January 21, 2009

Facing Resistance from Your Kids

Meg around age 2
I've gotten some great questions after my last post. Thanks so much for fueling my blog! Keep them coming!

A couple people asked about dealing with resistance from kids. We all face it, and it's not fun. Dealing with a bad attitude or a straight out "NO!" is really a relationship issue. What do you expect from your kids and how much do you respect their opinions? How much do they respect your guidance? What are your non-negotiables and are they necessary, reasonable, and understood? I wrote a post called "Setting Boundaries for Kids" that talks more about this.

Being a child's parent AND teacher puts a lot of pressure on us. We panic when we think our kids have to be doing as much as those kids in traditional schools, so we start to get demanding and that relationship thing falls apart, and for what? Here's one of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein:
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom, without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness if it were possible with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly.
But that doesn't mean we parents just let our kids go and do whatever. In the quote above, Einstein admits that curiosity needs "stimulation," and he lists "seeing and searching" as a description of learning. Give your kids lots of opportunity and time to do just that. Keep the goal in mind and guide without them even realizing it.

If you value the model Jesus gives in the New Testament, it's interesting to note that he was always down on the Pharisees--leaders who continually laid heavy burdens on the people. After all, there are only ten commandments, and even God is not coercive. We may suffer the consequences of poor choices, but he never forces us to obey. One of my favorite verses is "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people," (Romans 10:21). As we disobey, God is continually holding out his arms to us like the father of the Prodigal Son. One of my guiding principles has been to parent my children like God parents me.

But some of the most popular parenting advisers (especially in the Evangelical Christian world) tell us to insure immediate and cheerful obedience all the time or we are shirking our responsibility as parents. Now that's a heavy burden. I say choose your few rules and make sure they are really necessary (see "Setting Boundaries for Kids").

But what about school things like reading, writing and math? A lot of us fear that if we don't force our kids to do school work, they'll never make it in life. Here's my advice: Between the ages of zero and twelve, teach your child to read when he is ready and wants to do it, then do "school" stuff when he shows interest. That gives you a lot of time to relax and watch your child. What is he interested in? What is his learning style? What motivates him? What de-motivates him?

Sure, you can dangle the carrot, like make brownies and talk about fractions as you cut him a piece. Or you can choose games that naturally introduce math because you have to keep score and count money. Or you can check out colorful and interesting books from the library. You can even start a contest with other home schoolers to see how many books each child can read in a month (we did Pizza Hut's Book It). As far as writing goes, you can make greeting cards as a craft project together, or you can buy her a beautiful journal and matching pen. The computer is great for encouraging writing--open a MySpace, create a blog, or simply leave comments on blogs. I have more about these practical things in the post "My Education Philosophy."

My point is, notice your child's interests and build on those. Practically everything in life requires reading, writing, and math, so you just have to encourage those activities in the context of her interests. When you face resistance to "school" things, back off. Ask yourself why she doesn't like to do that and you might learn a lot about how she learns and what motivates her.

Then, when your child hits 12 or so, take stock of his skills and abilities as they relate to the future. If public or private high school is the plan, what do those schools require? But in the meantime, you and your child can relax and together experience the joy of childhood and the joy of learning.

Hope that helps, and keep the questions coming!


Anonymous said...

Great advice. It makes me feel good to hear that you suggest pretty much what I am already doing. Just those darn 'am I doing it right' messages creeping in again.

Special needs children really can push your buttons...but they also push you to do your best.


Todd Taylor said...

Good grief! It is CRAZY how AMAZINGLY dead-on you are!!!

Inspiration implies a breath that is fresh and living. Like most the sighs I take after rummaging through your posts.

I really appreciate that. Thanks!

Heather said...

"--leaders who continually laid heavy burdens on the people." This is EXACTLY what lead us towards unschooling our kids. Those burdens to get everything just so are so heavy--no wonder so many homeschooling moms are just plain worn out. This is an incredible post--when you get a chance can you share it at CU?

G.Dowell said...

Thanks Jena. Always learn something new in your posts.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. As a Christian and (sometimes nervous)aspiring unschooler, I value your wisdom. Thank you for validating what I already believe to be true.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jena,

I love this post. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and experience.

Have you ever read this blog?

If not, I think you'd like it.


Jena said...

Hi Everyone, thanks for your great comments. I like encouragement. :)

Colleen, I just checked out that blog. You're right, I love it! Thanks for telling me about it. The writer is a research professor of psychology at Boston College. I guess he's about to publish a book on the power of play. So cool!

Traci said...

Thanks, Jena. It does help! I'm really having to think hard and that is good for me! I'm going to work on more fun things than some of the writing we have been doing. I'm also going to check out that blog about play.

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