Homeschool help for a defiant child

Photo Credit: MimWickett/RGBSTOCK.COM

Photo Credit: MimWickett/RGBSTOCK.COM

Homeschooling is enough of a challenge without engaging in a daily battle of wills.  

Maybe you are removing your child from school because of behavior problems. Maybe you are already homeschooling but your child has begun to exhibit a lack of control or rebellious behavior. Either way, you need to deal with serious character issues first before any learning can take place. 

I know, I know - you are thinking that if you don't jump right in with a full school schedule or keep up your current pace, your child will fall behind. I'm telling you that they will 'fall behind' anyway, because an unruly child is not learning anything except how often he can push your buttons.  

I'm not talking about a child who is wiggly or chatty or forgot to take out the trash on Tuesday. These habits may be annoying or distracting, but a certain amount of childishness from a child is normal. It may be your child is not defiant, but that you need to analyze and adjust your parental expectations.

My parents were great, but they had some hangups. One of them was food. Food did not go to waste, we weren't allowed to be picky, and we had to clean our plates. After all, there were starving kids in China who would just love a plate of steamed turnips and greens!

However, I had some texture issues, mostly stemming from repeated hospital visits where castor oil was often hidden in my drinks and food. It was years before I could drink orange juice without gagging. But my parents didn't realize what was happening and why, and I wasn't exactly Chatty Cathy when it came to discussing my feelings. So when I didn't want to eat or started retching at the dinner table, I was in Big Trouble.

I wasn't being defiant - there was a real, definable, resolvable problem, and it wasn't being recognized or addressed. The moral of the story - before you label your child as disobedient, make sure that is actually what is happening.

A habitually disobedient and defiant child is not a happy child. They are going to struggle to focus and retain information because they are in crisis - mental, emotional, spiritual - and academics can take a temporary back seat while you figure out what is at the root of the problem, and how best to minister to your child. 

A break from academics doesn't mean a child is not learning new concepts or exercising new skills. Children learn from their experiences, and during any break from your regular homeschool schedule, you can continue to give your children many opportunities to explore their abilities and pursue their interests. 

As a matter of fact, what you need to do right now is spend some time bonding with your child, creating connections that will build a bridge of trust and open communication. Field trips, picnics and park days, games, baking goodies - all are learning experiences, but more importantly, you and your child need to just be together for awhile.

homeschooling gives the gift of time

To begin to deal with character issues, start with the basics: 

Physical Health: It is amazing how many behavior problems are rooted in a lack of sleep, inadequate exercise, and poor nutrition/hydration. Some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation are confusion, clumsiness, irritability, short attention span, anxiety, depression, forgetfulness. . . Does that sound like your child? The average elementary age child needs 10-12 hours of sleep per night, and the average teen needs 8-9 hours. Before you decide your child is the Spawn of Satan, restart your routine and take into account the physical needs of your children. Begin a food journal to keep track of what they are eating. You might be surprised by the small amount of fruits and vegetables and fiber in their diet, as well as a lack of hydration. Take your child to the doctor for a physical, and have their vision and hearing checked as well. Some behavioral issues stem from illness, allergies, and other hidden physical problems.

Emotional Well-Being: Children are little bundles of instinct and impulse, and must be taught how to deal with their emotions. They not only need guidance, but good role models. Homeschooling gives you the gift of time, and the ability to counsel your child through life's difficulties. Ask your kids about what they are feeling and guide them to the source of those feelings. Help them see situations from other points of view and learn to empathize. Teach them to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their actions, and the feelings that come with those experiences. Sometimes the solution to coping with anxiety and stress is to go for a walk, jump on a trampoline, have a good cry, or belly laugh over a silly cartoon - these actions release endorphins, which trigger positive feelings and help your child relax.

Note: If you have issues with emotional self-control, it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to address your child's needs in this area. You might need to get help before you can help your kids.  

Spirituality: We all want to know our purpose. Where do we come from, and why are we here?  Children imagine what they will be when they grow up, and wonder how to find their place in the world. Families of different traditions and faiths need to discuss and answer these questions for their children in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs. Christian parents will address these questions from a Biblical perspective, which recognizes each person as being an image bearer of God. If we believe that we will all give an account of our lives before God, we must also believe in the authority of the individual. A child is not an extension of his/her parents, but is a unique person who must learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and seek out their own special path. We can't live their lives for them, we aren't responsible for their happiness, nor should they be expected to bear the responsibility for our happiness. These things are not caught, but taught, demonstrated, and lived out in our every day lives. Sometimes the source of a child's anger or distress stems from their need to be ministered to spiritually. Their inner self is not a separate entity, and needs to be nurtured along with their intellect.

Developmental Stages: Are you assigning your children developmentally appropriate tasks? Have you given them the necessary tools to do what you ask? Are you teaching them the proper way to do something before requiring them to not only accomplish a goal but meet your standards? Children become frustrated when they are given responsibilities without understanding the expectations, or being able to comply. Is their room messy with misplaced toys and clothing littering every surface? Perhaps you haven't taught them how to organize their belongings. Very small children can be taught to tidy their rooms, to sort items and put them away, even to help in the kitchen. But this requires an investment of time and energy on the part of the parent. Our method of teaching chores and various other tasks is to:

  • Demonstrate it.
  • Do it together.
  • Talk them through it.
  • Watch while they do it.
  • If they seem to have it under control, great. If not, lather, rinse, and repeat.

Much of this advice is really just about knowing your child, and to know them you must spend time with them and listen to them. Behavioral issues will not be resolved in a day or two. And we need to recognize our child as a whole person, not just someone into whom we must pour knowledge so they will do well on tests and won't embarrass us in public.

After you have begun to help your child or find help for them, then you will both have the time and energy to better address their academic needs. What's even better is that they will trust you to be their learning coach because of the relationship you've nurtured with them.

This is an issue in many homes, so you are not alone. Share your experiences and questions in the comments below.