Pop Quiz: Because People Will Confront Your Child Too.

Pop Quiz Because People Will Confront Your Child 1

Have you ever had someone make you feel small, in the not good way?

We all piled into the doctor’s examination room. This is a normal scene – me with all my ducklings.

At doctor’s offices it’s normal for an older elementary child to be seen there because all kids all the time have to schedule appointments – they are taken out of school and brought back.

But it always comes up in normal, casual conversation – So, where do you go to school? 

When my kids were kindergarten age, immediately they would dart their eyes at me – as if to say Oh no, I don’t “go” anywhere. What am I supposed to say? I don’t know what it is about this unspoken exchange, but I feel as if the questioner has decided that my child is unfortunate.

Some people have literally patted my child on the head, as if to communicate – Oh, honey. I’m so sorry you’re being sheltered so much and you aren’t learning anything. I pity you.

Other people look at my child as less. I can’t explain it, but they take the idea of home education and equate it with poverty, stupidity, religious bigotry, and/or out-of-date ideals.

In either case, I want to swoop in, rescue my child, and wipe the experience from their memory.

But I can’t.

Why is it that when a home educated child is asked, What are you learning in school? It feels like the question really is, How effective of a job is your parent doing? Or worse, it comes across like, So how ignorant are you?

It isn’t that I fault the person for their curiosity.

I don’t even blame them for testing the cultural norm that children should be sent away to an manufactured environment for their educational training by wanting to be shown by my child that the alternative to what is considered normal is a valid option.

But what child at the age of 5, 6, 7, 8 or even 9 years can eloquently answer this question with a grammatically correct response that bullet points all the subjects, interests, social and emotional developments that they are engaged in on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?

Aren’t we all caught a little off guard whenever someone asks (or demands) an answer for what we are learning?

Can I fairly point the same question back at them and demand that they summarize all they they learned throughout the entirety of their formal education?

We have been put on trial and judged either innocent or guilty by the prosecution – whomever they may be – and what we do with their verdict has the power to free us or crush us.

And the even more difficult thing is that sometimes these awkward or even embarrassing exchanges have made lasting impressions on my child.

In my experience, there is a shift that happens when adults engage with children of school-age. They separate the child from the student. When they address my child and ask – what are you learning? – I believe they are innocently (for the most part) addressing the student. It isn’t with malicious intent at all.

But separating a child from his child-ness and expecting him or her to conduct themselves as a student with the “right answers” and the “scripted response” doesn’t actually serve them as an individual. Teaching children to compartmentalize their identity at such an early age leads to confusion, insecurity, and behavior issues.*

I don’t care how young a child is – they can struggle with insecurity issues. And the person with the most power to make them feel insecure is you.

The person who is questioning or treating your child disdainfully doesn’t have as much access to the feelings in their heart regarding whom they are as their parents do.

So whose responsibility is it to prepare the child for the pop quizzes they will encounter?

Yours.

Go back to the list of things to do to ensure you are ready for your own confrontation, and then move on to these recommendations:

  • Talk regularly about why they are home schooled. Expose them to the realities of the alternatives, and allow them to ask you questions for further understanding of what they have to gain from being home.
  • Ask them questions about what they like to learn. Let them know that their education isn’t timed or boxed. Sure, you may work on developing their skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic every day at 9 o’clock – but that time doesn’t encompass the whole of their education.
  • If they are feeling overwhelmed by the number of questions from a number of people, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your schedule. It may be that they are feeling worn out and worn down by the amount of time around people who do not view them as children but rather expect them to perform as students.
  • Take note of the places your child gets quizzed the most, be observant of how they react to it – when you arrive back at home or another safe place – what is the first thing they want to do?
  • Fight against the temptation to feel embarrassed when your child doesn’t do or say what you hoped they would do or say. Again, they are little people not perfect performers.
  • It takes time for everyone in the home to feel settled in the process of owning your choice home educate. Just because your child doesn’t know how to respond today, doesn’t mean that they won’t ever be able. Allow them time and grace to embrace learning and then allow the response to take care of itself.
  • Ask you child how the conversation made them feel, and then work through the situation again to form a framework for a solution of how to handle themselves when found in a similar situation in the future.

Being supported in your choice to home educate is a gift. Cherish it. Don’t make light of it in the face of heavy opposition or criticism. Be confident.

There’s an even better list than this in Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson found on page 31. The section is titled Know What to Do When Cornered by a Critic.

You as a parent have a big advantage in teaching your child simply because you are the parent. The most significant people in a young child’s life are usually his mom and dad…You may think that you’re something less than the world’s best parent. You might also think that you can’t possibly educate your child as well as a state certified teacher might. But because, subjectively, you are the most significant and important person in the world to your child, you have greater credibility with him and can get more mileage out of instructional time than anyone else could. And that is an objective reality. – Gregg Harris, “The Christian Home School,” Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1988 (from Educating the WholeHearted Child, 30).

I believe that by working through these confrontations with my children, I am better preparing them for the real world than if I were to jump in and shelter them from every attempt from the outside to test or criticize them.

Further, I believe that this small part of the home school life is vital to the strength, confidence, and confirmation that this is what God has called us to on the home school journey.

And finally, in the area where we live, we are hugely supported. Most of the people who question my children are well-meaning, caring people who just want to connect and relate to my child. “School” is one of those life stage conversation starters – just like someone who is “college age” is asked So what’s your major? And it may make a young adult who doesn’t know what they are going to do feel insecure – even though no harm was meant by the asker.

Let’s all be wise in relating to children. Don’t give into the cultural philosophy that children are entitled to certain benefits from attending a public school and thereby discredit or bully children into feeling that their family’s decision to home educate is harming them. Be mindful, those who are not home educators, that your good intentions may be guided by the cultural norms without even knowing it.

*For more information about identity, security, purpose and the harm that can come to an individual who has been taught to trust that these core needs will be met by an educational system (whatever it may be) read: Finding Authentic Hope And Wholeness by Dr. Kathy Koch.

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You (and your kids) are homeschooled. 

The battle lines have been drawn. Once committed to a side, there is no changing for fear of being called a traitor. Even lines within the same side are drawn with questions like Are you a lifer? Or caveats are given like Well, she was so interested in…that we felt it best to enroll her at…

Isn’t there more to a child than where they are (or are not) enrolled? 

Everyone is homeschooled 1

While I was studying the Charlotte Mason theory of education, I was struck by the blurred line between the home education environment and the brick and mortar school. I know a lot of homeschool families who value her work and apply her philosophy in the home, but Home Education was not written primarily to/for home educators. Not in the way that we define home education today.

It became clear that there was something more fundamental than education in the philosophy, and it is the home.

Everyone is homeschooled.

Learning is a mysterious process. Researchers examine and describe it, scholars attempt to understand and explain it, and teachers try to stimulate and influence it, yet no one except God knows exactly how we learn. He has created us with an innate ability to learn, yet we know very little about such an essential quality of our being. – Clay and Sally Clarkson Educating the WholeHearted Child 

Human beings learn. 

It isn’t a matter of whether you stay home full time, or go to a brick and mortar for 37 hours a week. Home is foundational for all of us. It is the environment where we learn the most important things in life.

I had this thought months ago, and the idea was set on my mental back burner. I want to make sure that through my writing I intentionally include those who choose to be involved at whatever level with the educational system. Parents, children, teachers, volunteers – their identity is not that they equal their educational system, neither is my identity that I home educate. It is a fact, but it is not my truest foundation.

Our family. Together we build values, standards, priorities, and activities. And together we practice what we have been taught or have learned on our own. We succeed or fail in everything at home.

Your family does too. I want to cross the battle lines, take down my shields, and respect the humanity in your choices. Because there is something far more important than enrollment and environment – it’s the soul of the learner. The little, unseen person within the body of all people who was given the gift of learning, not by their parents but by their Creator.

I want to promote a view where we see each individual family as a miracle, an un-replaceable, never-to-be-seen-again combination of unique individuals all joined by blood and/or name for such a time as this.

May we all promote this view and shake off the fears that our choices won’t be good enough

The beauty of recognizing that home and family is the foundation underneath education should inspire us to embrace the freedom to each work out our discipleship with respect and honor.

I long to see a development in community where the home educating family and the public educating family can collaborate to encourage the continued work of home discipleship.

Even within the homeschooling community, there exists the need to collectively encourage the fundamentals.  Curricula, routines, sports, and the like all come after discipleship. Each of these things may mark and define our family in specific ways, but they do not add or subtract from the worth of the eternal soul within each person.

What a sacred thing to consider: every family is unique.

Everyone is homeschooled 2

Homeschooling should not be a means of reforming the home and to make all participants look the same, rather the philosophy of home education is in part to honor the God-given miracles of family and learning.

Different children within one family may need different decisions as to what educational system is best for them. And it is important to apply Jesus’ teaching that we must not judge other peoples’ choices. – Susan Schaeffer Macaulay For the Children’s Sake

I aim to extend this view of the home as a sacred place for the family to those who choose not to formally educate their children at home, if they will accept it. If families who don’t home educate and families who do, can join together in mutual understanding that the home is the best environment for the child’s mind, body, and spirit to be shaped then we can all better obey Jesus and love our neighbors as ourselves.

As fall approaches like Walmart’s “Back to School” display boldly announces, let us not fall prey to making decisions based on feeling – fear, envy, and discontent hide in the pockets of new backpacks.

Rather, let us search for ways to support one another in getting back to honoring the fundamental of home and family.

Because everyone is homeschooled. 

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How to Help a Child Struggling with Loneliness :: Conclusion to the Lonely Kids Series

Lonely Kids Conclusion 3

I was lonely as a child, and that’s why I have compassion for lonely kids. I hid my loneliness mostly because I didn’t know how to articulate it. My bad feelings about myself, my free time, my lack of support, and lack of understanding relationships came out in dramatic behavior.

This was all by age 7. Even younger than that, I remember thinking: If I were gone, no one would notice.

I wasn’t lonely for a lack of people. I went to a brick and mortar school with lots of classmates and adults buzzing around.

The danger of loneliness is that it is subtle. It’s the difference between doing together and being together. As I modeled what I thought was the right way to behave and make friends, I sunk deeper into just doing my life.

Fast forward to my daughter turning 7, and I started to recognize some of the same old symptoms of loneliness in her. Seeing this in her, I was propelled into an all-out campaign to help her and other kids too.

Lonely Kids Conclusion 2

In my effort to help and teach my daughter to see her bad behavior and the bad feelings behind them, I saw her emotional state get worse.

I think we’re all (even the youngest ones) too quick to pick up false guilt.

Since that isn’t what I wanted to happen, I had to get perspective and start over. I committed to support her in the journey of learning who she can become. I’m taking the long view; not ignoring her bad behavior but setting it into context. Character, talents, interests, and influences all impact behavior.

When I was a child, there wasn’t enough time to pursue my interests. I wasn’t given the opportunity to let my talents emerge and grow. Not knowing my own interests led me to feel useless, and that isn’t what I want for my kids. As their mother, and specifically as a homeschooling mother, I am given new opportunities to support my kids in their character, talents, and interests every day. I have the greatest influence on them.

Having an intentional influence on them is a matter of vision. Short term sees bad behavior and just wants to make it change. Long term sees the roots and patiently tends to the heart of the behavior.

Lonely Kids Conclusion 1

Here are 4 focal points for learning how to see the roots and provide kids with support:

  1. Identity: Knowing who I am helps me know how I need to be supported. Who am I? Who am I becoming? Who do I belong to? Who wants me? What do I allow to label me? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? Identity is a standing stone. It is something to cling to when no one else is around to support or provide companionship. If I show my children that I have a strong sense of identity then they are one step closer to feeling the confidence of knowing their own identity.
  2. Advocacy: Finding a companion isn’t a matter of convenience, rather it’s a commitment. How willing am I to work on behalf of my child to bring other people into their life? Not only do children need healthy peer relationships, but they also need mentors and older kids to look up to too. Where are these people? What are my child’s interests and how can I coordinate people with these activities to better strengthen my child’s confidence? When I think of being my child’s advocate, I picture myself as a manager of their emotional needs. Taking inventory of fun, creativity, outdoor and indoor activities, curiosity, healthy excitement, down time, etc. and balancing it all. Not perfectly but intentionally.
  3. Modeling: Prioritizing healthy relationships with others that provide me with the support and companionship that I need. No one out grows the need for friends. When I’m lonely and unsupported, my kids see it and they suffer too. I want my kids to see me committed to others, and willing to sacrifice for the sake of understanding and loving other people. Aren’t kids always just practicing adults? I want to give my kids a good example of what to practice.
  4. Family Bonds: Being together and knowing love is a vital need for all of us. We are designed to thrive in supportive relationships. Creating a healthy home community starts with encouragement. Words, time, attention, concern, physical touch, traditions, etc. these are all the currency we have to spend on our children in ensuring they enjoy a rich family life. A life of being together on purpose.

As my kids grow older, I’ve realized they also grow less dependent on me to meet their social needs. Rather they need me to be their mentor, providing opportunities for friendships and bonds to flourish on top of their solid foundation of identity and belonging. They need help in order to recognize what being feels like for them.

Loneliness doesn’t have to be a life-long battle. Let’s break the cycle and step in to help.

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My Loneliness Story (Self-Destructing and Frustrated) :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 6

No one would want to play with me anyway. I don’t have any friends. No one likes me, I’m dumb.

Or:

Why do you always… why can’t I ever… you never let me…

And it may be that both have been said by the same child. I know I said both.

People mean well when they want to help or fix these bad feelings. But it isn’t as easy as choosing not to be grumpy by putting on a smile. When the root of the matter isn’t being addressed the bad feelings grow and it becomes a habit. The struggling child expresses self-pity or disrespect consistently.

It is heartbreaking when adults ignore these signs because they label the child as “pitying themselves” or “rebelling against authority.” While both of those labels may be true and trained through with the child –it is feedback behavior.

Again, heavily focusing on these words and the feelings behind them are not going to produce the desired result. The words or the attitude isn’t the primary issue. The root of the issue isn’t that the child needs better self-esteem or deeper submission. Spending energy trying to train a child to put on a better attitude or to quiet their expressions will not stick. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches.

The pain from loneliness has been internalized and the child believes that they are wrong or broken for having needs that are going unmet. It causes a reaction of distrust and resentment toward parents for not knowing or helping the child.

In young children, this can also create a sense of panic or fear.

Fear and pain have a way of motivating us. I was a little powerhouse of words, attitudes, and emotions growing up. I would speak up to anyone: anytime, anywhere. Collecting labels that only grew more burdensome as I grew older. As my feedback behavior was being disciplined, punished, quieted – the pain grew and my fight with it. I tried every wrong way to force others to notice me and meet my needs for support and companionship, but very few adults could tolerate me.

This was true for me: hurt people, hurt people. And anyone close to me was hurt by me.

If only I could go back to my teen years and take back the awful things I said to my parents. The ongoing frustration I felt toward them was simply caused by misunderstandings and lack of communication. We addressed the surface issues, labeling actions and emotions as character flaws. But on my own, I didn’t have the tools to change my character – who I was becoming felt like a freight train that had lost its brakes.

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I became who we all feared I would become. The labels and the troubles crushed me.

It took me years to unravel the pain and fear. After the social stages of schooling, I was on my own and alone, and that’s when I began to understand how loneliness had been at the root of so much of my destructive behavior.

And after more than a decade of healing I am able to share and learn from this painful part of myself.

My Loneliness Story

Learning to work through pain and to help others is the motive behind writing this series. The amount of compassion I have for kids who are hurting is beyond my physical reach. That’s why I’m writing. If you’re reading this, anything you can gain from these observations can be used to heal and help provide support and companionship.

Also, lest I close the series leading anyone to believe I no longer struggle with loneliness allow me to reveal how I recognize red flags as an adult: I act is some counter intuitive ways. I put on personalities that aren’t mine, and they don’t fit. And it looks like one or more of these:

  • Suddenly becoming bubbly and outgoing, with a strong desire to be the life of the party
  • Spending money impulsively and a ravenous desire to have something I’ve been saying “no” to for a long time
  • Gradually becoming isolated: ignoring phone calls from close friends and family because I just don’t feel like being with anyone
  • Feeling panicky when I don’t know where my phone is – checking social media compulsively
  • Mismanaging time and emotions – becoming angry and frustrated with myself for an overall lack of discipline
  • Speaking negatively about myself to others and rejecting encouragement

Why is there an ongoing struggle with loneliness? Because it’s hard to ask for support when I feel unsupported. It looks weak, it feels vulnerable, and it requires reflection and work to resolve. Often, I don’t know where to start, I’m overwhelmed. Guilt lies to me.

Moving forward, I look at my core needs and work up from there: security, identity, and then belonging. And like Dr. Kathy Koch taught me: Belonging is “who wants me” not “who needs me.” Belonging is a need, and healthy relationships are possible.

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series, you can check out the titles here.

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Laziness and Moodiness :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 3

Listless and cranky. Bubbly one minute and barking the next. Impossible to predict. A challenge to train and guide.

There could be thousands of reasons why children behave in these ways on any given day. And believe me, I’d be the first to comfort someone if they were struggling and exhibiting these traits for a good reason.

But what if this is becoming a pattern? And what if it is really annoying and hard to train? And what if I’ve tried to parent the child through their bad attitude and it isn’t letting up? What’s feeding this behavior?

These two frustrating behaviors could be the fruit of loneliness.

First, laziness is a lack of motivation, an unwillingness to make an effort.

Laziness can be a result of too many hurts. A child is naturally bent toward doing. They feel their “being” and express it with actions. It’s the reason why toddlers are often labelled “busy.” I’ve never observed a lazy 2-year-old. They are busy, and they do a lot. Until they are stopped. Or hurt. And this is when pain teaches children (and adults too) that their being isn’t good enough.

The kind of behavior that shows me a child has given up is when they are no longer motivated by rewards or positive reinforcements. It isn’t the same as being bored.

At the root of laziness is a confusion of identity.

Every child needs to be able to anchor their feelings to their identity. So that at the end of any given day, they know who they are, who they belong to, and why that matters. Before they know that their doing matters they need to know that their being matters. Feelings must be interpreted through identity. Our culture allows us to define our identity by our feelings, and this leads to an unstable emotional and physical state. The push to define their being by their doing doesn’t satisfy.

Talking through how a child feels about a situation or action isn’t enough. They need to know what to do with their feelings. Is it valid for them to be feeling that way or not? Identity isn’t bossy. Feelings are. Kids need help to know what their anchor is and how to process their feelings based on that anchor.

A child’s identity needs to start with a solid family identity. For our family, we’ve chosen to teach our kids a “team view” of family identity. I remind them often that we are on the same team, we are doing the task together, and we enjoy the benefits of belonging because of the team view. We review our priorities often so that they know why our family has chosen to live a certain way and what those benefits are.

Second, moodiness is unpredictable and intense. Cheerful and excited one minute and angry and grumpy the next.

A child like this may have an issue with excitement. The thrill of being around other people followed by the disappointment of it coming to an end. This pattern of moodiness is relatively easy to talk a child through.

But when it’s ongoing, I think it is a mild sign of loneliness. The reason why I think moodiness comes out of lonely kids is because they do not have enough support and companionship. Or they can’t articulate their need for support in a specific area of their personal growth.

When kids are moody with their family it can be a sign that they are refusing the type of support and companionship offered at home. And there may need to be some examination of whether the child is being supported there.

Like the child who is aggressively excited for social engagements, being more social doesn’t cure moodiness in a lonely child.

Often when a child is exhibiting moody behavior to mom and dad, they need to be given more attention not less. Think of this as feedback and not as a separate behavior. Address the activity or engagement that is causing their response and help them process that. They may need to be validated that their experience was difficult or challenging. They may need affirmation that they still have a companion in you. They may need help to see themselves in a different light.

Supporting them through their feedback behavior looks like condoning it or ignoring it, but working on the root issue, helping them process their feelings, helps them know their identity. Once they are settled and their behavior becomes more steady, that’s when I gently address the behavior that was moody and off balance.

I’ve heard it preached that parents need to address behaviors immediately with children, but it is actually counterproductive. Kids have strong memories. They are able to think back one, two, or even three whole days to their behavior. It is wise to give space and time for the root work to take effect before addressing feedback behavior.

This is the upside down logic of parenting. I don’t parent what I’m seeing now. I’m working on what’s deeper to create healthier soil for fruit and relationships with others to grow.

Have you already read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series? If not, check out the intro and start there.

 

 

Over Attachment to Media :: Warning Signs of Loneliness in Kids, Part 2

What came first: the chicken or the egg?

This seems to be the question that comes to my mind when I think about loneliness and the use of media. I don’t believe that all who use media in their homes as a means of connection, entertainment, or knowledge of the world will wind up lonely as a result.

So instead of writing philosophically on the topic, allow me tell you my story.

As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated with people. Relationships, conversation, behavior – all of it. And one thing TV shows provide is a pretend window into the lives of other people. It allows for a type of role play. In all of my free time, I would choose to engage in any television show in order to curb my appetite for understanding humanity. Constantly pushing the boundaries that my parents put on me, I wanted to watch shows too mature for my age.

At a young age, in elementary, I started practicing the scripts. Setting my mind to learn the dance of dialog, I would practice these speeches with any listening ear. With some I became popular, but with most I was just plain weird. I didn’t have many true friends. I didn’t have many interests or hobbies outside of watching TV. My life was full of people, but empty of life.

I was bored. I tuned in with hopes of filling up that need to do something, and it only robbed me of my time. The more I watched, the more the emptiness inside grew. As the emptiness grew, so did my loneliness, and the need to fill this gap was demanding. I could only quiet the demand with another show. (Also, the commercials were feeding another demand. The discontent I felt with my emotional life was nothing compared to the discontent I felt about my physical life.)

What I didn’t realize until my late teens was that scripts aren’t real life. I prided myself on how well I knew all the characters in all the shows, I even idolized the people on “reality shows” because I thought they had somehow made their fascination with television reality and found the secret door into the other side of the screen.

Even talking about shows with “friends” at school fooled me into thinking I wasn’t harming myself in any way. But what we had was really just fan clubs, not true companionship.

And that’s the need. Loneliness is being in a state of aloneness that lacks companionship or support.

The TV had lured me in with its people, characters, exotic places, and luxuries, promising to fill my need for purpose and connection. I’ve always been an introvert so this felt like a win, win. But in the end, I felt disconnected and depressed. These negative feelings steam rolled into my twenties and as I grew in responsibility, my ravenous need for companionship and support grew but the ability for shows and characters to provide diminished.

Finally, God intervened. I was alone for what felt like the millionth time, watching a game show that I could not have cared less about, filling my evening with nonsense, and He spoke to me. “Get rid of it.”

I turned it off, and sat in the silence. I was a little afraid of what the cost of “getting rid of it” would be. Not only to me, but for my 2 children. They were 3- and 1.5-years old at the time. Using Praise Baby or Dora to take a shower was classified as a NEED in my life.

But I obeyed. I unplugged the beast and put it in a closet.

In the silence, I found the peace and companionship I was longing for. I felt satisfied for the first time in my life.

I thought about the friendships in my life and the little effort I had put into them. The ones I had were mostly because of convenience to me. I could see lots of effort on their part, and the realization became clear that from the earliest age I hadn’t been taught to “make friends.”

It’s never too late to learn, I thought. It’s time to make up for what was lost.

And so I began investing in relationships starting with the ones closest to me. Little by little, I began to see growth in the amount of love that came from within me. It wasn’t by my design. I know the One who is to credit for my freedom and healing.

My story concludes on a happy note, but what about all the kids growing up in this digital generation? Are they going to be taught how to make friends in the real world? Are their connections with friends more like a fan club with the only exchange between them words about the video game levels or what the hero accomplished in the episode this week?

Can they handle their emotions when everything is silent? Can I?

I want to answer these questions and address the part of my story that includes facebook and loneliness in the future post on coping mechanisms and destructive relationships. Stay tuned.