When your homeschooled child enters or will soon enter high school, their happiness becomes critical to ensuring the success of your homeschooling. Obviously, we can’t base all our choices on what will make our kids happy. But doing what we can to make the high school years enjoyable is an important way of expressing love for our children. Here are my top tips.
#1 Teach your child to experiment.
I don’t mean to do science; I mean to teach your child to have an experimental attitude about their education. Many older homeschoolers are ready to give up homeschooling because they’re dissatisfied with some aspect of the home education. It’s possible that going to school is the right choice for them. if you wonder, listen to the episode of The Homeschool Sanity Show on this topic. But it’s also possible that some experimenting is in order.
Would a different schedule help? Try it and have your student record their findings. How does the new schedule affect their mood, productivity, and feelings about homeschooling? My kids have a later rise time as a result of this experiment and I’m constantly pointing out that they would be getting up at 6 if they went to school.
Another experiment to try is a new format for learning. Have your student try independent study, learning along with you, online learning, a co-op, or outside classes. Last year my son did an online course that went very well for him. My boys have enjoyed taking dual enrollment classes, especially doing so with a homeschooled friend the same age. Next year we are going to use more independent study and we’ll try outside classes through a new homeschool co-op.
Experiment with new activities. Consider youth group, a homeschool sport/activity, a non-homeschool sport or activity, or a part-time job. One son began attending youth group and another started a part-time job last year and both have made them happier in their homeschooling. Though she is not in high school, my daughter enjoyed playing volleyball with junior high and high school homeschooled girls last year. This summer she will be on a local swim team.
Finally, experiment with studying new subjects. Choose an elective of interest, for example. The 7 Sisters Human Development course will be of great interest to my daughter and would be perfect to do with a group. I taught developmental psychology at the university and it was a packed course. (For a limited time, use code SANITY to take 20% off your purchase. Comment on or share this Facebook Live review for a chance to win a 7 Sisters course until June 6th, 2017.)
Choose an elective course in the area of your child’s talent. Listen to the podcast episode I did on talent education and read the post Vicki Tillman wrote on high school electives.
If you’re stuck for ideas, review a high school or college course catalog. Ask your student what he thinks sounds interesting and pursue a course on the topic.
The key to experimenting is to give the experiment a decent trial period. One or two days of curricula, class, or an activity isn’t a fair trial. Attitudes can change. I insist on a semester for most things. Even if my student is right that she hates a curriculum and that doesn’t change, we help our students develop character in the process. Relationships, jobs, and new endeavors often get off to a rocky start, but turn out to be a blessing. Students will also learn how to adjust to less than desirable circumstances. They can choose a positive attitude and learn to focus on what they like and ignore what they don’t. They can learn to make friends who make the experience more pleasant. They can learn to push themselves to a new level of achievement, despite not liking the instructor (hopefully that instructor isn’t you!). They can learn how to deal effectively with difficult people. They can learn to entertain themselves when bored.
Teaching your child to experiment with all of these variables in their homeschooling because it’s a critical life skill.
#2 Give appropriate freedom and responsibility
The second approach for keeping high schoolers happy is to give appropriate freedom and responsibility. Kids aren’t happy when they’re hemmed in too closely. As long as your child isn’t violating your trust with poor choices, you shouldn’t use your fear as an excuse to limit your child. One reason we’re afraid to give freedom is because we know what we did as teeens or what our spouse or friends did at this age. But your child isn’t you or your friends. He or she has had the benefit of being homeschooled by you. If your child has earned the right to attend a well-chaperoned party or dance, to take a dual-enrollment class, or to get a part-time job, let your child have the experience.
When I began homeschooling, the thought was we wanted to limit our teens’ exposure to these things, but I think that teaching was misguided. I think it’s important to have our kids try and potentially fail while we are still there to guide them. This is what leads to success in college and life. That doesn’t mean we don’t have discernment in choosing the freedoms and responsibilities we give. We should choose those opportunities that will encourage our child in his faith walk and expose him to people who share his values while also allowing him to meet those who don’t.
Provide plenty of coaching before giving more freedom and responsibility. Ask your daughter how she will respond if she witnesses underage drinking or drug use. What will she do if she makes a poor choice in this area? Does she know that you will not punish her if she calls you to come get her? It’s critical to communicate this. If she reports underage drinking, she has to know that you won’t keep her from attending all functions in the future. She has to know that if she does drink that you will come get her immediately to keep her safe. Of course, these discussions should also include the many natural consequences of poor choices. The more real-world examples you can provide, the better.
Talk with your child about the kinds of people he will meet in the workplace. Share your own experience. Talk about temptations. Discuss what you believe about dating. If your son or daughter is interested in dating, what will you say? What situations do you want your child to avoid and why? As you talk, affirm your child and your confidence in his ability to make good choices. Remind him of examples of his good decision making in the past.
But what if your child hasn’t earned freedom and responsibility because of poor choices? If your child has ADD, listen to the podcast episode on that topic. If your child is oppositional or defiant, listen to the episode on the #1 question homeschoolers ask me. Then read The Defiant Child by Dr. Douglas Riley. This is one of the best parenting books when it comes to managing misbehavior, even if your child doesn’t have an oppositional-defiant diagnosis.
#3 Assess your child’s mental health.
To keep your homeschooler happy, teach them to experiment with their homeschooling and activities, give them freedom and responsibility within a coaching framework, and assess your child’s mental health. Does your high schooler seem happy most of the time? If not, talk with your child about what they think is influencing their mood. Always consider hormones as a factor. Next, consider social skills. Students who social skills are lacking may suffer from loneliness and develop too much of a desire to play video games.
If you think your child may be depressed because they’re sleeping too much (or have insomnia), eating too much (or not enough), are unusually sad or irritable, or express hopelessness or significant negative self-esteem, seek a professional’s help. If you’re worried about attitudes toward your homeschooling, listen to the episode on working with professionals as a homeschooler. Even if you’re nervous, you owe it to your child to get help.
#4 Invest in the relationship.
Finally, to keep your high schooler happy, invest in the relationship. As your children get older, you will find you can spend less time actually teaching. You may find that you have even more time to yourself because your child is gone more. But this is not the time to let the realationship wither. Plan time to do a devotion together, enjoy a hobby together, or get coffee together. Let your child choose the activity. Chat with your high schooler the way you would with a good friend. Ask them how things are going, what they’re learning, what they’re interested in. Then reciprocate. Just as you know less about their lives, they know less about yours. You are building the foundation for a good relationship with your children when they are in college and adults living away from home.
Affirm your child. Praise her for the maturity you see. Envision a positive future for her. Tell her you can see that she’ll be a great mother, a caring teacher, or whatever will mean the most to her.
Make it clear that you are there to help your child overcome challenges. Explain that you will be there to help them deal with the dyslexia in college, to deal with difficult relationships, to manage money — whatever is a struggle for your child.
Pray for your child. Pray with him. Tell your children you’re praying for them. Ask for specific prayer requests. Give them a Scripture that applies to their circumstances. Of course, if you’re married, it’s important for both you and your spouse to invest in the relationship with your homeschooled high schooler.
It is possible to keep your homeschooler happy in high school. Even if you and your child decide that enrolling in high school is the best choice, many of these tips will be helpful.
Do you have other tips for keeping homeschoolers happy? Comment here or on Facebook.