Challenging Kids and Schoolwork Meltdowns Part 2

Learning to accept mistakes and failure has been a LONG process for my dd. I mean YEARS of work. There’s nothing that I’ve done that was an automatic home run. It’s taken many many years to come as far as we have.

One thing I’ve had to model was my acceptance of my own mistakes. “Rats. I burnt our supper. That is so annoying. Ugh. (sigh) Okay. I guess we will have grilled cheese tonight. It’s okay!”

You see, my kid was constantly comparing herself to an adult who (in her eyes) always does everything right. However, she can’t see the years of practice it takes to get good at stuff. So verbalizing my own mistakes, and failures and modeling how to gracefully accept mistakes helps.

With regard to school, I had to change from the mindset of “doing it over and over” to “We’re a team. Let’s (me and you) work through this together and find the problem” I had to come alongside her and help her. Markerboards are great because if you mess up, the mistake is wiped away. However, I have to approach helping this daughter differently. Any expression of frustration, any irritability on my part, and emotion other than cheerful helpfulness (and it has to be genuine! She can spot my faking it!) just multiplies her emotional response to failure.

So, when we work together, I stop and check my mindset. Am I stressed? Am I annoyed that she’s whining or frustrated yet again? I’ve got to get that under control before I can be an effective teacher. It’s okay to say, “Sweetie, I am having a hard time today. I would love to help you but you deserve a teacher who can be patient with you and I’m just not there right now. Is there any way we can come back to this in an hour?”

Next, I try to reassure her. “Hey, this is hard. It’ll be okay. We can get through it.” Gentle hug on the shoulders. Help her take deep breaths. Remember it’s just ONE lesson on ONE day. “If we don’t get it today, we’ll try again tomorrow. No big deal.”

I often hand her a few chocolate chips or a peppermint to suck on as I look it over. Sometimes, especially if I am working with my other kids I say gently, “Hey, I know you don’t want to be interrupted, and I want to give you my full attention. Is there any way that you can move on to something else for a bit and we will tackle this with fresh eyes in an hour?”

So we sat down with a marker board. I tried to explain as best I could. I definitely tried to avoid “talking down” to her. Things went best when I could keep it on a peer-to-peer type tone to the explanation.(I know I am still the mom, I’m just explaining how things work best.)

For us, things went best when I could break stuff down into microbits and make sure she got one step down pat before we moved on to the next.

Also, in math, for very tricky concepts (especially word problems with fractions!) I tried to demonstrate it with small manageable whole numbers and then once the understanding was there, we tried to apply that to the complexity of fractions.

Remember, I’m a mess too. So often, I forgot to do all of the above and we had a huge breakdown that was partially caused by my being in a hurry or my own frustration.

Another thing that I wish I had done when my dd was younger was to be more in tune to age appropriate materials. See, she’s really really smart and just zipped through material in the first and second grade. By the time she was 8-9 years old she had the assumption that school was supposed to be easy. Then when the materials ramped up in complexity, she didn’t know how to handle it. Also, she probably sensed my own foolish pride at having a child who was working so far ahead of grade level.

I also didn’t take into account that materials written for the average 5-6 grader assume that the child has the maturity to sit down for  a longer, more strenuous lesson. The lessons had more problems with more complexity. When my 8 yo was given these same materials, she was frustrated because she didn’t have the EMOTIONAL maturity to sit down and concentrate that long on the subject. So I should have been more conscious of the fact that while she could understand the complexity of the topic, she was still very much 8 years old and she probably needed more than one day to tackle a typical lesson for an older kid.

Also, I’ve learned to very wisely choose my battles. As long as handwriting is legible and reasonably neat, I don’t say too much about it. As long as she’s doing her work well, she can work with classical music blaring. As long as she’s doing well, I don’t care if she’s slouched on the couch or sitting at the table.

These kids really need autonomy and respect. Giving her the freedom to choose how to learn certain things shows her that I respect that. And I try to phrase it in a way that says, “Hey, as long as it’s working, we’ll do it your way. If it stops working you and I will figure out a better way.” The key is to make sure that she’s in on the solution to finding that better way, rather than me dictating stuff to her.

Homeschooling an intense kid is not easy at all. However, it is possible. There are many ways to figure out how to make it work. These are just some suggestions that worked for us. If you’re a parent of an intense, easily frustrated child and you want to homeschool, it is possible.

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