Do spelling lessons make your child want to throw her pencil across the room? Do tears seem to go hand-in-hand with learning to read? Are you walking on eggshells, wondering how the “dreaded” subject will go today?
When kids struggle, moms tend to blame themselves …
“I must not know how to teach this subject…maybe I shouldn’t be teaching!”
… or they blame their child …
” ‘She’s just lazy.’ ‘He doesn’t pay attention.’ ‘My children don’t apply themselves.’ “
It’s truly difficult to work with a child who just shuts down. Merry Marinello is a veteran homeschool mom and is part of our customer service team here at All About Learning Press. In this post, Merry offers 9 tips for dealing with tears and frustrations in your homeschool.
Stop and have a snack or eat some lunch, then sit down later and have a casual conversation. “So, I’ve noticed spelling really upsets you sometimes. Why is that?” Dig around until you find some of the frustration points, and don’t necessarily try to solve the problem right then—mainly listen and sympathize. “You’re right, that part of spelling is really hard.” During the course of your conversation, you might find out something that will help you address issues with your child in the future. He might make a comment about a particular curriculum that pushes him over the edge, or you may be able to get an understanding of what he thinks your expectations are. You might even learn something about how he views himself.
Ask him what would help when he gets frustrated. Sometimes my children weren’t sure what would help, so I would talk with them about a “self-control toolbox.” We all have frustrations, but how do we deal with them? How does Daddy deal with them? How does Mommy? I remember one day I was late for something and couldn’t find my car keys, and suddenly it clicked—I was modeling how to have a full-blown temper tantrum!
Yup, that’s me, having a full-blown temper tantrum.
Normally, I’m pretty calm and pleasant, but overwhelm me in a few ways, and there I was ranting and crying over lost car keys. (I laugh about it now!) So the self-control toolbox was a good reminder to me, too! Am I perfect? Nope. Are you perfect? Nope. Let’s not expect perfection from our children, either. Can we grow and learn to be more self-controlled? Absolutely—I started working on it and continue to do so.
Here are some of the toolbox items that worked for me: get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, go for a short walk, shoot some hoops for five minutes, lay down for five to ten minutes, ask for help, pray, and so on, and then we would come back to try again. A mini-tramp or regular trampoline would be good in this situation, too.
These activities let children burn off some adrenaline so that they can relax. My son would say he felt like punching something, so I suggested his pillow. But mostly I try to encourage my children toward exercise or appropriate chores—something they can use their muscles to do or something to accomplish. We tried jumping jacks and marching, too. I found marching to be particularly helpful, and any exercise that encourages right-left brain connection might also be useful.
Good examples could include swimming or music lessons, learning to ride a bike, learning to tie shoelaces, and so on. Try to find something that your child can relate to. Then give examples of things that you have to work hard at yourself. For example, I was recently trying to figure out how to change some things with my website, and I had to read some articles multiple times to even understand whether the “solution” applied to my situation! This type of example can be helpful for a child.
Some subjects can require multiple steps, and when a subject brings in new concepts, you might need to spend the first day or two reviewing previous concepts. Then, on the third day, you might be able to work through the new teaching. In the case of All About Spelling, some students may need explicit demonstrations of all ten new words after doing some review. Take time to help your student as much as needed. If you need to walk through every math problem with your child before he or she tries out a new algorithm, that’s okay. If reading is a struggle, find out why more than 60% of children in the United States struggle with learning to read1 2, and then see what you can do to help. Remember, children with learning disabilities are working ten times harder to accomplish less than those without disabilities. Sometimes it doesn’t look like work on the outside, so it’s good for us to try to remember that it is work for them.
If you can make the exercise seem “game-like” and not “test-like” for your child, it will really help. Some kids are such perfectionists that they hate for anyone to see them mess up—and when you combine that kind of trait with learning struggles or a disability, it’s a tough combination to work through. Sometimes you can head this off by clearly defining your expectations ahead of time.
See if those things could help your child–or maybe you’ll find things to work on yourself, as I did! Think of it as trying to find your child’s “reset button.” What will help your child reset when he or she feels out of control like this?
Spelling, math, and other tough subjects aren’t optional, but you can work together to find solutions. I told my kids that this meant that I would listen and make accommodations—and it also meant that they would try to learn self-control, be willing to try hard things, and try to communicate with me when things were too difficult.
We also provide free lifetime support for all our programs. If you hit a trouble spot, please don’t hesitate to email us, and we’ll help you come up with a solution. Some days are really rough. Hang in there!
If your kids (or you!) are experiencing tears and frustration over reading or spelling, be sure to check out the free e-book, “20 Best Tips for Teaching Reading and Spelling.”
1. nationsreportcard.gov. Accessed 12/4/2019
2. McFarland J., et al (2019). The Condition of Education 2019 (NCES 2019-144). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, page 91. Available: nces.ed.gov.