Tiptoe down the hallway and into your children’s rooms an hour or so after they’ve gone to bed. Look at their sweet faces with their eyelashes brushing their cheeks and their heads resting softly on their pillows as they quietly breathe in and out, fast asleep. Do you feel that love wash over you? You just want to hold them and protect them, and you can’t imagine ever purposely doing anything to hurt them.
That’s how I’ve felt, ever since my kids were tiny newborns, sleeping in their cribs. I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything to break my babies’ hearts, but it happened, before they even reached kindergarten, and if you aren’t careful, it may happen to you, too.
Tender little hearts are easy to break
I’d like to tell you a story about the most adorable little five-year-old twins and the letter Q. It’s not a happy story.
My twins, as preemies, were a little behind before they ever entered preschool. As they approached the end of the four-year-old program through the local school district, their teacher recommended that we do an additional year, so they could benefit from more speech and occupational therapy before moving forward to kindergarten. She also recommended that we work really hard over the summer, using workbooks that would help boost their skills coming into the next school year.
As a first-time mom who had always excelled in school, I was scared that if I didn’t do absolutely everything I could to catch my twins up that fateful summer, they might be behind forever. So we worked on those workbooks nearly every day, often to the point of frustration and sometimes to the point*of tears.
Was it really that important?
I remember the day we worked on the letter Q as if it happened yesterday. In reality, it was more than ten years ago. I was pregnant with my youngest, sitting with my twins on floor pillows, next to the patio door. Light streamed in from outside. It was a beautiful summer day, and there we were, working on how to properly form letters.
The kids knew their alphabet, and were learning to read. But their fine motor skills were lacking, and so their handwriting left a lot to be desired. I knew that the way they formed letters and numbers was one of the skills on their IEP, and that their teacher had been concerned with their progress the past year.
So, sitting there, working on the letter Q, I became more and more frustrated that the kids’ circles were wonky and their tails were out of place. We’d just done the letter O a couple of days before. We’d worked so hard on those. Q should have come easily! Why did it seem like we were starting over from scratch? Didn’t they know that their whole future was riding on how well they mastered these basic skills?
I was so ashamed of myself
I eventually blew up at both of my sweet, tiny preschoolers. I made them cry, and not just a tear or two, but big, heaving sobs. I felt miserable in that moment. I had hurt my babies, made them feel bad about themselves, over the letter Q.
Suddenly it hit me how stupid and inconsequential the whole exercise was, and how crazy I was making myself and my kids, and for what? So they could write a little more neatly come August? Instantly, I knew I had to change. I couldn’t be that stressed over school work, or over reaching any goals; not to the point that I broke my babies’ hearts! It wasn’t worth it.
I stopped right then, and I hugged my children closely and told them how sorry I was for getting upset. I assured them that they were both smart and talented, and that I didn’t care if they never made a proper Q! Then we packed away the books and went swimming for the rest of the afternoon.
What I discovered as a homeschooler
What I didn’t know then, and wouldn’t until later, when I had been homeschooling for a while, was that kids all learn at their own pace. And almost without exception, they will eventually master all of their basic skills.
Also, virtually every student will have days where it seems like they’ve regressed to the point of losing every bit of knowledge they had a week before. It’s not just your kid! Children’s knowledge ebbs and flows as they learn new things, but they’ll keep making progress with gentle and persistent reinforcement.
You can read more about my own journey, from that awful day with the letter Q to a pretty relaxed and happy homeschool mom in my book, The Unplanned Homeschooler: My Disorganized Path to Homeschooling Success. I won’t say that there were never any more tears shed over school work in our house, but as I got more comfortable with homeschooling my kids, those teary days became much more rare, to the point that I honestly can’t remember the last time anyone cried over an assignment. That makes me so happy!
What to do if you feel yourself losing it
You don’t ever want to crush your child’s spirit or break their hearts over school. That’s not to say that you are parenting badly if your child occasionally breaks down in tears because they just don’t want to do history or would rather spend the afternoon playing. Kids can be quite temperamental, after all.
But if you are pushing your kids too hard, berating them for their mistakes, making them feel like they are failures because they are not completing their work properly, or otherwise losing your temper in frustration over school work, you need to stop.
I mean it. Stop what you are doing immediately, and apologize if you’ve been a jerk. Take a break, and maybe use the time to reconnect with each other outside your classroom. Before you come back to the school work, think about how you are teaching and what your children need from you in order to learn. Could you learn from an impatient, frustrated, or angry teacher? Your kids can’t either. Make a plan to stop the next time you are feeling that way, give your kids something they can work on independently, and come back when you have yourself pulled together.
Give yourself a break
Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t teach all day every day. Give yourself breaks, and remember that you have lots of time to accomplish your goals. Consider schooling year round, so you can have short breaks more often if you have a tendency to get overwhelmed.
Also consider whether your approach to schooling might need to be changed. Is the curriculum you are using for one particular subject causing headaches for you or your kids? Do your children work well first thing in the morning, but dissolve into tears in the afternoon? Look at all the factors that may be adding stress to your days, and change up what you can.
Finally, please remember that every child truly does learn on their own schedule. It doesn’t matter if they start reading late, or have to repeat a section of math. That can happen to the best of students, and it’s definitely not the catastrophe it may seem like at the time. Just keep leading your child, teaching them one concept after the next, and their knowledge will grow.
Tavia, also known as The Unplanned Homeschooler, is an award-winning freelance writer, author, convention speaker and homeschooling mother of three awesome kids. She recently published Homeschool Bullies: Dealing with Mean Kids, Cliques and Mama Drama. You can follow her blog and find her new book at www.unplannedhomeschooler.com.