Get Your pretty On has not only changed the way I dress, but it has changed the way I think about myself and my life. That’s what this episode is all about. I’m going to help you make your homeschool a heck-yes. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the summer capsule wardrobe list that is available now. Check it out by going to Psychowith6.com/GYPO. If a seasonal wardrobe is not what you’re looking for, I highly recommend the Closet Staples list that you will find at the same link.
If it’s not a heck-yes, it’s a no.
One of Alison’s foundational principles in choosing clothing is if it’s not a heck-yes, it’s a no. It’s taken me nearly three years, but I finally determined warning signs that a piece of clothing is not a heck-yes for me. These are the seven signs.
It only looks good when I stand or sit a certain way.
It doesn’t look good in a selfie.
I keep messing with it.
I wish it was different in some way and keep looking for an alternative.
I keep wondering if it’s the wrong size, length, color, or style for me.
I don’t want to wear it right away.
I’m uncomfortable in it or relieved to take it off.
At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with homeschooling? It wasn’t long after I made my list of signs that an item wasn’t a heck-yes that I realized the concept applied to homeschooling and life.
How to make your curriculum a heck-yes.
Let’s start with curriculum, as I know many of you are on the hunt right now. The appearance aspects of heck-yes probably don’t apply, but I’m looking at sign #4. It applies to curriculum in a big way.
If you wish a curriculum was different in some way and you keep looking for an alternative, it’s not a heck-yes for you. It may be a heck-yes for all of your friends, but not for you. Don’t worry. I’m going to help ease the pain of admitting you made the wrong choice in a bit.
What about the style of your curriculum? Do you keep wondering if it’s the right one? Are you worried that it will be too dull or too time-intensive? Perhaps you plan to unschool without traditional curriculum and you’re worried about that. If you keep having these thoughts, the curriculum or homeschool style may not be a heck-yes for you.
Let’s move to the next sign it’s not a heck-yes: You aren’t excited to get started. Other things you have, you look forward to using. But not this one. It may not be a heck-yes.
Sign #7 for my clothing choices is that I’m uncomfortable in it or relieved to take it off. With curriculum, you need to try it out to be sure. Do a sample lesson if you haven’t purchased yet or get started if you have. Try a week of unschooling. Are you happy to be done with it? Does it feel uncomfortable? If so, it may not be a heck-yes.
I don’t mean to suggest that the right curriculum will be rainbows and unicorns every day. It won’t. I get tired of even the best pieces of clothing. But something my mom said to me years ago when I was dating Mr. Wrong in grad school came to mind with respect to clothing. I kept telling my mom we were working on the relationship. She said, “You shouldn’t have to work on the relationship from the beginning.”
My clothing choices shouldn’t be work to look and feel good from the get-go, and neither should your curriculum. It should feel smooth and comfortable. But what if you’re trying a whole new approach to homeschooling, you may ask. I can relate to that with clothing, too. It felt odd to wear mules and tops that required a strapless bra at first. That’s fine. But I shouldn’t be wishing these pieces were different and relieved to take them off. A new approach to teaching may be a heck-yes for you, but not if you can’t wait to finish using it.
How to cope with curriculum that isn’t a heck-yes
When I started using these rules with clothing, I felt awful at first. I had spent loads of time and money on things I couldn’t return. It was embarrassing honestly. But here’s how I felt better about it and how you can, too.
Second, I can donate things that aren’t heck-yeses. I love to thrift shop and get a thrill when I find something beautiful for a bargain. Giving my clothes away potentially gives another woman that experience. The same list gives you options for donating curriculum as well. What isn’t a heck-yes for you may well be for someone else.
Third, I recognize what I’ve learned. I don’t buy shirts with crew necks anymore, for example. You’ll know that certain types of curriculum just aren’t for you going forward–even if your friends love it. It will save you trememndous time, money, and regret.
By the way, not finding a heck-yes language arts curriculum is what drove me to create Grammar Galaxy. I wish I would have had it for all my kids, but I needed to learn before I could write it. You’re becoming an expert in what works for your family, too. The 7th-grade volume of Grammar Galaxy called Nova is now available. It is a review and expansion of the concepts taught in the first three volumes. It includes optional advanced writing projects with each unit. Find a complete sample to try at FunToLearnBooks.com/samples. I hope it is a heck-yes for you!
How to apply the heck-yes philosophy to the rest of your life.
We can have similar rules for determining when a relationship, schedule, or activity isn’t a heck-yes. I once had a friend who made me feel bad about myself every time I was with her. It was not a heck-yes friendship. If I never want to follow my schedule, it’s not a heck-yes and needs to be changed. And if an activity doesn’t make me happy after I’ve completed it, it’s not a heck-yes.
I even applied this heck-yes philosophy to my habits. Here are some that are not heck-yeses for me:
Checking email and social media in the morning.
Eating chocolate after meals.
Going to bed after 11 p.m.
I hope I have you thinking about what is and is not a heck-yes in your wardrobe, your curriculum, and your life. Even though it can be painful to recognize that you’ve invested time or money into something that doesn’t work, the lessons you learn can be invaluable. Have a happy homeschool week!
Before I tell you the lessons my mentor taught me, I have to tell you how we met. I was in the valley. It was 2019. My husband had had a stroke, dear friends and family members had been diagnosed with cancer, my kids had made some choices that made me feel like a failure, and the day before, my new puppy had died. I was at a volleyball match out of town and had just learned that the only mom I chatted with wasn’t going to be there.
I walked into the gym and the woman called me up to sit next to her and her husband. I knew that they had homeschooled their 11 children and that their youngest was on my daughter’s volleyball team. I noticed that she was always stylishly dressed, but that’s all I knew.
I don’t remember any of the small talk we made before she taught me my first lesson. It was this:
#1 God loves you.
Yep, it was the Sunday school mantra, the billboard cliche all the way. But she kept repeating it. “He loves you soooo much,” she said.
“Yeah, I know,” I thought. “I’m a Christian. I know He loves me. He sent His Son Jesus to die for me so I can live with Him eternally. Why is she telling me this?” That day I didn’t have an answer to that.
But months later I knew why she was saying it. With everything I’d experienced in the previous year, I doubted that God loved me. Sure, He loved me in an esoteric, this is what’s best for you, I’m the boss kind of way. But He couldn’t possibly love me like a daddy. Not the way things had been going.
He knew that’s what I was thinking. He knew I thought He didn’t care. And so He sent Sandy to say He loved me. And to keep saying it until I really heard it.
Since then I’ve realized that we homeschool moms are vulnerable to the lie that God doesn’t really love us. Subconsciously we so often think, “If you really loved me, you’d…” fill in the blank. But He does really love us and has already given us everything to prove it. He is working all things together for our good. Now I thank Him for having me in such a low place that I could really see the lie I was believing. I thank Him for arranging the circumstances that allowed me to meet a woman who would be a powerful and much-needed mentor.
Lesson #1 is God loves you.
Lesson #2 is your children are dirty, rotten sinners.
That seems a little harsh, doesn’t it? But that’s what Sandy said. And strangely enough, it’s what I needed to hear. I needed to know that despite all the Bible teaching, church going, and fervent prayer, that my kids were still sinners who would make mistakes. It pointed out another lie I was believing deep, deep down. I thought that if I did my job right that my children would do right. But that’s not necessarily the case, and we know it isn’t. I think we cling to this lie that homeschooling is a guarantee because it means we’re in control. Sad to say, we are not.
The way Sandy and her husband talked about their kids’ mistakes surprised me. They laughed , like they weren’t to blame at all. I was used to the veteran homeschoolers who believed that other people’s prodigals were always the parents’ responsibility. It was a sign of homeschooling gone wrong, of a failure in faith. I had bought into that thinking, despite the story of the prodigal son. There is no evidence that either the prodigal or the older, prideful son went wrong because of something the father did. And if we acknowledge that the father represents God in the story, how can we feel responsible for these dirty, rotten sinners? And that’s what they are. That was lesson #2.
Lesson #3 was like it. I’m a dirty, rotten sinner, too.
Sandy told me how her husband introduced her to Christ in college. Looking at her and her beautiful family, I assumed that she had done everything right after that day. But I was wrong. She told me about her selfishness and unhappiness in her marriage early on that had her wanting to leave. I was so surprised!
Even though I’m a psychologist who has heard people’s darkest secrets, I still assume that most people are better than I am. That means I have to hide and cover up my sin. It wouldn’t do for people to know how bad I really am. But Sandy knew without me telling her a thing because she knows how bad she is without Jesus. And it doesn’t make her want to quit. Not anymore. She knows that Jesus came for her while she was still a sinner. I know that, too, and want to stop hiding. Lesson #3 is I’m a dirty, rotten sinner too.
Lesson #4 is you need the Word of God.
When I met Sandy, I watched her flip through index cards of Scripture and meditate on them. At a volleyball match. That was after she and her husband told me that he read the Bible aloud to his family every morning and evening to the point that he had read the entire Bible dozens of times. I was in awe.
The two of them were so steeped in Scripture that as I spent more time with them, I found myself wanting their opinion on just about everything. I knew that there was no human teaching that could compare to knowing the Word of God that well.
I spoke with Sandy recently and we chatted about a loved one’s battle with anorexia. I explained that I saw this woman have a tiny sample bite of ice cream and then feel compelled to go for a long walk to burn off the calories. Later our conversation turned to my spiritual life. I said, “I always read the Bible, but lately I haven’t read as much.”
She said, “So you’re having small bites of the Scriptures and you’re trying to run a marathon on that.”
I said, “You’re saying I have biblical anorexia.”
She said, “No, you said that” and laughed.
Whoever said it, it’s true. Why, when I know that the Word of God provides so much peace and wisdom wouldn’t I be spending much time reading it? I made a change after our conversation and am seeking to read after each meal. It’s my spiritual food! And I feel refreshed after it. It isn’t legalistic but purely selfish. Lesson #4 is I need the Word of God.
Lesson #5 is to do my husband good all the days of my life.
I had only gotten to know Sandy and her husband for a couple of months when he had to cancel attending a volleyball tournament due to illness. We were shocked when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died two weeks later. Truthfully, I’m still shocked.
I have watched Sandy take on the role of widow in the Lord’s strength. I have listened to stories of how her husband loved her over the years, and I have been impressed with them both. But I was convicted when she said that she had prayed Proverbs 31:12, to be able to do her husband good all the days of his life. I had never prayed that prayer. I never even thought to pray that prayer. And here I am with the blessing of a husband who is still with me. How might my marriage change if I prayed this prayer? How might yours? Lesson #5 is to do my husband good all the days of my life.
Lesson #6 is there is still hope.
I saw Sandy have hope for her husband’s healing until his last breath. But I knew she would have that attitude. Here’s why.
Sandy has witnessed a mother’s worst fears realized. That’s why she could encourage me when I feared for my own and my friend’s children. She reminded me that God can use our children’s mistakes for His purposes–for their salvation and the salvation of others.
On that first day we met when she had no idea that I was fretting about my kids’ choices and their faith walk, she told me there is still hope for our children–no matter how old they are or how far off they are. Sandy didn’t profess a hope in homeschooling or good parenting but in God. When she is in doubt of what to say, she shares God’s Word with them. That’s what I will do here. Hebrews 10:23 assures us, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
If Sandy could sit with you, she would tell you that God loves you soooo much, despite the truth that you and your children are dirty, rotten sinners. She would tell you that you need more time in the Word to finish this race. She would encourage you to pray that you would do your husband good all the days of your life. And no matter what you and your children are facing, she would tell you there is still hope.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mistakes in homeschooling. One reason I have is because I’ve been talking with homeschooling moms at the Great Homeschool Conventions. They’ve been asking me about their mistakes.
Another reason I’ve been thinking about mistakes this because I see the end of my homeschooling years on the horizon. My youngest is a freshman this year, and it’s hard to believe we have just a little over three years remaining. I’ve been thinking about what if anything I would do differently in my homeschooling if I had the chance.
The third reason I’ve been thinking about mistakes is because I talk to many parents of perfectionistic kids – kids who take all day to get things just right.
So I thought I would address the whole topics of mistakes in homeschooling. Before I dive in, I want to mention the elementary language arts curriculum I’ve authored — Grammar Galaxy. It’s story-based, explaining what happens to literature, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and writing when the Gremlin tries to destroy the English language. Kids don’t complete boring workbooks. Instead, they complete missions as guardians of the galaxy, and put things back in order.
Grammar Galaxy is used by thousands of students across the country and even around the world. But I’m going to tell you a secret about it. It has mistakes in it. I call them Gremlins. It seems as quickly as I correct them, the Gremlin produces more to take their place. I can be a perfectionist and I found it very difficult to publish a curriculum, knowing it wasn’t perfect. But if I had waited for perfection, I wouldn’t have written a curriculum kids and parents alike enjoy. And I wouldn’t have been living my dream of writing these past five years.
With that context, I want to frame today’s topic of managing mistakes in terms of do’s and don’ts. First, three don’ts.
Overreacting is definitely something I have done in my homeschooling. I have put way too much emphasis on getting it right. When my kids have made mistakes, I have honestly freaked out at times. In fact, when I was crying about my college boys’ choices, one of them wisely said, “I really think this is the best time of your life to make mistakes.” I’m so glad my parents didn’t overreact to my bad choices. I think that’s because my parents’ generation didn’t think that their parenting or their kids’ choices were going to set the future in stone. That’s what the experts tell us today and it’s made homeschooling very challenging.
When my first child took the standard achievement test in sixth grade, I was concerned by his low math scores. My temptation was to think that I had failed him in teaching math and that there was little hope he would recover. I was tempted to overreact. Now I laugh at that because he went on to do honors math courses in high school, getting AP credit for advanced calculus. Even though I had serious concerns about his mistakes on the math portion of the SAT, I did not freak out. I did not get him a math tutor. I did not search for a whole new math curriculum. In fact, we kept using what we had. We don’t want to overreact to our kids’ mistakes because they do not determine the future.
The second don’t with mistakes is don’t blame yourself.
This don’t I have been guilty of for most of my years as a mom. Not only am I homeschooling mom who is supposed to be training her kids spiritually and educationally but I am a psychologist. I feel the pressure to produce good results. I know many people are watching. I am blessed that I do not have homeschool haters in my personal life to make that pressure even greater. Even so, I feel responsible for my kids’ academic and life performance. But I should not.
In fact, as I take responsibility for my kids’ mistakes, I teach them that they are not responsible. I encourage them to lay the blame at my feet. If I keep taking responsibility and my college son doesn’t study for his algebra test in college and gets a failing grade, I encourage him to complain about the algebra curriculum we used in our homeschool.
I have said this before and I’m going to keep saying it as a reminder for myself and for you: God does not hold us accountable for results. If our kids make mistakes willingly and in spite of our training and our rules, we are not responsible. Our kids (even at younger ages) have free will and will make mistakes. In fact, the more we try to keep our kids from making mistakes the more likely our strong-willed kids will make heaps of them. We are only responsible for training, coaching, and praying. The second don’t is don’t take responsibility for your kids’ mistakes.
The third don’t with mistakes is don’t give up.
Just because our child keeps making the same foolish mistakes with siblings or keeps getting long division problems wrong or keeps failing to capitalize the first letter of a sentence, we do not give up. Our kids are in a chrysalis in our home. Each day we fail to see them stretch their wings, we wonder if they would be better off if we cracked open that chrysalis and put them in school. We wonder if they need a different teacher. We wonder if we have a child who will just never get it.
Recently, a friend of mine asked me about a family member who was ready to give up on something big. She asked me for advice and I remembered the story of Florence Chadwick, who in 1952, decided to take on the challenge of swimming 26 miles between the California coastline and Catalina Island. After 15 hours of swimming, a thick fog settled in. Her team, including her mother, encouraged her to keep going even though she was exhausted. But after an hour, she called it quits. They pulled her into the boat. Later she learned she was just one mile away from Catalina Island. Had she known how close she was, she would have dug deep for the energy she needed to finish her race.
You and I can feel like the fog has settled over our homeschools. We don’t see the finish line. We don’t even see any progress. But we must keep swimming. Before we know it, we will have landed at the end and we will be grateful we persevered.
Now that we’ve covered the don’ts, let’s end with the do’s of addressing mistakes in your homeschool.
The first do is do see mistakes as progress.
It sounds cliché, but we really do learn more from our mistakes than we do when we get it right. In fact, learning isn’t getting lucky and doing it correctly the first time. Learning is pushing ourselves to the point where we make mistakes. That’s when new neural connections form in our brains. That’s when we have a new understanding of the process. And that’s when we realize we can’t do it in our own strength. We must turn to God in dependence on Him.
Thomas Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Making mistakes gets us closer to the right answer, the right choice, the right path. Michael Jordan said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
One of the best lessons we can teach our kids about mistakes is that they are forward progress.
The second do with respect to homeschool mistakes is to talk to your kids about your mistakes.
I’m not suggesting that you reveal all the bad judgment you had as a young person. That can come back to bite you. But I am suggesting that we talk about our mistakes and what we’ve learned from them.
I’ve never forgotten the story about one of my mother’s mistakes. She worked for a photographer as a teen. She was sorting professional portraits when my mother picked up a photo and asked her coworker if she had ever seen an uglier boy. Her coworker said, “That’s my brother.”
My mother could have said, “Don’t say unkind things” and the impact would have been minimal. But I remember the photo story.
We can talk about our struggles with particular school subjects and how we persevered. My kids know I had a hard time with long division, geometry, and personal finance–practically speaking. I think these struggles have made me a better, more empathic teacher.
We can use our mistakes as a powerful teaching tool with our kids.
The final do with respect to homeschooling mistakes is to teach kids how to correct their mistakes.
It’s a trap we all fall into of saying no and don’t without teaching the correct alternative. “Don’t talk to your brother that way” without saying, “Tell your brother what’s bothering you with the assertiveness formula.” We correct the worksheet without making sure our kids know why their answer is wrong. And we don’t give kids a chance to retest or rewrite. It’s in this process of practicing the right things that the most learning takes place.
One discipline strategy I used when my kids were younger was making them repeat the right behavior several times. So, they left items on the stairs as they went up? I would have them come back and take them up three times.
Use mistakes as an opportunity to teach kids the right way to do things.
I want to review the do’s and end with the don’ts. Do teach kids that mistakes are progress. Do discuss your own mistakes with them. Do teach kids the right behavior in response to mistakes. And don’t overreact or blame yourself for your kids’ mistakes. And most importantly, don’t give up–not because of mistakes anyway. Florence Chadwick would tell us to just keep swimming.
I’ve shared before that homeschooling wasn’t my original dream. I planned to work part-time as a psychologist and be home with my 2.5 children the rest of time, giving me plenty of time to write and speak. I knew God had called me to be a writer and speaker and it’s the main reason I wanted to finish my Ph.D. People have asked me if I miss counseling and I really don’t. As an extrovert, doing individual counseling wasn’t a good fit for me.
I was surprised when I felt God calling me to homeschool. I understood not practicing as a psychologist, but how could I have the time to write and speak if I was teaching my children full-time? I wrestled with the idea and ultimately decided that if God was calling me to all three paths, it was His responsibility to make it work.
Now, of course, I laugh about that as I speak and write ABOUT homeschooling. But I want to back up to my first experiences with homeschooling.
My first experience homeschooling.
When I read a book on homeschooling, I was impressed by the evidence that homeschooling provided a better education. Of course, I wanted my kids to have the best education possible, as every loving parent does.
I was also very impressed by the evidence that homeschooling gave kids better self-esteem. As someone who bore the scars of bullying, I loved the idea that my kids could feel good about themselves throughout their childhood.
Finally, I was impressed by stories of homeschooling resulting in better character. Homeschoolers were more likely to be mature, to be biblically minded, and have a work ethic that would lead to advancement in the activities of their choice.
I chose to obey the call of God and try homeschooling. I certainly wanted what was better for my kids. If you’ve followed me for any time, you know that my initial forays into teaching my preschooler were not successful. I had a preschooler, a toddler, and a baby, but I didn’t think teaching preschool could be that hard. I had a Ph.D. after all. I found a cute preschool curriculum to use and was excited about the fun we would have.
But day after day, I found that I hadn’t done any homeschooling at all. And it wasn’t because I was cleaning or freelance writing or doing volunteer work. My kids were clean and fed, but otherwise I had no idea what I’d done. Laundry would frequently have to be rewashed after getting musty in the washer after days left untouched. I stayed in my pajamas most days. And when my husband asked what was for dinner, I had no idea. He was not happy, but neither was I.
But discovering FLYLady and the power of routines changed everything. I finally understood how other homeschool moms could teach, clean, and cook while having little ones. My self-esteem improved dramatically. I wasn’t the lazy slob I mistook myself to be.
I was actually teaching my kids and enjoying it. The materials created by homeschool publishers made it so pleasant. I became active in a homeschool support group and began spending time with other homeschoolers. It was fun! I was living the homeschool dream. I knew life was better than it would have been if we’d sent the kids to school. But that’s when the terrors creeped in.
I didn’t understand why some of my Christian friends weren’t homeschooling. Why were they sending their kids to an expensive private school or worse yet, in my estimation, sending them to public school? Didn’t they want better for their kids? I preached about our superior education when I could, but I didn’t stay on my pedestal for long.
I learned that there were homeschoolers doing better than I was.
They read more books than we did. They kept records that were also scrapbooks and journals. They finished the entire book before the end of the school year. Their children could play musical instruments in kindergarten.
These homeschooling moms baked bread from grain they ground into flour. They gardened and farmed and cooked what they harvested. They sewed their children’s clothing. They built practical things with their kids. They painted. Some of them even had their kids programming computers!
They took their kids to swim lessons and chess club and bowling. They didn’t let their children play video games or watch television. They had their children memorize whole books of the Bible.
They were leaders in their support group and in church ministry. They wrote newsletters and later blogs. Some had successful businesses.
And it became obvious to me that I wasn’t as better as I thought.
I needed to do more to live the homeschool dream.
I redirected my frustration with non-homeschooling Christian parents to my kids. They weren’t motivated enough. They didn’t always obey the first time with a cheerful attitude. And sometimes they even complained about doing school! I discovered that one child was dumping clean laundry into the hamper just so he wouldn’t have to put it away. Another child wasn’t doing their math homework for weeks.
As angry as I thought I was at my kids, the real anger was directed inward. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I discipline my kids and myself better? Why couldn’t I get more done? Why weren’t my kids wowing people? Why wasn’t I?
I felt even worse after volunteering at an 8th-grade homeschool graduation. It seemed every graduate spoke multiple languages, played numerous instruments, had won statewide competitions, and already had their own business. My soon-to-be eighth grader had none of these accomplishments to speak of. Little did I know that the last bit of pride I had was about to go.
My oldest rebelled in the way he knew would hurt me most–in front of my homeschooling friends. He questioned everything I’d taught him. Most hurtful of all, he suggested that he would be moving away after school and wouldn’t see us much.
That’s when I realized that my homeschool dream was dead.
I wasn’t better. I wasn’t even okay. I was devastated and confused.
Now I am so thankful for the death of that dream. I have said that my oldest saved our homeschool. My homeschool dream was about being better when that is the antithesis of the gospel. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” And Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The irony of someone who had to be reluctantly called to homeschool believing that they were better than others who either didn’t homeschool or didn’t homeschool the way she did. The Lord not only humbled me but gave me compassion for parents who struggle with their educational choice, with their parenting, and with homeschooling in general.
You may have read about what I learned by sending my oldest son to public school. And as some of my children have become adults and made choices I didn’t like, I have learned more about my role as a Christian, homeschooling mom. My calling is to train my children in the way they should go, not to force them that way. After all, God doesn’t force us to obey. Instead He gives us wisdom, encouragement, and love that motivate us. I now understand that I am not accountable for my adult children’s choices or even my teens’ choices. I have freedom in that. That isn’t to say that I don’t give them feedback.
My dream was to be better and that died.
So what is my homeschool dream now?
To follow Jesus. I followed Him into this homeschooling lifestyle and then went my own way. Now I know that He has plans for me and my family that are good plans. These plans may not look like anyone else’s. We may not be using the same curriculum, attending the same classes, or participating in the same activities. We may not discipline the way an expert says to do it. But there is joy as we keep walking. When we stumble in going our own way, we ask forgivness, and get back on the path.
I am living the homeschool dream. It doesn’t make for a very good Instagram account because I’m not on a farm, reading dozens of books a week, or rehabbing a house. But my kids do things that amaze me. Every day is an adventure, just as it should be.
What about your dream? Is it to be better? Is it to keep up with someone else’s dream? Or is it following Jesus? One way to tell is with Matthew 11: 28-30. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” A misguided homeschool dream tends to become very, very hard.
Of course, living the dream requires diligence. We want to teach our kids well, discipline as needed, and maintain order. But when we are striving in our own strength for the wrong goal, we will be exhausted.
If anything I’ve shared has you thinking about getting organized or your anger in parenting, I encourage you to check out two classes available on my website FunToLearnBooks.com. And I want you to know that I’m praying for you. God will not leave you to live the homeschooling dream on your own.
One of the things I love about homeschooling is the opportunity to teach my kids things they wouldn’t learn in a traditional school. For example, I’ve done a podcast episode on how to teach kids to respond to others who are hurting or grieving. Today, I’m going to address how to help kids deal with difficult people.
I not only have professional experience in this area as a psychologist but also loads of personal experience. I haven’t enjoyed it at all, but I’m thankful that I can empathize with and counsel those who struggle to deal righteously with difficult people.
My talk on this topic at retreats has gotten excellent reviews. I do want to write a book on the subject when the Lord gives me a green light to do so. I have a different perspective on this topic than many Christian teachers do that comes from Scripture. In fact, I believe the traditional teaching on dealing with difficult people has caused considerable, unnecessary suffering.
Of course, I can’t tell you what to do in a particular relationship because I don’t know you or the situation. Even if I did, the fact is that people are unpredictable. And we simply don’t know what God has planned for your child and their difficult person. But I can share some biblical principles that I believe will serve your children well.
How do you define difficult person?
Before I share the principles, let’s discuss what it means to be a difficult person. We have all been difficult people by this definition. A difficult person is someone who repeatedly gets in the way of you achieving your goals. Let’s say your teen works at a restaurant and would like to move into a better-paying position. A difficult employee or even a frequent customer can get in the way of that goal by complaining about your teen or trying to one-up your teen.
A difficult person may be well-intentioned. She may not have any idea she is driving you crazy. In fact, this person may end up being a blessing at a later time. But a difficult person may also suffer from a mental illness or spiritual state that causes troubling behavior. In some cases, a difficult person poses a serious threat to others. God can also change this type of difficult person, but the way we approach them is different.
Principle #1 Get away from an abusive person if possible
That leads me to principle #1 for dealing with difficult people. If you can get away from an abusive person, do so. This notion runs counter to popular Christian advice. We are often told that we are to restore the relationship with such people if we are forgiving Christians. Yes, we are to turn the other cheek, but we don’t have to get close enough to let them have another slapfest at our expense.
In 1 Samuel, we read about David running from murderous, jealous Saul. In a scene where David doesn’t return evil for evil by sparing Saul’s life, Saul apologizes. David doesn’t hug him and return with him to “restore the relationship.” He travels far from him for his own safety. Yet David never stops caring about Saul and hoping he will obey the Lord. Jesus too avoids people who mean to do Him harm before His time. Like David, He never stopped loving those who persecuted him.
If you know someone is a threat to your mental or physical health, trust your gut. In David’s case, his friend Jonathan (Saul’s son) did not believe that his father would try to kill David. Only when his father tried to kill him too did he believe.
We all want to believe the best about people. So if you are dealing with someone who is abusive and dangerous, others may poo-poo your concerns. They may tell you that you need to forgive the person by restoring the relationship or meeting with them to talk things out. You don’t have to do that. In fact, in many cases, you are extending a kindness to someone by avoiding them. Saul was insanely jealous of David. Having David around made it worse. His absence allowed Saul to focus on the battles he was supposed to be fighting.
We want our kids to know that if they’re ever afraid of a difficult person and don’t know what to do, they should seek counsel. They should never agree to meet with an angry, controlling person alone. A college student from my neighborhood agreed to meet with her difficult ex-boyfriend by herself. He murdered her. We want our kids to understand that violence is unpredictable, but a history of verbal or physical abuse is a warning sign. They must pray for wisdom and protection.
Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not associate with a man given to anger or go with a hot-tempered man.”
Principle #2: Don’t believe who a difficult person says you are
A healthy individual will talk to you about something you said or did that was a problem. You’ll be allowed to respond, explain, apologize, and commit to changing in the future if the situation requires it. A healthy person will forgive and/or apologize for their part in the problem. The incident, if it is not serious, will be forgotten.
But individuals who are psychopathic or narcissistic like to use your behavior to define your image and worth. You are what you do, and the worst possible assumption is made about why you behave the way you do. Your child may be labeled by this type of difficult person and told that many others agree with the label.
Saul labeled David a traitor who needed to be killed. This label was given, despite the fact that David had been loyal and obedient to a tee.
Obviously this type of behavior from a difficult person goes hand in hand with abuse. But sometimes we don’t recognize it as abusive. This is because what a difficult person says taps into an insecurity we have.
Some difficult people may engage in what’s called gaslighting. Gaslighting may cause your child to question her identity and her understanding of reality. A gaslighting friend of your teen’s may consistently say that your child isn’t friendly and that other people think she’s stuck-up, for example. Because your child does battle shyness at times, it’s easy to accept the difficult person’s assessment.
What’s interesting is that these difficult people intentionally target the most conscientious people with their gaslighting. They know you will question yourself because you don’t want to treat others poorly. They know they can cripple you with guilt, unlike more confident people who would tell the difficult person to get lost.
The way out of the mess for our kids is for them to recognize that only God gets to tell them who they are. While in the flesh they are a sinner guilty of much worse than what they’re being accused of, in Christ they are righteous. Have them read and reflect on Scriptures that remind them that they are chosen, redeemed, and holy in the Lord’s eyes.
Then have them take the advice of pastor Michael Wells. Have them tell the difficult person that if they are as bad as he says, he would do well to stay far from them.
1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.“
Principle #3: Expect God to use the difficult person in your life for good
God had blessed David with many gifts. He was attractive, a superior warrior, a great writer, and even a skilled musician. Saul’s persecution humbled David and forced him to depend on God.
When our kids have to deal with difficult people, they will also grow in humility and faith. They will learn to choose supportive relationships and to establish healthy boundaries.
Rather than considering how we might retaliate or defend ourselves, we must ask how God is at work through our difficult person. When King David was on the run from his traitorous son, a man mocked him. David stopped his servant from harming the man, saying that God Himself may have been using the man’s words for good. When our children believe that God uses even difficult people for our good, they are truly free. They do not have to live in fear. Instead, they can ask God what lesson He is teaching them.
In some cases, God may call us to return kindness for evil to heap burning coals on our difficult person’s head. This is what David did for Saul in sparing his life.
Whether the Lord’s directive is for us to love or to leave a difficult person or both, we are always called to pray for difficult people. King Saul did not repent before he died. But there was another Saul in the Bible. The believers ran from him and rightly so be cause he sought to imprison them. He also approved of their execution.
But God changed that difficult person into the greatest evangelist the world has known. Saul, later known as Paul, authored most of the New Testament and established the Christian church throughout the Roman world.
The miraculous change in Paul’s life is not work that God has ceased doing. He is still in the business of transforming people through the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
If our children know three basic principles for dealing with difficult people, they will do well. First, they should avoid abusive people, if possible, and never meet alone with them. Second, they should build their identity on who God says they are in Christ, not on what difficult people say. And finally, they should know that God is using the difficult person in their lives for good. They must pray for difficult people as God directs.
I used to think my husband and kids were trying to drive me crazy. That’s before I understood personalities. You would think as a psychologist that I would know better, but I didn’t. Understanding basic concepts of personality can transform your homeschool and your other relationships, too.
There are a number of typologies that are popular now. You’ve likely heard of the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, or the DiSC. We can learn a lot about ourselves and the people we love with any of these typologies, but I don’t use them for simplicity’s sake. I can never remember what the acronyms and the numbers mean. If you’re a fan of the first two typologies, I can tell you that I’m an ENFP and a 7. I haven’t taken the DiSC.
Instead, I use an ancient typology made popular by Florence Littauer. The Eysenck Personality Inventory measures these types. You may have heard them described as animals by author Gary Smalley. There are four personality types that are easy to remember. There is the Sanguine (or the otter), the Choleric (or the lion), the Melancholy (or the beaver), and the Phlegmatic (or the golden retriever).
Simply knowing how social a personality is and its associated traits will not change your life. What changed mine is understanding what each personality wants most. So let’s start there.
The Sanguine personality or the otter (my primary type) wants to have fun. If life isn’t fun, the Sanguine will quit. The brand new curriculum was fun at first, but now it’s boring. She doesn’t want to do it and will likely “forget” to do it.
Fun is also social. Being sent to her room to clean isn’t fun. Cleaning with someone and being able to show off all the accummulated treasures is. Fun means talking. Sitting quietly to work is tolerable only for short periods. The Sanguine wants to discuss, dramatize, and experience the learning. You may want the Sanguine to be content to stay home and do their schoolwork, but this socialite will never be happy with that. Relationships recharge them, and they’re unlikely to be content without friends.
Fun is redecorating your room, not maintaining organization by hanging clothes up every day. Fun is setting up a new planner, not checking off your work day after day after day. You can try to shame a Sanguine into being serious, but it won’t work for long. In fact, Sanguines will avoid anyone who criticizes them, spending the majority of their time with those who sing their praises and make them laugh. Sanguines may change their ways to become more organized and disciplined, but it will likely be because they are earning people’s approval by doing so.
Because fun is what a Sanguine wants, you will have to work to deliver it. Introduce humor into the lessons. Change things up regularly, avoid traditional textbooks, and sign your student up for activities. Help your child clean, praise your child for progress, and avoid criticism.
The Choleric personality or the lion (my secondary type) wants control. If life isn’t under his control, he will be angry and rebel. Sometimes control means a desire to control others, but it always means a desire for self-control.
Control means achievement, but only in ways it matters most. The Choleric has control when he gets good grades but doesn’t waste time doing things that he thinks are unnecessary. Control means deciding when to do school and chores. It doesn’t mean following a schedule to the minute, especially when he gets older. Control also means deciding when to go to sleep. A Choleric will listen to your arguments about getting enough sleep and will make his own decision on bedtime based on his goals. If it’s important that he not be tired the next day, he may go to bed even earlier than you recommend.
The Choleric would like to teach more than be taught. He is social and wants to be respected for his contribution rather than being the subject of the empty praise that pleases the Sanguine. Winning a competition, making money, or achieving a rank is evidence of contribution.
Control for the Choleric means reading the books he wants to read, exploring philosophies outside of what he’s been taught, and asking people in authority challenging questions. He will not respect you if you aren’t ambitious and self-controlled as he is.
To homeschool a Choleric, you will have to choose your battles and then fight to win. A Choleric who can talk you out of anything will try to talk you out of everything, just to see if he can. Give your Choleric student control over curriculum and schedule within boundaries you set. Hand him this control; don’t wait for him to demand it.
Because it can be draining to deal with a Choleric’s desire for control, be conscious about communicating your love and respect for him. Make it clear that your love is not conditional on his agreeing with you. Affirm his strong will as a gift from God that can be used for His purposes.
The Melancholy or beaver personality wants perfection in herself and her environment. Without that perfection, the Melancholy may become depressed. Perfection means getting all the answers correct, arriving on time, and putting things in their place.
Many Melancholies are musical and will embrace the practice-makes-perfect philosophy. They are sensitive to jokes at their expense, but feel free to criticize Sanguines who do not embrace their desire for perfection.
The Melancholy, unlike the Sanguine and Choleric, is an introvert. She wants quality time with immediate family and a close friend or two. But she would prefer to avoid large groups and gatherings as they drain her. Solitary pursuits recharge her.
To homeschool a Melancholy, provide opportunities for completion, if not perfection. This student wants to finish the whole book. Allowing these students to go back and correct mistakes to earn 100% will please them.
Give your Melancholy student a sense of order. Leave earlier for appointments, devote a short time to cleaning up after projects, and give this student the chance to organize her room, your school space, and other parts of your home. But teach her to praise others for progress made instead of criticizing them.
Protect your Melancholy’s quiet time. Keep social requirements to a minimum. A small space of her own where belongings are undisturbed will also help improve her mood.
Finally, the Phlegmatic or golden retriever personality wants peace. He will work the hardest to avoid conflict. He does not want to argue with you, and he avoids making decisions for fear you’ll be unhappy with his choice. He is easygoing, likable, and unlikely to openly defy you. He is more likely to be passive aggressive and will claim to have forgotten what you asked him to do. Phlegmatics can be successful, but are attracted to easy work and careers that afford them lots of free time.
Like the Choleric, the Phlegmatic wants respect but in his case, in spite of a lack of ambition. Where the Choleric wants to climb the corporate ladder, the Phlegmatic looks forward to climbing onto the couch. Peace, for the Phlegmatic, means guilt-free leisure time. He wants to enjoy watching shows, playing video games, or reading for pleasure without criticism. He’s less concerned with the future than with the ease of the moment. However, if he enjoys something, he can be very committed to it.
Because he is so easygoing, it’s easy to ask him to do the lion’s share of the chores (pun intended). But avoid this habit as the Phlegmatic may eventually erupt out of the lack of respect paid to him and his thwarted desire to be left in peace.
Phlegmatics are unlikely to use the colorful language of the Sanguine to describe activities. The Sanguine will say that the class was amazing! The Phlegmatic is more likely to say things are fine or good without being negative.
To homeschool a Phlegmatic, use free time as a reward. Choose curriculum that is quick to complete with no busywork. Break long lessons up into shorter sessions to motivate him. Although the Phlegmatic is an introvert, he will work more diligently around others. Consider doing family schoolwork at set times, allowing your Phlegmatic the chance to do as he pleases with any extra time he has. A visual timer can be useful for Phlegmatic students. Consider adjusting school hours for Phlegmatic teens who tend to like to sleep in.
Give your Phlegmatic student options. Ask which of three curricula he prefers, for example. Ask which of two excurricular activities he wants to pursue. Affirm that you don’t have a preference or the Phlegmatic will try to guess to please you.
Never shame a Phlegmatic for his desire to have free time as this attempt to motivate is likely to backfire. Instead, praise him for work well done and for his agreeableness. Express your confidence that God will use these character traits for His purposes.
To summarize, the Sanguine wants fun, the Choleric wants control, the Melancholy wants perfection, and the Phlegmatic wants peace. Now that I’ve explained how to homeschool each of these four personality types, I’m going to give you a quiz. These are things my kids have said or done. Which personality type are they?
My son spends hours learning new songs on the guitar.
My daughter made no progress on cleaning her messy room until a friend came over.
My son said his computer class was fine.
My son quickly became a leader and earned a pay raise at work.
You and your kids can be a combination of these personalities, but not the opposite pairings. You are not going to be a Sanguine/Melancholy or a Choleric/Phlegmatic.
If you are interested in learning more, I recommend the book Personality Plus for Parents by Florence Littauer.