345 | Homeschooling a Difficult Child (Jessica Smartt)
We all go through stages where we struggle with a particular child. Or perhaps you are wondering, could I homeschool with this particular child? This episode is packed with tips, encouragement, and resources for building a healthy atmosphere in your homeschool and home!
Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.
Homeschool Bootcamp by Jessica Smartt
Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types by David Keirsey
Navigating Personality Differences at Home by Focus on the Family
Wheel of Fortunate Behavior Reward System by Jessica Smartt
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
Memory-Making Mom: Building Traditions That Breathe Life Into Your Home by Jessica Smartt
Let Them Be Kids: Adventure, Boredom, Innocence, and Other Gifts Children Need by Jessica Smartt
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Jessica Smartt Hey, everybody. Welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jessica Smartt and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. Each week we bring you an encouraging conversation from this blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we do not pretend to have all the answers. It is our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ and that you seek His counsel as you're raising your kids. We are so glad you've joined us for today's conversation.
Hey, everybody. I hope you're doing well today. I'm Jessica Smartt. And today on the podcast, we're going to be chatting about homeschooling a difficult child. And this is sort of a random compilation of thoughts on the subject. But I've learned a lot in the last few years in particular on this subject and have some really—I think—helpful tools for you all. So I'm excited to jump in with that.
Before I do that, I want to remind you about my very hot-off-the-press first course that I've produced, and it's now released. It is a video series course called Homeschool Bootcamp. And here are some questions you might ask yourself to see if it's right for you: are you considering homeschooling? Excited to homeschool but need an older, wiser friend to walk alongside you? Are you a struggling with balancing homeschooling with your other roles? Are you overwhelmed with curriculum options out there? Are you suffering from homeschool burnout and needing a reset? The Homeschool Bootcamp is geared towards a new mom homeschooling or also someone who just wants to reconfigure some things they're doing and get some direction. And I've priced it really reasonably, I think. And so for a limited time it is discounted. I'm going to throw the link in the show notes, so go check that out and let me know if you have any questions for that.
As we get started today, I do want to do a disclaimer—homeschooling a difficult child—because any of my kids who are going to listen to this podcast, which let's be honest, probably none of them, zero them are ever going to go listen to mom's homeschool podcast. But if they are, I'm not talking about a specific child. Okay? I have learned tips and tricks dealing with each of my kids. But I think one thing that I want to say just straight out of the gate is—and this is one thing I realized—I realized I had to redefine what a "difficult" child is because I think that—for a long time—if someone was frustrating to me, I was assuming that they were being difficult. And this is probably a little bit of lack of maturity on my part. But recently I have come to realize that a lot of the times I think that that was just due to some personality differences.
And I have learned a lot about my particular kids and how they're wired and also how I'm wired. And I think one big giant step is to realize that they may not be seeing life the way that you do, but that doesn't mean that they're doing anything wrong. They may not choose to go about a task in the same way that you do, but that doesn't mean that they're being difficult. They're just being themselves. And so I think for us, the step that is really helpful is to, first of all, really understand each of your kids and just try to see how they are wired and what makes them tick.
And there are some really helpful tools that have shed a lot of light on this for me. I'm going to just list a few. I attended a seminar at the Great Homeschool Convention last spring on personality types put out by Focus on the Family. And I believe this is just sort of a rebranding of the four letters, but they do a little seminar on the four types that you can have: talker, leader, thinker, and peacemaker. And they also have some charts and stuff you can download. We sort of chatted about it on a road trip as a family, and it was kind of cool to see just who was alike in the family and who was different. And as I read about some of my kids, I realized that some of the ways that they are not like me are some of the most frustrating things in our homeschool day. And it was honestly a little bit convicting because our job is not to make a bunch of mini mes. Our job is to mold our own children in the ways that God has gifted them.
And so step one is who are they and how has God made them to click? And so then to make them help become the best version that they can be on their own and with the Lord's help. So I'll list that little resource in the show notes, and then I will also list a book that I read years and years ago that I think is super helpful. It's called Please Understand Me, and it goes into the 16 Myers-Briggs personalities. And as you read— obviously personalities can change. And we don't want to type cast our kids into a certain role. But you can certainly see trends and places where your kids seem to commonly display behaviors.
And so the first step— not like this is a step-by-step talk here; it's really more of just a bunch of different observations. But I really do think, for me, I had to repent a little bit and acknowledge that some things I was being really hard on my kids for, they were just being themselves. And so that's the first step is just understanding who they are and that a lot of the conflict we have in our day to day is just due to personality types rubbing up against each other. And that happens. Now. At the same time, God has given us each other for a reason and you do need to learn how to function in a group. And if we are seeing a weakness in our kids, God has likely gifted us in ways that we can help them to compensate for that and to make the changes that they need to be the best version of themselves.
And this is a completely opposite end observation, but I don't know if you guys have read Jordan Peterson. I'm a little bit obsessed right this minute with Jordan Peterson. And in one of his two books— and I can't remember which one. One of the rules books. He has like 12 rules and then 12 more rules. But I'll figure it out and link it. One of the chapters is called Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything Which Annoys You. Super intriguing title for this like psychologist, basically. He always links— he has all these philosophy, mythology. He's very deep thinker.
But then there's this chapter on Don't Let Your Kids Do Anything Which Annoys You. And he goes on to say— I'm going to totally like summarize this, break it down. But the basic point is if you who love your kids so much are annoyed with them, imagine how society will feel towards those behaviors as people who don't have that parental warmth and bond. And he furthermore says it's our responsibility to help our kids work through these difficult behaviors before society will eat them up and take them apart for all of those behaviors. So the best and most loving thing you can do is help your children to become pleasant little beings.
Now, this is not the only parenting book that one should read or heed, but I thought it was a really interesting point that I think a lot of us tend to maybe overlook some things in our kids' behaviors for whatever reasons. We can justify things. But he is basically saying if it's annoying us, it's going to annoy the rest of the world, too. And the best thing we can do is help them to work through these behaviors. So I think it's good to keep in mind that it's not that we want to say, "Okay, you're different from me. You're doing these things. I'm just going to overlook it." I think it's more about coming to terms with, "This is something that's frustrating to me, and I'm going to pray and ask the Lord for a good attitude to help you with it. But together I'm going to help you be you, but also learn to adapt in a world full of a lot of different kinds of people." So that's just a little bit of a side point of not giving up on working on the difficult behaviors just because we are different.
I think the next principle that I'm going to talk about is probably the most influential thing that has changed the tone of our home. There was a stage in our family's life where we were struggling in particular with one particular child. And this—what I'm about to tell you—changed more about our family structure and I guess atmosphere of the home than anything else. And I think I was prompted by a chapter in Rachel Jankovic's— in Not Loving the Little Years; the second book, Fit to Burst. She has a— no, maybe it is Loving the Little Years. She has a chapter on See Your Kids. I think it is actually in Loving the Little Years. And she talks about really imagining what it is like to be a child.
Are you the child that loves art more than anything and your parent is always cleaning up your messes? Are you the one that gets dragged around to all of the sibling's games? Are you the one that is always in the shadow of an older child, and just kind of imagining what it's like. And I did that for one particular child. I talk about this in my book, Memory Making Mom. And it was really, really eye opening. And so from there, what it led me to do is to work on the relationship with this child first. There were a lot of behaviors that we were concerned about, which, again, this happens with every child. But what we did is really, really fill into the relationship that we had with the child. And we thought about what things does this child love more than anything? And we are going to do those things at the same time as we are working hard to discipline.
So love hard, discipline hard. That was my motto during those years that I was just going to love hard discipline hard. I was going to work on both of those intently. I think sometimes we go back and forth and it's like the pendulum swings one way and then it swings the other way. But I wanted to do both of them at the same time. And so we really worked on investing in the relationship of that child.
I heard a talk recently where the speaker said, "Your kids can absolutely tell if you like them or not." And that really resonated with me. They know you love them, but they can tell if you like them. And so I think what we really essentially did a couple of years ago is to really work on liking the child and developing a friendship and things that we could enjoy together. And they say to build up— you got to deposit money in the relational bank before you make withdrawals. And that's kind of what we were doing. And it just helped in a lot of different ways. It helped us. It helped this child.
So that is just such a huge piece of it. And that's something that—if you are homeschooling—you're blessed with a lot of time to be able to do. And so whether it's breakfast dates with dad or quality time. Thinking about the love language kind of thing, which is another good book, right? But thinking about what really fills their bucket and really, really working on that. So that is one piece. That's not the only piece because—as I said—love hard, discipline hard. So as far as the actual discipline portion of when a child is being difficult and especially when it's surrounding homeschool, that can be very, very exhausting because homeschooling is hard even if you have happy kids and everybody's having a great attitude. But when someone is being difficult, it really is frustrating.
So I have used a couple different systems over the years. I'm going to tell you about two of them. And it's amazing. I think for kids that are difficult, a lot of times—not all the time—but a lot of times, that can be due to they are perfectionists and they get frustrated in homeschooling if they can't do things exactly right. And so they may lash out or they may shut down, depending on their personality type. But for those kids that are really perfectionists, positive affirmation is huge. You're not going to talk them out of it, but positive affirmation and getting positive reinforcement instead of negative— which is what I'm naturally drawn to.
In other words, "If you don't stop scowling, if you don't stop ripping up your paper, if you don't stop blank, then here's your consequence." But instead to come up with a system that's a positive reinforcement. And I know for me that was kind of scary at first because I felt like there needed to be consequences. And I was afraid if there wasn't consequences, then the behavior would just continue. But it was really magical how it works. And not to say we didn't have to use consequences, but having a positive system in place was really, really helpful.
So we've used to— actually I instituted one this year. Some of our kids were not excited about starting school in the fall. I probably wasn't either just to be fully transparent. And I was just praying about how to get a positive attitude in the home. And this idea came to me via Dude Perfect. I don't know if your family is into Dude Perfect, but we are. And they have something called the Wheel Unfortunate is what they call it. So I made the Wheel of Fortunate— which I realized I could say Wheel of Fortune, but they weren't born in the eighties. They only know the Wheel of Fortunate.
So I said, yeah, Wheel of Fortune. And in Dude Perfect, they spin it and it has like this funny consequence thing that that a loser has to do. But in ours, I created this wheel with a lot of prizes that they would like. And again, really trying to think about not like trinkety kind of things, but what would— so I made one for each child. And I actually did this with my sixth grader and my second grader. I didn't do it with my eighth grader. We came up with a different system for him based on— he's like the typical firstborn that was already kind of motivated to do school, but we had to work on some other things with him. So we kind of did a different thing with the middle schooler.
But the two youngest, I created this wheel of prizes. I have the whole form on my blog and you can actually print off and customize it. So I'll link that in the show notes. But anyway, it has all of the different things that they would like to do. And they get to spin it once they've earned 20 chips. You can just create however many— you know, just figure out how often you want them to earn it. And then you can kind of tweak by how many chips you think. If it's a younger kid, they should probably have an opportunity a little bit sooner, so they don't lose interest.
But anyway, they get a chip by just having a good attitude in school and saying, "Okay, mom," and having a good attitude. And I'm not focusing on anything else. There's not chores involved. We have other systems or consequences for other behaviors. But this is just focusing on the one that I was concerned about. And you don't want to try to do too many things at once, but they were super pumped. And it's just been interesting how quickly everyone got a more positive attitude. It's worked really, really well.
So I've also done something that we call the chip system where— and again, this is on my blog, but it's more encompassing with three different behaviors, and it's similar to you can cash in your chips for different prizes. And I have the whole thing written out of how it would work if you want to tweak that. But it is a little bit of work to set it up. Every time I get ready to institute a new program, you kind of got to work yourself up to it, but it's always worth it because it's something that everybody's excited about. So positive reinforcement is huge.
And the other things I would say is that during times when things are really difficult, you may just want to strip down and focus on what absolutely must be done. And this would not be a time to nit pick all of the behaviors you want to change, but you really think about what is most frustrating and what does God most want to work on in this child's heart. And through prayer, you'll come up with maybe one or two. But then you can't be hounding them for all of the other things because they're just going to feel completely beaten up.
So the last thing I just want to say is—similar to how I started this—it's a little bit of a pendulum swing. I wanted to talk about whether homeschooling can help or hurt a relationship that is difficult with a child. And I think that the answer can be yes, both. Depending. And this is where it takes a lot of wisdom and prayer and listening to your spouse and also people that are watching your life that you trust and have given them the ability to speak into your life.
Because I definitely think that homeschooling— and I would say particularly in the younger years, I always hear people say, "I could never homeschool this child because we just don't get along or we just can't do it. We're too different or she won't listen to me." And there's part of me that I do certainly understand that— especially if you had a dynamic of a very strong-willed child and someone who really struggled with discipline and authority, I can see that that would be a challenging dynamic. But most of the time, I think homeschooling gives you the time and the liberty to be able to work on the relationship things. And I think where if you send them off to school, a lot of times it can mask or hide those issues because you don't have to deal with it. It's not in your face. They're with someone else.
And so I think— and I have heard also a lot of people say that when they were sending their kids off to school, there was a sense of like barking orders at them and most of their time was just logistics and getting them to get all of their stuff where it needed to be. But then when they had time as a family to invest in relationships, that a lot of the discipline stuff became easier. So I think that that can be true.
But at the same time, I remember listening to a podcast, and I believe it was Susan Wise Bauer. It was somebody who had already finished homeschooling all of their kids that I respect. And they said, "I wish that I had not homeschooled a particular child when they were in high school because it really damaged our relationship. And I wish I would have just put them in school and then worked on our relationship." And that really stuck in my head and just sort of reminded me that we do need to be prayerful and not be wed to one option or another, but be open to— and my hunch is that would probably happen more in the later years. But again, what I have observed is that in my stage, most of the time, homeschooling is a blessing as you are working through a difficult relationship because it forces you to come head on and have the time and the space and the mental wherewithal to be able to work through those issues.
So those are just my thoughts. I would love to hear more of yours. And you can find me over at Instagram. I'm @Jessica.Smartt. Please check out my books. This is a great time of year to pick up Memory Making Mom. We're thinking about the fall. We're thinking about Christmas and traditions. Memory Making Mom continues to sell really well, and I know that a lot of moms really love the ideas for holidays in this time of year. And then my book, Let Them Be Kids. It's actually my favorite. Let Them Be Kids: Innocence, Boredom, Adventure and other gifts kids need. So I'm going to link those both in the show notes. Be sure to check them out. It's been a pleasure to be with you today. God bless.
Thanks so much for joining us this week on The Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast, and while you're on there, leave us a review and tell us what you love about the show. As you know, this will help other homeschooling parents, just like you get connected to our community. And finally tag us over on Instagram @Homeschoolingdotmom to let us know what you thought of today's episode. Have you joined us yet at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year, offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the U.S. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there.