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How to Handle Tears and Frustration in Your Homeschool

Teen frustrated with lessons

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.

Here’s Merry …

  1. Don’t be afraid to take a break when your child has reached a critical point.

    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.

  2. After listening to your child’s frustrations, open up dialogue with your child.

    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!

    Mom looking frustrated

    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.

  3. Fill your “self-control toolbox.”

    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.

  4. Discuss the idea that we all have things we’re good at and things we have to work at.

    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.

  5. Keep the funnel concept in mind.

    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.

  6. Try to be intuitive and “predict” problems before they occur.

    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.

  7. Think through what you do when you’re frustrated.

    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?

  8. Let your children know you’re on their side and that you’re working together.

    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.

  9. You may find additional help in our online Resource Center.

    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!

  10. Happy mother and daughter

    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.”

    Free report - '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.

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Grace Cockburn

says:

It can also help to prepare the child to expect to be frustrated, or to find something difficult or confusing. My guy (with severe dyslexia, and a whole collection of other diagnoses) is good at math, but we were heading into fractions, decimals and percents. I told him to expect to be confused at times, that it is confusing at first, and that’s okay. We’d just keep working on it until he wasn’t confused anymore. Has he been confused? Yes! Has he had a meltdown? No. When the temperature starts rising, I just say “Remember when I said you’d feel confused sometimes?” and he lets out something between a growl and a chuckle. We take a breather, have some chocolate, and come back.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a wonderful way to anticipate future frustration and prepare your child to deal with it, Grace! Thank you for sharing this. I love that you take a breather to get some chocolate especially!

lynne barrett

says:

Great article. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Lynne. Glad you liked it!

Debi

says:

I have a 3rd grader that hates math to begin with & now that multiplication has to be memorized now & starting division also she is losing it. I have tried games, breaks, rewards etc & nothing helps. It is very frustrating for both of us. She is an excellent student otherwise. Help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Debi,
For my children, I didn’t require them to memorize multiplication tables. Instead, I printed a blank multiplication chart (there are lots of options online) and let them spend two or three school days filling it out using manipulatives like blocks or whatever. Then they could use the chart they made for school as much as they want.

In time, they learned the multiplication facts through use and stopped using the chart because it was slower than just knowing the facts. But it did take a year, or a few years, for that to happen. Yet, every one of them learned the facts in time.

Here at All About Learning Press we specialize in reading and spelling, so you can take this approach to math memorization as non-expert advice. But it did worked very well for my children.

Ashley Wright

says:

Amazing blog!!! Thanks for sharing such great blog, this blog is really helpful.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Ashley!

Chris James

says:

Great read!! Thanks for sharing such a great blog, blog like these will surely help each and every homeschoolers in homeschooling their children in best way.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Chris!

Liz Duffy

says:

How do you deal with a bright child who finds the work too easy and feels like she’s being taught things she learned in Kindergarden She’s 7 and in second grade virtual learning Frustration and tears are daily

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

First, Liz, I recommend speaking with her teacher about this. While virtual learning is such a new and challenging teaching environment, teachers often have work, ideas, and recommendations on hand for bright students that are outpacing the rest of their class.

As much as possible, help your child by offering her additional challenges. If the math is easy, write out some harder problems for her. If the reading is too easy, get some more challenging books from the library.

Margi Rush

says:

Great tips! Thanks a bunch!

Rena

says:

Thank you for the encouragement! There have definitely been tears and tantrums at times in our homeschool. I really appreciate these ideas and will give them a try.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Rena! I think we all have experienced less than wonderful days in our homeschool journeys. Hang in there!

Sandra Hamiton

says:

Thank you for sharing some ideas that we can use in our children, we can also use some kindergarten books for them to develop.

Audrey

says:

Reading this blog really centered me and brought me back to a grounded place. I am really struggling with the teaching aspect of this new normal we are now in. Homeschooling is a battle here and when I ask the questions above, I find the answers are “I don’t know”, and a lot of frustration/temper tantrums. My almost 9 year old is a good student, but learning from home has been a real challenge and adjustment for us all. Thank you for this blog.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Audrey,
You’re welcome. I’m very happy that this was helpful for you.

Sometimes we forget that kids, just like us adults, are affected by change, uncertainty, and upheaval around us. It could be your child is finding learning at home so difficult right now because of everything else, not the learning itself.

If you need anything, even just to vent a little or someone to listen, let me know.

Audrey

says:

Thank you – If you could homeschool my child for me that would be even better…..LOL

Rebecka Christenson

says:

Wow! Thank you so much, Merry for your help! Really brilliant! I appreciate the encouragement sitting on this end trying to figure it all out.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rebecka,
I’ll let Merry know how much you appreciate this blog post!

Janet Belcher

says:

Thank you for your advice and for the reminder that our children watch how we handle things. We can all learn better self control.

Miranda

says:

Great article especially as we hit the exhaustion in the Spring

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Miranda,
In our home, we call them the “Mid-Year Doldrums”. One way I have successfully fought them is to add something new to our days this time a year, particularly something hands-on and fun. This year it was a new science book with lots of experiments, but some years it has been art projects, lapbooks, or musical instruments.

This is a great idea!

Barbara

says:

Thanks for sharing

Kimberly

says:

These are great tips! There have definiteley been tears during our school days over the years at certain times and it is great to have more tools to help diffuse those rough spots. Happy to report though that tears have never stemmed from doing spelling with AAS!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kimberly,
We are happy to hear that there have never been tears in your family from AAS!

Jodi

says:

Thanks for the great tips!

Barbara Quesenberry

says:

Thanks for the tips! These are very real struggles and part of homeschooling. I appreciate the ideas and encouragement.

Alpine Aupair

says:

These are great tips!

Sara

says:

Thanks for the free tips. Looking forward to trying a program to increase our success.

Lori

says:

Love these tips. Already implement some and happy to learn more!

Alicia

says:

Thanks for the tips! Spelling is hard and frustrating to us both!

Ashlea

says:

Thanks for the ideas!

Melodie

says:

I definitely need this program!

Cassie DiStefano

says:

Thanks! Great tips!

Learning should be enjoyable.

mia

says:

My son struggles with reading and can get frustrated, I am going to try the self control toolbox idea. Thanks.

Gale

says:

Very good tips. I often keep snacks on the table ready for when my child needs some “brain food.” (That’s what I say “Hey…seems like your brain needs some fuel. Lets have a snack and see if that helps.”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gale,
I like your “brain food” idea! However, I prefer to keep the snacks in the kitchen, as it is both a snack break and a get up from the table and move around break to get a bite to eat.

Christi

says:

Great tips! Thanks!

Diana Moxcey

says:

Great tips we can all benefit from!