaching. But when God called me to homeschool, I worried that I didn’t have the qualifications for that either. I had taught college students, but I had never taught anyone to read. What if I couldn’t do it? I had never taken an elementary education course. Once again, I managed to do it with reading and wisdom from others. I even began to feel qualified to teach my own children. In more than one discussion with people who asked about homeschooling, I was told that it was fine for me with a Ph.D. Other people, though, weren’t qualified to teach their children. I did what I could to educate them. “There are books, curricula, and support groups to help anyone homeschool,” I would say. And I believed it.
But when it came to me, I still believed that woman who said I couldn’t just be something. I had to be qualified. I had to be trained.
Not Qualified to Be a Homeschool Publisher
When I had the idea for writing my own language arts curriculum, I started off in the true spirit of homeschooling. I just jumped in and learned as I went along. I started writing the curriculum I’d always wanted to have for my kids. But as I came closer to finishing it, I got stuck. I made excuses. I quit working on it. I didn’t feel qualified.
I then had the opportunity to meet with a small group of homeschool publishers. I figured I could at least say that I was a blogger if I chickened out in admitting that I was writing curriculum. I met Charlene Notgrass, whose history curriculum I had used with my children. She was so warm that I decided to tell her what I was working on. I told her the concept behind it — that I would use story to teach language arts concepts and make them funny and memorable.
I expected her to ask me about my experience in writing fiction and curriculum. I expected her to ask me about my experience in homeschool publishing. I expected her to tell me what I needed to do before I ever thought of trying to publish. I expected her to say, “You can’t just be a homeschool publisher.”
How foolish of me. I recently read the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright in another history curriculum my kids have enjoyed, Mystery of History. The Wright brothers were high school dropouts. Apparently, no one told them that they couldn’t just be engineers, or they couldn’t just be inventors. Because that’s exactly what they were.
The heart of homeschooling is that we can just be our children’s teacher. Not only that, but our children can just be whatever God calls them to be. As the saying goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised when Charlene’s face lit up when I told her about my curriculum. She got her husband’s and others’ attention and told them about it, too. That encouragement gave me the extra confidence I needed to finish Grammar Galaxy. Charlene found me at the homeschool conference where I exhibited it for the first time and hugged me.
Taken the day the books arrived
That was just nine months ago. Since that time, many moms who have used Grammar Galaxy with their kids have told me their kids beg to use it every day. They’ve told me it’s changed their homeschools because now their kids love to read. They tell me they are using it to learn grammar themselves because it was not their strong suit.
I will be launching Volume 2 of Grammar Galaxy, specifically designed for 3rd graders or students who have completed Nebula (for beginning readers), on February 6th. I will offer special pricing on it and on bundles of volumes 1 and 2. Sign up to be reminded of the sale date.
I now believe I can just be a homeschool publisher. I also believe you can just be a home educator. I believe you can raise excellent readers and writers, even if you don’t think you can.
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