From the Mailbox: Disrespectful Kids

This is part of a series of articles based on actual questions I have received and my replies to them. Real names will not be used, and I will address my responses to a generic “Mom”; if you are a homeschooling Dad, the advice can usually be applied to you as well. The wording will be altered from the original letters (and often assembled from multiple letters) and personal details will be omitted or disguised in order to protect the privacy of the writers while still maintaining the spirit of the question. If you have a specific homeschooling question that you would like me to address, please write to me at guiltfreehomeschooling@gmail.com. If part of your letter is used in an article, your identity will be concealed.

Dear Carolyn,
I am trying to homeschool my children, but they do not respect me. They refuse to learn from me, simply because I am Mom. The teens do not set a good example for the younger ones. The teens stay up much too late, then need to sleep all day. We are struggling to get by on a single income and live in very cramped quarters. My husband works hard and comes home too tired to be able to help me with anything. I feel like I am doing everything by myself. Why am I doing this?
–Mom

Dear Mom,
I am so glad that you have written to me. I am sure you have thought about giving up at this point, but instead you have reached out for one more thread of hope. I have that lifeline for you.

I will not pretend that I can offer a magic potion to make everything wonderful by this time tomorrow morning. The job ahead of you will be difficult, but it will be worth every drop of sweat and every tear you shed. I will list below several of my previous articles that will give you more insight into how to handle your situation. The order in which you read them and/or implement them is up to you, but I give the list as your homework. Some of the articles will address issues with your children, but others will address issues with you and your parenting role. The good news is that you can change your own attitude fairly easily.

Is this your first year of homeschooling? If so, the first year is always the toughest, no matter who you are. Do not become discouraged just because things are difficult during the first year — homeschooling becomes easier with each passing year as all family members learn the ropes and get accustomed to a new way of doing things. Students get used to having Mom for their teacher, and Mom learns the best ways to relate to each of her own children. It does not happen overnight, but perseverance will pay off.

I recommend spending time with your students, discussing and planning together for changes to your schedule for lessons plans and household chores. Shift your presentation of lessons to fit your children’s interests and help them get more excited about what they are learning. See Topical Index: Learning Styles for more help in this area.

As for the sleep schedules, are the older children staying up late because that is when Dad is home? Or are they just being undisciplined and defiant? There is no “rule” that homeschool classes must begin at 8am and be finished by noon. Adapt your lesson schedule to fit your family’s lifestyle: if Dad works a late shift and sleeps later in the mornings, you may be able to allow the children to sleep in and keep the household quieter for Dad’s sleeping habits. (I have included a link below that covers ways in which Dads can be involved with homeschooling without teaching formal lessons.) We knew one homeschooling family where the father worked a job that alternated shifts each week (week 1, days: week 2, evenings; week 3, nights; week 4, days; etc.). The Mom and children shifted their lesson times and sleep times as needed so that Dad and the children would always have opportunities to be together. It was difficult, but the relationship of father and children was more important to them than others’ opinions were, and they slept late or rose early to be able to have family times together.

Mom, this is a battle worth fighting, but the enemy is not your children. The enemy you are fighting is anything and everything that keeps your family from drawing closer together. Seeing that perspective can help you identify trouble spots more easily. Browse through the Titles Index and read anything else that catches your eye and scan through the topics covered in the Topical Index. You may especially benefit from the comfort offered in the Encouragement for Parents section.

And now, your homework assignment:
Respect Must Be Earned
Second-hand Attitudes
Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School
Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling after Leaving Public School
Parent Is a Verb
If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind
Limiting “Worldly” Vocabulary
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Siblings as Best Friends
Involving Dads in Homeschooling
Who Wrote This “Rule Book” and Why Do I Think I Have to Follow It?
Homeschooling Is Hard Work
Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup
Redeeming a Disaster Day
We’re Not Raising Children — We’re Raising Adults

We’re Not Raising Children — We’re Raising Adults

Do you set out to make bread dough or to make bread? Do you set out to make cake batter or to make a cake? Following this line of thinking, are you raising children, or are you raising adults?

We read The Chronicles of Narnia, not C.S. Lewis’ first drafts of his stories. When I accidentally attached the collar backwards to a blouse I was making, I did not wear it that way: I fixed the collar first. The time I burned the cookies we were making for Christmas gifts, we did not give those away to our friends and neighbors: we baked new ones. What I have before me is not necessarily what my desired end product will be. I am not raising children; I am taking the children that I have, and training them to be adults.

Children should grow up to be adults. I am sickened every time I see adults acting as immature, juvenile, undisciplined adolescents with poor manners and a lack of even basic social graces, making it seem that some people intend to live in a junior high locker room forever. Adults should never forget how to be child-like, but they should never hold onto childishness. It is delightful to embrace the innocence and wonder of childhood, but it is equally important to abandon the self-centeredness and learn to put the needs of others before your own desires. Childhood should enjoy carefree playtime, but we must mix in age-appropriate responsibilities to teach our children what they will need to know for their future roles in life: independent living skills, dedication to a job or career, home and car maintenance, how to be an effective spouse, how to be an effective parent, and how to teach their own children.

As adults, we need to consider ourselves to be the visual aids that children will observe and seek to imitate. Adults are role models to all around them, whether we like it or not. We are being watched by our own children, by others’ children, and by other adults as well. Consider your own behavior and whether you want to see it mirrored back to you by those youngsters who are using you as a pattern for life. Also, consider what behavior you approve of in others, even by your silence. Will you be comfortable hearing a child say, “But he did it (or said it), and people thought it was funny! Why can’t I do it?”

Children will not be children forever. Children should not be children forever. Each of us needs to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, but no one can tackle that all at once. I tried to view my children as “future adults” as much as possible and teach them, step by step, the things they would need to know and do as adults — from performing household chores to being financially responsible, from making wise decisions to being trustworthy and dependable. We are not just raising children — we are raising adults.

The Forgotten Role Model: Spouse

I have been noticing some differences lately between single adults and married adults, specifically in the way both types of people think and make decisions. I must admit that, at first, I had thought of the single adults I know as just being a little “quirky” in their thinking processes, and then I realized why they seem to do things differently than I or other married people do: an entirely different decision-making process is needed for couples than is used by single adults.

Single adults do not have anyone else to be accountable to. Single adults do not have a spouse for a sounding board or to take into consideration before any major decisions are made. Married adults automatically have another person for those purposes, but that does not mean that all married adults automatically give consideration to their spouses when making decisions. Having or being a spouse requires that decisions should be made with concern for your mate’s needs and desires. Married adults who make decisions as though they are still autonomous singles are destined to become single again. Sadly, their marriages will fail or at least will not be as successful and satisfying as will the marriage of two people who are both dedicated to fulfilling the needs and desires of their mates.

A sad fact of the world we live in today is that more and more children are being raised in single-parent households. Regardless of the reasons behind this phenomenon, the parents must fill in the gaps that these children experience. A single parent is doing double-duty, serving as both father and mother in many situations, even sometimes when custody of the children is a shared arrangement. My heart aches for the single moms and single dads who are doing their best to raise their children alone, and the homeschooling single parents are simply working miracles, in my estimation. However, while they are providing the household income and nurturing their children, there is an unfortunate side effect that they cannot effectively cover on their own. Their children do not see that parent modeling the role of spouse. Children commonly see their parents as a mother or a father, but not as a wife or a husband. The relationship of parent to child is usually restricted to the Mom or Dad role. The single parent is forced to make the major decisions alone. While advice may be sought from friends, co-workers, or grandparents, the decision ultimately rests only on the shoulders of that single adult.

Occasionally, an opportunity arises with my own children when I can give them a glimpse into what it means to me to be a wife, rather than always representing a mother. I point out the same things for my husband, how he is not just a father, his role is also much more complex. When we have major decisions to make, we discuss them together, but not always in front of our children. Therefore, it is important to give the children a synopsis of our decision-making processes so that they can realize how both husband and wife can influence the outcome. While the choices faced by single adults usually come down to a simple yes or no option, the conclusions reached by couples almost invariably contain some level of compromise on behalf of both parties. An adult who is completely unwilling to compromise for joint decisions is thinking with a single-adult’s mindset.

In our family, “checking in” has become routine now, but it stems from a very serious traffic accident that occurred only weeks into our marriage. That first time that my husband did not arrive home from work in a timely manner led to our habit of always letting the other know where you are and when you are leaving. Recently my husband had an after-hours reward party with some of his co-workers. He called me even before committing to attending, just to make sure I had not planned an early dinner. I encouraged him to go have fun at the celebration because he had earned it as much as any member of his designing team, but I understood and appreciated why he checked in first. Some people may not have felt obliged to notify their spouses, but in our family, the courtesy is commonplace. The single adult has no need to check with anyone before making decisions; the single parent may only need to notify a baby-sitter in case of a delayed arrival.

An acquaintance of ours has recently built a new house and purchased all new furnishings for it, replacing everything that was lost in a major house fire. This acquaintance is currently single and has proven it with every decision and every purchase. Every construction detail and every appliance was chosen without regard for any other person. If this homeowner had been married, many of these choices may have had different outcomes. As I toured this new home, I saw many things that I would have preferred to have another way. I could see many decisions that my husband and I would have discussed and done differently, had it been our home, but for this homeowner, discussions and compromises were not Standard Operating Procedure.

The single parent who is blessed with another chance at marriage will once again have the opportunity to provide the role model of spouse to the children, but while still single, it is an extremely difficult pattern to portray. This is where the rest of us can help. I have frequently found myself in the position of being the only married parent that some of my children’s friends know personally. In those cases, I carefully watch how I live out that role, so that I can be an effective role model to them for what I feel a spouse should be. When an appropriate opportunity arises, I speak up and share my opinion of how situations are handled differently by a wife than by a mom, or by a husband than by a dad.

Television programs are often, unfortunately, the most listened to voices and most watched role models in the lives of our youngsters today. I doubt that a suitable role model for a spouse could be found anywhere on television. The characters portrayed do not usually submit to a Biblical system of authority, but are usually involved in comic role reversals, continual insults and criticism, and deceitful plots against each other. Men are seldom seen as strong heads of their households; more often, they are depicted as beer-drinking buffoons, interested only in sports, and who depend upon their wives to keep the children in line and the household running efficiently. Television programming is rarely considered to be purely fictional entertainment; instead, it has gone so far now as to redefine “reality” for us.

The importance of taking time to be together as a couple, aside from time spent as a family (with the children), is well documented and well publicized. What I am emphasizing is the importance of demonstrating that spousal role to my children throughout the daily routine, not limited to special events and date nights. As I go through my days, whenever an opportunity presents itself, I will point out to my daughter, my son, and now their significant-others the things that I feel are important for me as a wife and the things that are important for my spouse as a husband. As a wife, I respect my husband’s opinion, knowing that he often has greater insight than I do into certain facets of life. As a wife, I try to keep our home as a place of solace and respite from the industrial world where my husband spends his days. As a husband, he looks after the safety of his family, ensuring that we have reliable vehicles to drive and maintaining our home as a secure and cozy shelter. As a husband, he provides for our financial security through a good job and working additional hours to earn extra money when unexpected needs arise. Major decisions are discussed together, with input from our children when the outcome will affect the entire family, but the children need to see that those decisions are made as a team, since we are not independent individuals. The role of spouse means that I am a member of a slightly larger but more important group, the couple, and that I should not neglect my responsibilities to that group. I must repeat this–having a spouse requires that decisions should be made with concern for your spouse’s needs and desires. Married adults who make decisions without regard for their spouse’s welfare or opinion are at a very great risk of becoming single again.

As we strive to train up our children in the ways we feel are best, we should try to include all of the roles they will possibly fulfill in life. I am seeing more children growing up with a view of themselves as future parents, but I seldom hear them speaking of themselves as future spouses or expressing concern over what their future spouse might think of a given situation. It would be sad, indeed, to prepare our children to be parents without preparing them to be spouses at the same time.

Limiting “Worldly” Vocabulary

It happened again. I was sitting with a group of believers, enjoying the fellowship, and it happened. Someone felt it was necessary and strangely appropriate to share a “funny story” that included vulgar language or references to vulgar topics. Uncomfortable faces dotted the circle as a few people looked at the floor, others smirked, and a few let slip some mostly stifled laughter.

I have been in many home fellowships, organized church groups, Christian conferences, and just about any other form of Christian gathering you can think of. In every setting, sooner or later, someone uses language he should not or brings up a topic that is better left untouched. I am not trying to be an extremist or self-righteous: there are a couple of carelessly used slang words that I am trying to purge from my own vocabulary. However, I am more willing to extend grace to the new believer than I am to the Christian who is “old enough to know better.” When the offending party is not a brand-new believer, but instead is a pastor, study leader, or other semi-mature believer, I cannot help but be saddened by the influence of the world on a Godly person.

I was appalled into a speechless stupor one night as two men whom I had (until this point) admired as dedicated Christians held a casual discussion on which obscenities had become mere slang terms in our culture and which ones they considered to still be true swear words. Not only did I consider this to be a completely inappropriate discussion, but it also was neither encouraging nor edifying to the other members of the Body of Christ who were present. To say I was offended by their behavior would be a gross understatement. I deeply regret being shocked beyond words — I wished that I (or anyone present) had had the fortitude to speak a word of rebuke.

As Christians, we are admonished not to conform to the world (Romans 12:2) and not to speak unwholesome words (Ephesians 4:29). Therefore, I was greatly encouraged by my own homeschool mentor who, years ago, told me that she had required her family to substitute less-offensive words for what she considered “worldly” terms: words for certain bodily functions, topics that should not be brought up in public gatherings, “mild” swear words — the things that many Christians say just because “everyone else” does.

I find this language among professing Christians to be not only offensive, but it also has the effect of bringing us down to the level of the world. We can effectively communicate without having to stoop to the level of the world — we do not have to use their vocabulary. We all should have learned by an early age that certain topics are best discussed in private or in the doctor’s office, and Jesus encouraged us to let our “yes” and “no” mean exactly that, so that we do not have to reinforce them with stronger words.

Our presence as representatives of Jesus in this world is to be as salt (either adding flavor or bringing healing) and light (vanquishing the darkness). Nowhere in scripture are we advised to lower ourselves to the standards of the world. However, we are urged to build up the Body of Christ and encourage each other in the faith (Hebrews 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). Our prudent choice of words will help.

Full-Bodied Education: Mind, Body, & Spirit

It would be sadly futile to dedicate your valuable time to the academic side of homeschooling, only to the neglect of your children’s physical or spiritual health. While you are teaching reading and math, also teach the importance of getting proper rest (stressing to your future college-bound students the value of sleep during night-time hours) and a proper diet (again, of great importance to both the college-bound and anyone destined to be living independently someday).

Even young children can begin to recognize their body’s needs for sleep and nutritious food. Carefully explaining to a youngster that he has become grumpy because his body is tired from the hard work of play makes it easier for him to understand his need for rest or quiet playtime, and he will be less likely to view the quiet time as a punishment. Explaining in simple terms how our bodies need protein for fuel will help a youngster realize the value of eating a sandwich instead of begging for junk food. Urge the reluctant child to experiment with his own body — “You think carefully about how you feel all over now, and let’s see how you feel in another hour after eating some crackers with ham and cheese, and then tomorrow afternoon we’ll repeat the experiment with some candy.” (Science class and health class combined with personal experience!)

My daughter identifies her body signals very readily: she recognizes food cravings and quickly categorizes them as protein cravings, dehydration, etc. Her life-long struggle with migraine headaches is caused by monosodium glutamate (MSG) in food or health and beauty products. The “antidote” for MSG is magnesium, but since supplement tablets also contain MSG in the form of corn starch or gelatin, the magnesium needs to come from real foods. Recently my daughter noticed herself craving an odd assortment of foods; a little internet research revealed each of her cravings to be high in magnesium — broccoli, almonds, oatmeal, and the tastiest of all — dark chocolate. Having learned how to “read” her body’s signals helped her to realize what battle her body was fighting on its own.

A bedtime “routine” is helpful long after toddler-hood. I sleep much better if I have a chance to lie in bed and read, even if it is only for a few minutes before the lights go out. Soft lights and quieter volumes in the late evening subconsciously prepare your mind and body for sleep, quickly working their magic. A friend related her frustration at having to arrange alternate living quarters for her college-freshman son. The combination of his two roommates and their friends resulted in the dorm room lights staying on all the time — there was never a period of quiet or darkness. New room, new roommates, better health, happier parents.

God will faithfully guide you in applying His Word to everyday situations in your homeschool. The Bible is full of wonderful accounts of dynamic characters — both good and bad. Examples are readily available of people to be like and people not to be like. Both good and bad sibling relationships are found in the families of Joseph and David. Nathan learned the hard way to listen more closely to God: he spoke too quickly and had to retract his words. Samuel learned not to judge by appearances when God sent him to anoint the next king of Israel, David.

I kept my Bible handy throughout the day and looked up verses as we found them referenced in other books. I read the chapter of Proverbs that corresponded to the day of the month as an encouraging pick-me-up. We used an old family-hand-me-down book of Bible stories as a read-aloud book and enjoyed wonderful discussions prompted by the stories. I was pleasantly surprised at how often I could apply a Bible verse or an entire story to people or events in our own family. My own scripture knowledge improved, as well as building a wonderful foundation for my children.

See that your task of educating covers all facets of your children’s lives, ensuring that each student will grow into a well-rounded individual, able to handle his own needs in all areas of adult life. Teach the whole child, teaching good sleeping and eating habits, and feeding them spiritually.

Teaching Spelling (and Grammar) Through Reading and Listening

Before your children learned to walk, they spent a lot of time observing. They saw you walking around, starting, stopping, stooping, bending, turning, reversing, hopping, skipping, jumping, running, etc. That formed the basis of their knowledge of how upright ambulation is supposed to occur.

The same principle can be applied to learning grammar. The foundational knowledge of sentence structure, subject/verb agreement, pronoun use, verb tenses, etc. will be learned by example through listening to other people speak correctly. Conversely, if poor speech is modeled, it will become the standard.

Once again, apply the principle to learning spelling. Choose reading material that uses correct spelling. (I know that seems like an odd remark, but there are popular children’s books today that pride themselves on their “creative” spelling.) I encouraged my students to pay attention to the spelling of words as they read. My challenges to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary often resulted in races and traffic jams in front of the bookcase. We discussed other forms of the words and their roots. I challenged family members to strive for correctness in emails and computer chats — I have noticed that the better my spelling and grammar are in my emails/chats, the better the spelling and grammar are in the responses that I get. Quality begets quality.

I am not advocating total disregard of grammar curricula; in fact, I put a strong emphasis on learning the correct grammar rules. I do believe, however, that any grammar program should be supplemented with heavy doses of observation and experience through personal reading.

Our hometown newspaper is valuable only in that it provides a wealth of misspellings, punctuation errors, and butchered grammar. (I do not subscribe; it is too frustrating. The shopper is delivered free twice a week whether you want it or not.) In case your local papers suffer from the same problem, you have my sympathy: it is very difficult to teach your children correctness when ineptness is published regularly by so-called professionals. However, we did manage to utilize the errors in our own “Can you spot the mistakes in this ad/article?” game. (I have also been known to shout at the television news readers, informing them of their mistakes.)

Part of the blame for poor grammar/spelling lies with allowing computers to do our proofreading for us. A machine cannot read for context nor determine the difference between their, there, and they’re. If I type “than” when I really mean “then,” my computer is oblivious. Spell-checking programs are wonderful — as far as they go, but please discuss with your students why it is necessary to proofread their work. Besides, we humans are so impressed with what our computers can do, that it gives us a tremendous feeling of superiority to know that we can still do some things better ourselves.

Perhaps it is just my hyper-picky nature, but I pointed out spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors to my students whenever I found them. We used these moments as impromptu mini-lessons to discuss what was wrong, what it should have been, and why. My students’ grammar and spelling skills improved dramatically with their reading ability and with the amount of time they dedicated to reading. The more they saw the correct forms modeled for them, the better they could remember how it was supposed to look when they tried to write for themselves.

Role Modeling: Who’s Who — Otherwise Known as Teaching by Example

If I do not preach a sermon with my life, why would anyone ever listen to my words? That thought occurred to me one morning as I cleaned my kitchen and listened to Christian radio. It is true, you know: if my life and my words are in opposition to each other, my students will notice it long before I will myself. Therefore, I must “mean what I say, and say what I mean” (thank you, Horton) and “do as I say” before insisting anyone else do it also.

When an educational question arises in our house, such as “what does that word mean” or “where is that country/city,” I have taken the lead, grabbing the dictionary, atlas, or other appropriate reference material, proclaiming “Let’s find out,” and then sharing the resulting facts with my students. Over the years, this habit has had a profound effect: my children are not afraid of the dictionary! I have observed them voluntarily grabbing the dictionary and checking proper plural forms for themselves. They have even been known to browse the dictionary just in the effort to learn new words. I have also caught them with the atlas, comparing the population figures for cities around the globe, attempting to gain perspective on relative sizes.

You are your children’s role models. Children will learn by example: speech patterns, manners (including apologizing), stewardship, decision-making (including TV and movie choices), prayer, reading as a general habit (Bible-reading in particular), driving habits, etc. Your children will become like you in more ways than you or they would ever imagine. People of integrity come from seeing integrity walked out before them. If I expect my children to behave a certain way, be it with honesty and courtesy and manners, or with a spirit of giving, or speaking the truth and not lies, I must model that behavior for them. I cannot expect my children to be a better person than I am willing to be myself.

One day when my children were getting early lessons in proper speaking manners, we happened to be babysitting a neighbor girl for a few hours. As I gave them all a snack of graham crackers, I was encouraging them to ask “May I have another cracker, please?” When the neighbor child balked, repeating the question with emphasis indicating she had never before heard such language, I joyfully gushed, “Of course, you may!” to her utter astonishment. I can only imagine the dinner-table conversation at her home that evening.

My personal philosophy on public behavior is: If I do not want to accidentally do it in public, I had better not incubate the bad habit of doing it in private. Case in point, many years ago, when my husband and I had just moved to this house, I was frustrating myself with trying to get the washing machine to cooperate with the mountains of laundry we had accumulated during the packing and moving procedure. As I took the machine apart to find the drain hose twisted beyond usefulness, I heard a knock at my back door. Never expecting a welcoming committee from my new neighborhood, I answered the door wearing the worst possible charity-bin-rejects, my hair messy and dirty from handyman-duty in the basement laundry area, and emitting the nasty aura of a not-so-recent bath. Those dear ladies were very cordially trying to invite me to a welcoming tea, even though my unexpected appearance was certainly not what they wanted gracing their living rooms. I made a conscious decision that day to rid my wardrobe of anything I did not want to be caught wearing — even on laundry day.

On another side of the role-modeling coin, consider for a moment what types of posters are most frequently displayed in college students’ dorm rooms. How do the stars look in the music videos watched by most teens? What are the lifestyles of the heroes and idols of today’s pop culture? Are these really people we should respect and look up to? Do their lives reflect the values we embrace? If not, then why would we want to emulate their standards in fashion? Look intently at the message being sent by the clothing available right now in the stores near you. Even if it was not overtly intended by the designer or not intended by the person purchasing the garment, the message still comes across loud and clear. Allow me to step up on my personal soapbox to say that no one’s daughter, regardless of her age, should look like a junior streetwalker, and yet many of the garments for sale right now create just that look.

I have watched public school teachers mimic their students in language and dress in an effort to “identify” with them, only to wonder later why their students showed no respect toward them. The respect vanished because the model switched roles: the teacher began copying the student, sadly making the student the role model for the teacher.

It is a fundamental principle of human nature to look to those in leadership for cues in how to handle life. Therefore, children will naturally strive to look, act, talk, and behave like their older peers. If you are homeschooling, you are essentially part of their peer group — an older peer. Take care to set the standard yourself that you want to see in those around you: your children, their friends, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, etc., and be very careful from whom you are taking your cues.