Challenging Kids and Schoolwork Meltdowns Part 2

Learning to accept mistakes and failure has been a LONG process for my daughter . 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.

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 daughter 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 daughter 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.

Well Trained Mind Seminar—Slideshow Link

Today, I presented my seminar “Teaching ‘Ramona Quimby:’ Homeschooling the Intense Child.” I presented a slideshow along with my lecture. If you are interested, here is the link to it. I hope that the seminar went well. It’s hard to judge when you are presenting online whether or not you are boring people to death. I hope that it was somewhat helpful to those who are in the trenches with their intense, challenging, argumentative kids.

Hot Mess Comparing

She stood in my living room in her color coordinated outfit and fashionable pumps. Her nails were perfectly manicured and her hair just right.

We’d started out as young moms together. We both homeschooled for a time and when her girls made it to middle school age, she put them in the local Christian school and went back to work. She spoke about her business and how well it was going.

She wasn’t bragging. But I felt this twinge of ick deep in my soul.

I’d picked up her three kids from school for her and they’d spent the afternoon with my crew. My living room looked like seven children had run crazy in there. I was wearing a tattered pair of tennis shoes, ragged running shorts, and a T-shirt that I’d painted in. My ponytail by this time of day was sagging and what wasn’t caught back in a frizzled mass of hair clung to my neck and floated about my face.

I was totally a Hot Mess.

After my friend collected her children and left, I couldn’t shake the dissatisfaction that clung to my soul like soap scum on my bathtub.

It just didn’t seem fair. I served God just as well as my friend did. I work just as hard each day here at home. And yet, her life seemed so full of “glamour.” While she was meeting clients for lunch, I was settling arguments between my teen and middle schooler about who could have the last piece of leftover pizza from the fridge. While I was sitting at the table with a child wailing over a math test, she was getting her hair and nails done.

I was put out with God.

I envisioned a future like my friend’s.

I could quit homeschooling, enroll my kids in regular school, go to work, and not have the hassle that I dealt with each day. Someone else could be responsible for pounding algebra into my teen’s thick skull. All day long , my kids could dirty up someone else’s bathroom and track dirt in on someone else’s floor.

When I finally got done with my rant to God, he brought to mind a verse that I’d just found in my morning Bible study.

1 Corinthians 7:17 reads, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”

I had even underlined this verse in my Bible.

I was convicted.

God has called me to homeschool my four kids. Sometimes this means tears, and dirt, and frustration, but I am exactly where God wants me to be. There are beautiful moments, and there are crummy ones. But if I am to follow God, I need to have joy even when things are difficult, irritating, and messy.

I am sure my friend’s life is not a bed of roses. She has days when she’s tired. She has times when she is frustrated. I am sure she has days when her house is messy and her kids are tired and cranky.

It’s not that my life is better than hers. It’s that we both need to find contentment in the roles in which God has placed us.

It is not my job to walk her path. It is not her job to walk on my path.

Besides, when I really thought about it, I realized that I am not cut out for “lunching with clients.” I’m a homebody.

I’m not cut out for designer clothes and high heels. I prefer comfy jeans and slightly worn T-shirts that don’t get ruined when I’m out on the farm.

I don’t want to have to put on makeup every day and get my nails done.

I think God has put me exactly I need to be and I need to stop the stupid comparisons. He’s not called me to that. He’s called me to this.

And when it’s all said and done, His calling is the most Glorious Thing ever. Even when it’s clad in tattered shorts and beat up tennis shoes.

Choosing Your Homeschooling Style

Yesterday, I talked about the Best Way to Homeschool, and I had to clue you into the fact that there really is no best way to homeschool. Sadly, we have to muddle through and figure out what works for our families and our lifestyles.

However, the fun, exciting fact is this: When you tailor your homeschool style to your life, you will soon find that homeschooling is easier than you imagined.

Think of it this way: If you walk around in shoes all day long that are either a bit to tight or a smidgen too large, you may be able to get things done. But, you won’t get them done as efficiently as if you are wearing shoes that fit perfectly. Additionally, your shoes have to be appropriate for your activities. You wouldn’t wear ballet slippers to go for a jog, nor would you wear your Nikes to go ballroom dancing.

When your homeschool works well with your personality style and those of your kids, homeschooling comes a whole lot easier. You will be operating in the “Sweet Spot.” While you still will have to put in the hard work to make it happen, it will be easier to get motivated to get started when the core of your homeschool dove-tails with your own personal style.

One more thing…There’s a difference between homeschool methods and homeschool styles. Methods are closely related to curriculum choices. Some people use textbooks and others use literature based learning. Those are methods. Styles  can work with several different methods. Styles refer to how structured and scheduled you are, whether you prefer workbooks or hands-on learning, or whether you like artistic demonstrations of learning or tests.

Here are some common characteristics of people in general. Don’t forget that nobody falls strictly into each category. For instance, you may be creative, but never late to anything.  Additionally, with self discipline, you can improve your natural bent toward some of the negative parts of that personality style.

If you are a Type A personality, you may have some of the following characteristics in your life.  You may be driven, scheduled, and organized. You probably want things done exactly the right way and have little patience for nonsense. You may struggle with black and white thinking and flexibility.  You are probably a high-achiever with a competitive nature.

If you are a Type B, you may be a little less organized and have a greater tolerance for chaos in your home. You are able to keep the end in mind and you don’t get all stressed out over details. You may regularly lose your car keys or show up late for stuff.  You may struggle with procrastination and self-discipline.

Whatever kind of personality you have, you’ll need to choose a style that works well with your natural strengths.

If you are Type A, you probably want a homeschool plan that is well organized. You want a checklist so that you can make sure that you accomplished what you needed to for the day. You also need lists of materials to be gathered so that you can have things on hand that you need. You aren’t crazy about improvising, so it’s important to be prepared each day with all of the supplies, books, papers, and such that your kids will need for school.

Using a well-designed literature based program can be good for the Type A because it is laid out for you, but making sure that you have all of the books on your shelf before school starts will keep your stress-level low.  Textbooks are fairly good for Type A’s. However, if your child has already accomplished a skill and the textbook wants to repeat the instruction, this repetition can drive Type A’s bonkers. You hate skipping things, but you feel that the repetition is a waste of time. Learning flexibility is important for Type A’s.

Type B’s prefer less structured school days. They want to enjoy the learning process rather than rush through it to check off a box at the end of the day. Type B’s can feel constricted by a curriculum that is too scripted and too structured. However, Type B’s do need some sort of guideline to keep them from wandering too far afield. The kids of Type B homeschooling moms may learn lots about some subjects but never touch other equally important topics if Type B moms don’t have a long-term plan in place.

Notebooking and other crafty methods are excellent homeschooling styles for Type B moms. However, Type B’s need to keep in mind that their kids might not be as enthusiastic about project-based learning as the mom is.  Textbooks can work for Type B’s, but sometimes, they may feel that there is no time for the fun stuff if they tackle all of the textbook lessons.  Type B’s don’t mind improvising in a pinch, and they are great at finding creative, un-traditional ways for their kids to pick up a lacking skill.

Consider your personality type and that of your kids. When you are looking at curriculum, page through the teacher’s manual. See if you can get an estimate of how long each lesson will take. Read through the suggested projects and supplemental ideas and resources.  Read both positive and negative reviews online to get an idea of how the curriculum will work with your personality style. And once you finally buy something, don’t be afraid to tweak it to suit your style.


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