Challenging Kids… Schoolwork Contracts

My oldest has a very strong personality. She is quite bright, and because of this in her early years of schooling became accustomed to not having to work very hard in school.

She is quite independent and hates being told what to do. She also struggles with handling frustration. Around the fourth or fifth grade when her schoolwork increased in difficulty and complexity, she really began to struggle.

It wasn’t the work, per se. It was the fact that she chafed at having to ask for help, didn’t want to listen to my instruction, and was just overall frustrated at not knowing something. Add in a little adolescent angst and hormones and our school days became a swirl of tears, screaming, slamming doors, throwing pencils, and sulking.

Sometimes I dealt with her emotional responses well, and other times, I didn’t handle well it at all. Punishments just dragged the day out longer and longer. Trying to talk through her meltdowns was a waste of time and often just ramped up the negative energy.

How did I handle it?

Well, most importantly, I go ahold of myself and my own emotions. I knew that I couldn’t address her out of control emotions and reactions if I was just as out of control as she was.

James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I could not help my daughter grow in self control if I was not doing the same. My own anger could not bring about the changes in my daughter that she needed.

I also began praying each morning that God would keep my emotions in check. I rehearsed how I was going to handle the inevitable breakdowns and how I would react when she began falling apart. Of course, I am a hot mess, so I failed many, many times, but God has made progress in my heart in this area. In the years since, I’ve learned better ways of dealing with her emotions as well as my own.

The Contract

Another key to managing this time period was our contract.

My daughter is a very black and white thinker. Ever since she was very small, her attitude has been, “If you didn’t tell me not to do it, I shouldn’t get in trouble for doing it.” So I needed to spell out for her what a good homeschooling session was going to look like.

At a moment when we were both completely calm, I gave her this contract for schoolwork. It looked something like this:

  1. Behave respectfully. (No disrespectful talk, no throwing things, no slamming books around, no tearing, throwing, or defacing school materials)
  2. Ask for help respectfully (“Mom, I’m having trouble” is acceptable. “This is stupid I hate it,” is not acceptable.)
  3. I won’t help someone with a bad attitude.
  4. I won’t help someone who doesn’t try. (In my daughter this was manifested in a string of sullen “I don’t know’s” when I would try to ask her a question to explain something)
  5. Any work that is sloppily or half-way done must be redone.

I explained to her that I enjoyed homeschooling her most of the time when her attitude was good. But when she allowed her feelings of frustration to overwhelm her common sense, she was making both of us miserable.

This contract spelled out how she needed to behave in school.  We posted it in a prominent place where we could both see it during school. By the way, it was very important that our contract was written down in black and white. If I didn’t write it down, we would end up in a ridiculous debate about what I said, what she heard, and what it meant.

It wasn’t a miraculous cure. But it did help. She needed to see what parts of her behavior were unacceptable.  I began allowing her to step away from the table for a few minutes if she needed a break from school to manage her frustration. However, she knew that she couldn’t move on to fun stuff (like screen time or pleasurable reading) until schoolwork was done.

Do you have a contract for school work? Do you use contracts for other things in your home with your kids? What do your contracts look like?



Photo credit: via Flikr

Homeschooling the….Challenging Child; Autonomy

Of my four kids, I have one that is rather…challenging.

She’s very bright, but she’s also opinionated. Sometimes that’s great, like when she’s with friends who may not be doing the right thing. Other times, it’s not so great, like when she disagrees with one of my parenting decisions.

She’s not the type to do anything the easy way. She’s not the type to mindlessly follow arbitrary rules. She’s strong, intelligent, and forthright.

Because of her bold personality, she is the most difficult child to parent that I have. she takes more parenting energy than my other three kids COMBINED!

I can’t wait to see what she does with her life, because it’s going to be amazing.

That is, if we don’t kill one another first.

You who have these bold, challenging kids know exactly what I mean.

I’ve read Dobson’s Strong-Willed Child three times.

The first two times, I cried.

I’d already tried everything in there and it just wasn’t working.

Many people tell me about their Challenging Children and I smile and tell them that I have been there.

One key to maintaining my sanity while homeschooling my oldest has been autonomy.

When parents wonder how they are ever going to homeschool this touchy, perfectionistic, bossy, intelligent child, I tell them that providing as much autonomy for their kids is key. Here are some tips about autonomy that may help you manage homeschooling these feisty kids.

  • Give your child as much autonomy as he can handle. My dd bristled at being told what to do, so I tried to help her be as autonomous as possible. I encouraged her to try to figure out things on her own. However, I still needed to grade papers and give feedback.
  • Assignment lists are good. She could tackle stuff in whatever order she wanted, she could school wherever she wanted, she could listen to music or whatever, as long as it was working.
  • I told her that she would only be granted as much autonomy as she could handle. So if working upstairs on the couch made her work so sloppy I couldn’t read it, then she’d be back at the table.
  • Make contracts in writing about neatness, timeliness, and corrections.
  • My strong personality kid would get frustrated if she wasn’t told ahead of time stuff like “If it’s not neat, you will redo it.” and it needed to be in writing so I’d have proof that it was told to her.
  • Use as much online/computer based stuff as you can. Using a virtual school has been a Godsend for our high school years. She also loved Teaching Textbooks for math before virtual school happened.

These kids are great kids. Sometimes that greatness does get lost under a facade of grumpiness, self-centeredness, and a seeming rebellious attitude, but eventually, most of them will come around.

If you are in the trenches with your challenging child, hang in there.

My challenging kid is 16 and I am just now beginning to see glimpses of what she is going to become.

It seems that more and more often I am seeing a lovely lady peeking out between the mouthy arguments and irritable nature.

Tiny glimpses of a real person are just beginning to unfold, like a tiny rosebud just opening up.

I can’t wait to see what the flower is going to look like.



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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