Dealing with School-Time Drama

2018_3_27 - Dealing with School-time Drama_Jessica Cole_Final2.jpg

In my last post, I talked about some of the challenges with trying to conduct group lessons with my children, who have never been in a formal classroom. While the flexibility of homeschooling is great, the fact that the classroom is set in their comfortable living room with their comfortable mom can lead to behavior that is not appropriate for class time.

That post mainly focused on the lessons that we have as a group. But what about the time I spend with them individually? After our group sessions, I usually correct my girls’ work from the previous day and go over it with them one-on-one, teaching new concepts and assigning their material for that day.

While this process is typically pretty smooth sailing with my youngest daughter, going over work with the other two can feel like running into a hurricane. Unnecessary questions and bathroom breaks are no longer the problem: instead I must battle the winds of school-related drama.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts (mainly here and here), my two older daughters have definitely inherited my perfectionist streak. In addition, we are beginning to hit a developmental phase that includes a good amount of pre-teen emotional turmoil.

The result is that our one-on-one time frequently looks less like a tutoring session and more like an emotional counseling session.

One recent example: Unnamed Daughter begins to go over her work with me. She has a few assignments that she forgot to do the previous day, which always puts her in a bad mood. Even worse: she now has to do a spelling test.

As I try to help her review her words, she gets multiple spellings wrong and can’t remember the vocabulary definitions. She declares that she can’t spell anything right and always gets bad grades on her tests.

This is false. I prove it to her by reading off her scores from previous tests.

She thinks I am “probably making that up.”

I inform her that if she can’t straighten out her attitude, she’ll have to leave the room until she is ready to cooperate.

She begrudgingly tries again, but almost immediately relapses into woe when she can’t remember the definition of another word.

The cycle repeats.

Finally, I give her a good lecture and a few minutes to herself, and she turns her attitude around and apologizes. The spelling test is finally finished . . . about an hour later than it needed to be.

Between the two girls, this type of emotional meltdown tends to happen multiple times a week. Sometimes, like this one, it includes a lot of frustration with a particular subject, but mainly our meltdowns consist of much self-doubt, self-deprecation, and generally the feeling of being stupid, forgetful, or just plain horrible.

While these episodes can be extremely frustrating and time-consuming, I will say that the ability to talk to my kids about life and help them sort through their struggles is one of the things I value about motherhood. I’m glad that homeschooling gives me more freedom and opportunity to do this. That is the main reason I have tolerated these outbursts to the degree that I have.

As my husband is quick to point out, however, there are a few big problems with allowing such episodes to continue.

First, it inhibits the progress of our school day. When everyone is in a good mood, we can get through the necessary instruction in about a quarter of the time it takes on a meltdown day. This often means that my youngest daughter receives less time and attention than the other two, and that’s not fair to her. It also means I have less time for other household tasks because school has run so long.

Secondly, while the discussions I have with them may be good, they are out of place. As I mentioned in the last post, I am trying to teach my children that during school time, I am not the Mom but the Teacher. Teachers may at times do some emotional counseling, but not as frequently and certainly not during class time. Honestly, the bigger issue may be that I struggle with sorting out this dual role more than they do. I may want to spend time mentoring them as a mother, but a teacher’s primary job is to give academic instruction. My children may have to wait until they’re done doing their lessons with Teacher before they can discuss their burdens with Mom.

Third, while I don’t want them to learn to hide or stifle their emotions, I do want them to learn how to control them. It is not healthy for anyone to wallow in self-pity. It may not be easy, but we all have to learn how to set our emotions aside long enough to focus on a task at hand.

I wish I could say that I’ve come up with a 5-step program that has cured us of this problem, but this is a very present-time issue that I’m still learning to address.

A few days after the incident I described above, I sat my girls down and informed them of some changes I needed to make:

  • First, bad attitudes and lack of cooperation will likely be met by punishments (revoked privileges or extra chores).
  • Then, if a meltdown begins, they may be sent to their room, postponing the remainder of our session until later.
  • But finally, I do desire to help them to sort through their struggles and emotions. They just may have to practice some patience as far as when we discuss these things together.

I don’t know how helpful this plan will turn out to be, but I hope those who can identify can at least be encouraged that they are not alone! One further encouraging thought is that oftentimes, if the child can just get through the subject or problem that caused the crisis, they will bounce right back as if nothing ever happened. One of my girls even admitted as much!

We’ll see how my changes work in the weeks ahead, but in the meantime: hang in there, mamas. Mothering is a tough balancing act, but by the grace of God we’ll make it through one way or another!

Jessica

Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis

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