There are two key relationships that can sabotage homeschool success. Your relationship with the child and the child’s relationship with learning. If either of these is in need of repair, the learning process is stunted.
So many questions brought by struggling homeschool parents to FB groups or support meetings come down to a problem with one or both of these relationships. The problem hides because we don’t think about these relationships when it comes to our kids’ learning routines. But without addressing these underlying problems it becomes impossible to move forward.
“The emotional bond between students and teacher - for better or worse - accounts for whether students learn.”Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? pg. 65
How do you know if your child has a bad relationship with learning?
Here are some signs that you need to stop everything and fix this.
- They cry when it is time for school work.
- They put random answers on worksheets or in workbooks. (Things so random you know they didn’t look at the question or try to think about it.)
- They say they hate you when you ask them to do anything that resembles learning.
- It takes them an hour to complete about 10 minutes of work.
- They say they are stupid or they hate themselves during lessons.
Look, every kid might try a few of the tricks above to see what kind of reaction they get out of the parent, or just because they are having a bad day or stressful year. But a child who consistently engages in any of the above behaviors needs to work on their relationship with learning. And that means that as mom and teacher, you need to teach your child how to do that.
A child with a great relationship with learning exhibits the following behaviors and attitudes the majority of the time.
- They take the time to think about questions before answering.
- They are curious.
- They complete work without getting emotionally upset.
- They are happy with their own brain.
- They know that with practice things that are hard will become easy.
Thinking is hard, but humans are built to enjoy the work of thinking. However, we only enjoy it within certain parameters. We enjoy thinking when there is a little challenge, but not too much. A teachers, we need to know our kids so well that we know what that just right amount of challenge is, and use this as our guide to decide what level of work, and how much work, is best for them to do.
But if the child’s relationship with learning is fundamentally broken, they will not be open to the learning process, even if we are picking just the right level and amount of work.
* New to homeschool parents may not know exactly what their child is capable of intellectually, and I want to assure you, that is okay. Spend a year teaching them and you will know.
If your child resists learning, you need to make a full stop and work of that problem. It has to have priority over all other problems. There are a lot of ways to solve the problem, and I will mention some ideas below, but ultimately, you also have to embrace your parental intuition because you know better than anyone else what can heal your child’s relationship with the learning process.
Homeschool success starts with a child who loves to learn.
How does the learning relationship get broken?
Oh, so many ways. Yes, we are all born curious. But the world seems to attack us with a million ways to squelch that curiosity. There are many things that seem like no big deal to adults that can be traumatic to a child. Here are some things a child can find torturous.
- Being forced to sit for long periods of time. (This goes against their natural wiring and is unhealthy for both their brain and body.)
- Being asked to do tasks they find difficult for too long. (How long can you concentrate on something that you are no good at, and just beginning to learn, before frustration takes over?)
- Being expected to utilize several different skills at the same time when they have not mastered any of those skills. (Connecting skills is a second step of learning. This error can be as simple as asking a first grader to write a paragraph. They have not mastered handwriting, composition, or spelling, yet we want them to use all these skills at the same time. It can be very overwhelming for them. Try to do three things at the same time that you are not very good at and you will soon come to understand your child’s frustration.)
- Being scolded for getting the wrong answer.
- Being assigned work that they are not ready for.
- Being talked down to or treated like they are dumb.
How do you go about repairing the relationship with learning?
The path to repairing any relationship includes spending time together, strengthening communication, and patience.
Spending time with learning
What this might look like in your home is taking a break from academic work. Learning is not about worksheets, workbooks, textbooks, or even video lectures. Those things are all tools that can be used to learn. But they are just tools. Learning is a much deeper process. When we learn we are rewiring our brain. Growing new neural connections. Learning shapes who we are now and who we become later. It changes us.
So spending more time with learning often means we put the school work away. We deschool. We read books that are interesting and fun. We get out into the world and go on little adventures. We take up new hobbies. We watch learning shows about topics we find fascinating.
I say we because you need to go on this journey with your child. Let them lead for a while, but be right there beside them to share their curiosity, be their guide (i.e. find the books or videos, or experiences that might enjoy, but don’t force feed them any of those things).
It is time to lay a feast before your child, instead of a curriculum. They need to get back into the habit of being a curious, positive, person. Their brian needs to get into the habit of wiring new neurons. To do this, you have to make the space for life learning, which is something that happens when a person wants to know more about something and that desire leads them into learning, doing, and knowing.
Okay, now you may be thinking I am just wacky because how can you communicate with a concept like learning. But just here me out. This is a part of your child’s inner communication. Because their relationship with learning is essentially a part of their relationship with their self. We all have self talk. We may tell ourselves good things, bad things, work ourselves into worry over nothing, or coach ourselves into calm when faced with a truly heartbreaking situation.
These are intrapersonal skills. If a kid is saying they are stupid and engaging in negative self talk, they need to be taught how to counter act that. They need you to talk with them about why they feel this way. They need both ideas and reminders about how they can be more kind to themselves. It is actually disrespectful to yourself, to call yourself stupid. Would it be ok to call someone else that? This is very important for interpersonal relationships too, because when people are rude and disrespectful to themselves, they will take that attitude and habit into their relationships with other people.
Another area that often needs to be talked about and cultivated is growth mindset. Growth mindset is the belief that when you spend time working on a skill you become better at it. This is not a concept that kids can learn overnight, but it is crucial to raising a life-long learner.
You can’t go from having a garbage relationship with someone one day, to being solidly connected the very next day. It takes time and effort to mend a relationship. That is just as true for intrapersonal relationships, like the one we have with learning, as it is of those we have with other people.
It takes time to change habits of negative self talk. It takes time to change negative beliefs a child may have about themselves. It takes a long time to develop a growth mindset, because it is not complete until a child gets good at something they used to be bad at, and remembers when they were still bad at it. They have to experience it before they can own it.
There is no magic wand to fix all these things. But insisting on continuing to do all the things that led the child into this negative relationship with learning will not turn anything around.
How do you know if your child has a poor relationship with you?
Now we come to the other relationship that can sabotage your homeschool. Your relationship with your child. Don’t worry, you don’t need a perfect relationship with your child, just a good one. If something is out of balance between you and your child, it will affect all aspects of your life together, including schoolwork and learning.
Some parents also take on a different persona when it’s time for schoolwork. This can be very confusing to a child, especially younger children. Try to be yourself. Learning is not business. It might be work, but it sticks better if it is play. And if learning is stressful, the higher part of the brain shuts down. And guess what? You kind of need that part working in order for learning to last.
How do you know if your relationship with your child is getting in the way of learning?
- Your child never does anything you tell them to
- Your child argues with you about every request you make (or whines at you)
- You don’t enjoy being with your child (Of course you need breaks. And sometimes a break is all you need to enjoy hanging out with them again.)
- Your child doesn’t want to spend time with you (They should ask you to do things with them like reading a book, playing a game, going for a swim or walk, watching a movie together ect.)
I’m sure there may be other things, but I think if you can get these basics in order, you will be able to teach your child without the relationship being an obstacle to learning.
I’m not going to tell you which parenting methodology to live by or what a perfect relationship with your kid looks like. Those things are for you to know. The point here is just to open our eyes to the idea that if our child never listens to us, why would that be different when we pull out a workbook? We need to work on teaching our child to listen and do. The workbook is irrelevant and often not the best training grounds for basic listening and respect.
If the child only refuses to do the workbook but listens to you the rest of the time. Then the problem is more likely rooted in their intrapersonal relationship with learning and that is the area you need to focus on.
Homeschool success starts by strengthening these relationships
So many parents give up homeschooling within the first year. And I think 90% of those who throw in towel so soon have one or both of these issues. The problem is that sending your kids back to school, without healing these relationships, will not fix anything. It will just distance you enough from the problem that you can more easily ignore it/live with it. But we shouldn’t be living with these things, we should be always striving to make them better.
Sometimes shifting our focus to fixing these relationships is all we need to do to find homeschool success. And whether or not you intend to continue on your homeschool journey, strengthening these relationships can be the difference between raising a kid who is a thriving learner or one who is just surviving the process of school.