Back in the late 1990s, I homeschooled both of my children after we moved to a new town and a new school district. Little by little, I bought a curriculum and instructed them in everything from reading to science. I had been an educator for years at that point, but I was surprised that some of my most challenging pupils became my children. I found that I was more easily angered when they didn’t listen or completely perplexed by their inability to sit for more than a few minutes. And I didn’t even have to compete with the numerous distractions that kids have nowadays. Okay, I thought. If I want to make homeschooling work, I have to figure out how to teach my children with patience and love. This may not be the most nuanced advice, but I ended up finding a strategy that worked for me. Each session I sat down with my children, I tried to pretend the whining, complaining, and sometimes eye-rolling children in front of me weren’t my kids. What would I do, I asked myself, if these were someone else’s children? Would I raise my voice or lose my temper? No, I wouldn’t. I would tell them calmly to get it together, I would redirect their focus, and I would get them back on track. I don’t know if that strategy would work for everyone, but I know it helped me practice more patience with my children in some of their most epic tantrums. With this strategy, I was able to take a step back whenever my children didn’t listen and think more objectively about how to approach them. It gave me a moment to see them as students having a difficult time rather than my children who wanted to push every button.
Back when I was homeschooling, I was privileged in many ways. I didn’t have to deal with some of the stressors that some parents are currently struggling with in these uncertain times. I wasn’t battling joblessness, a pandemic, or the complexity of online classes with schools. The technology I used with my children was rarely more complicated than a textbook or one simple computer program. Now, my children are both adults, and I work with students online every day. I talk to parents who are unsure about how to best support their children when they’re not being cooperative. Yes, you can try to imagine them as someone else’s kids. You can try to withhold some of the frustration and annoyance as you would for someone else’s child. But if you do find yourself slipping up and becoming annoyed, remember to take a moment to pause. These are unprecedented circumstances, and you, just like your child, deserve kindness. Something I wish I had done back in those days of homeschooling would have been to put less pressure on myself. I wish I had known that my kids didn’t have to learn everything at once. That honestly, even after hours of practice, they may not retain some things the next day because learning, for all ages, requires a lot of repetition. But mostly, I wish I had told myself, Shawn, just try your best with this. There is no perfection when it comes to homeschooling. Learning wasn’t going to happen for either of my children if I couldn’t first be patient with myself.
Shawn R. Jones