Challenging Kids and Schoolwork Meltdowns!

One of the most difficult parts of homeschooling my intense child has been working around meltdowns related to schoolwork. It’s practically impossible to teach a child who is crying, screaming, or throwing things.

Intense kids have very low tolerances for frustration, and this means that the instant something is difficult, they may fall apart. Some kids may lash out in anger, while others melt into a puddle of tears. Either way, you can’t make progress on your lessons when the second that something is challenging, your child melts down.

For many years, I was unsure how to handle these events. I tried punishing her. I tried making her redo shredded or wadded up papers. I tried being slow, calm, and patient, which only seemed to infuriate her more.

Eventually, I had to start considering things from my daughter’s point of view and I began to understand some things about her.

I had to realize that my dd has insane expectations of herself.  She is totally a perfectionist and totally can’t accept failures and faults. She believes that she should instantly know everything that she doesn’t. She bristles at the idea that parents might know more than her.

You can call it arrogance or whatever, I think it’s mostly immaturity. Remember when as a teen you thought that your parents were ignorant? You didn’t understand about life and the real world. You didn’t respect that they had experiences that you didn’t.

All that to say this: I took the mouthy argumentativeness way too personally. Most of her problems with school stemmed from her immature inability to accept help and her own limitations. Of course, she WAS being rude, but by thinking about her mindset, her terrible expectations, I could see that she was expecting WAY more of herself academically than I EVER could. That’s why “being right” or being unable to gracefully accept correction became such an issue. She took those red Xs on the page completely  personally. She saw them as a personal attack on her intelligence.

My fussing and fuming over her rudeness and arrogance was missing the point. I had to find a way to help her see that failure isn’t the end of the world. That asking for help wasn’t a failure. That she was valuable and loved even with flaws.

Now stay with me here. I’m not into that parenting paradigm that says, “Nothing is a child’s fault. If they feel loved and accepted they will not behave badly. Bad parenting is the only reason that kids struggle.” I promise that is not what I am saying.

But the point that I am trying to make is that unless I could look deeper and get to the root of why she was so hard on herself and why she had such dreadful expectations, I could expect the melt-downs to continue. If I could help her understand more about the learning process, the struggle to get things right, and that naturally some things are going to be hard, she might eventually be able to not take failure and struggle so personally.

I can gripe at my dd for being rude and arrogant, but until she grows into the realization that her value is not related to her academic success, I’m fighting a losing battle. She will still react badly to failure until she gains the maturity and insight and the confidence that she’s going to be okay even if she screws up.

I’ve had to try to stop punishing and isolating her for poor reactions due to this. Instead, I try to be proactive and change the way that we do school to help her gently accept correction. I’ve learned that traditional school methods (marking things wrong and expecting the child to correct them or redo them until it’s right) will just lead to her feeling more down on herself. She interprets them as a personal attack. I’ve had better success changing the way that I approach schoolwork and corrections and asking for help.

Even when an intense kids seems old enough to be able to tackle lessons on their own, I learned that things went better when I sat with my daughter as she worked on difficult lessons. I could keep an eye on her progress and her mental state. If she seemed to be getting worked up, we could tackle the problem together before the meltdown hit.

I also had to be super careful not to get frustrated or act bothered by her requests for assistance. If I could keep it together, we stood a better chance of getting through the snag without falling apart.

I’ll go on to part 2 with some concrete examples and more practical advice on school work meltdowns in a day or two.

 

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