Home Chores Build a Good Work Ethic

It’s an ages-old debate: should kids be required to do regular chores around the house? My short answer is yes. Mom’s time is too valuable to be wasted on menial tasks. That doesn’t mean that Mom can’t or shouldn’t do them, but it does mean that those tasks that don’t require Mom’s unique talents can be done by anyone, not only by Mom. However, kids will need to be taught how to do a task correctly before they can succeed in it themselves.

Doing chores teaches skills, responsibility, and independence. Some day, for some unforeseen reason, Mom won’t be able to perform all of the household chores and pick up after everyone else. Whether that condition is temporary (such as a case of the flu) or more-or-less permanent (a debilitating health condition… or worse), Mom needs everyone’s help in keeping up. Incidentally, all those things Mom does are things the kids will eventually need to do for themselves in life, so they might as well suck it up and start doing them now to lessen the blow of reality. They might even find that ironing a few shirts provides an ideal time to organize their thoughts, besides making them look sharp at the job interview.

There’s a principle in economics called TANSTAAFL (say it as “tan-stay-awful”), an acronym for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” I applied it to home chores as there are no free rides: everybody can do his share. If you plan to eat this food, you’ll willingly help carry the groceries in from the car and help put them away. As my kids got older, it morphed into “Hey, Mom! I’ll do that job for you, so you can do this job for me,” whenever my kids wanted me to help them with a special project (often making a new costume). They would lay out their proposal and then offer to do something for me (often making dinner), providing me with the necessary free time to bring their idea to fruition. Helping (bartering?) in this way taught them the vital concept of earning: you have to give to get something in return. The job-trading offers showed that they understood the most important part: every player is capable of contributing something to the Family Team.

Starting Young

My kids learned to help put toys away as soon as they were old enough to play with those toys. We stored our toys on open shelves in an assortment of shoeboxes, ice cream buckets, small dishpans, and recycled baby-wipes boxes, each labeled with a simple drawing for what items went inside. I worked side-by-side with my toddlers or preschool-aged kids to help them learn to sort out the toys and get everything put away (nearly) every afternoon before Daddy got home. They could still get something out to play with while I fixed supper, but the worst of the mess had been cleaned up. We made clean-up time into a game by calling out one type of toy and getting all of those put away before focusing on another one, starting with the largest items and working down to the smallest. Then as the kids got older and more adept at sorting and multitasking, they could handle the clean-up tasks themselves, freeing Mom to start cooking or laundry or any other higher-skilled task. By the time my kids were both school age, I had come up with a new clean-up game: I would challenge each of them to run through the house and find ten things that belonged to them and put those away. With a little more growing up, that game became known as 52-Pick-Up and was expanded to include anything that was out of place, if they knew where it belonged, not just their own personal items. They learned to appreciate the look of a tidy home and enjoyed the peacefulness that came with it, so it wasn’t difficult to get them to participate, especially because we played it as a game, and I praised them and thanked them for their diligence. Who doesn’t like being praised and thanked for their efforts? No one here!!

A child who never learns organizational skills grows up to be an adult who still doesn’t know how to organize or clean—I know because I was one. It is because I have struggled as an adult to learn how to organize myself that I began teaching my kids organizational skills as soon as they could pick up an alphabet block and drop it into a box. We played that first as a game to learn coordination, and then we continued to play it later on as a clean-up game.

Later on, I made each child a picture-chart for the bedroom wall to help them learn how to tidy things up in their rooms. A sheet of paper with simple cartoon-drawings showed a bed with wadded-up blankets and an arrow pointing to a neatly made bed, a jumble of clothes on the floor and an arrow pointing to the hamper, a pile of books on the floor and an arrow pointing to books on a shelf. Simple, homemade, but very effective. Teaching them to make the bed first provided a large surface to use for further sorting duties, again working from largest objects to smallest. My younger child felt it was a rite-of-passage, growing-up milestone when he got a picture-chart for his room—he was a big boy now, and he was old enough to learn how to tidy up his own room. He was still far from reading words, but he could read those pictures!

Learning Life-Skills

Yes, it does take longer to do a task with a child than it does to do it yourself. However, the time that is dedicated to teaching the child how to do the task himself will pay off in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. By spending the extra time required to teach my children how to do a task, I was ultimately freeing myself from doing that task in the future. Yes, I can pull a full bag of trash from the kitchen wastebasket, take it to the outdoor garbage can, and replace a new bag within a matter of seconds. Teaching my child to do that chore and walking him through each step could take ten minutes. However, he will get faster with practice, and I can eventually stop supervising and move on to my own tasks for those valuable ten minutes. Even if I only spent thirty seconds emptying the trash myself, that time adds up. If I include emptying every wastebasket in the house and if a larger family means more trash, that can become a serious waste of Mom’s time and talents. More importantly, the children won’t learn to take on the responsibility for that chore.

My kids learned to do many household chores through the years: keeping their rooms tidy; emptying the trash; emptying and filling the dishwasher; sweeping or vacuuming; dusting; cleaning bathrooms; mowing the lawn; carrying and putting away groceries; sorting, washing, drying, folding, hanging, ironing, and putting away laundry; and many other chores that I can’t remember. Some of these jobs were regularly scheduled tasks, and sometimes the kids were just asked to help out with other tasks. Yes, they needed reminders occasionally—we all do. Yes, there were times when they grumbled—we all do. Yes, there were times when Mom still did the job herself—the object here is teaching skills and responsibility, not giving Mom a life of unlimited leisure while someone feeds her grapes and fans her with palm fronds. Yes, there were times when a job wasn’t done perfectly—but that’s not the point—the point is that they learned how to do these chores, and they learned to own tasks as their responsibilities. Family is a team, with all players contributing something to the team; it is a tremendous help if those players can be interchangeable in certain areas. When everyone knows how to do a certain chore, life won’t ever come to a grinding halt while we all wait for the one, single soul who can perform the required task and get us all rolling along smoothly again.

This process of learning how to do chores is important for more reasons than just sharing in household duties as a child. This process is teaching life-long skills in decision-making, organizing, and taking responsibility. No one wants to live with an adult who thinks that if he ignores things long enough, the Trash Fairy will come and make the mess magically disappear. Or the Laundry Fairy, or the Dirty Dishes Fairy. Moms, if you don’t teach your children now how to do chores and how to take responsibility for doing them, who will? Do you believe that allowing your children to be sloths and doing everything for them will somehow transform them into conscientious adults? I’m sorry if this offends you, but if this is currently the case at your house, you are already being offended by children who disrespect you and treat you as their maid. The new guy on the job who leans back in his chair and rests his feet on his desk is an only-slightly-older version of the preteen who played incessant video games amidst empty soda cans, dirty dishes, and smelly socks, while an overworked Mom cleaned up around him. The young adult who expects to draw a paycheck while texting or checking social media on his cellphone is the same kid who never lifted a finger to help Mom or Dad with anything around the house—and worse, was never required to help.

What you teach your toddlers is what your youngsters will do automatically, and what you teach your youngsters is what your teens will do automatically, and what you teach your teens is what your young adult children will do automatically. It begins with sorting toys and putting them away, then progresses through taking out the trash and shuffling loads of laundry, and grows into someone who notices a task that is not being done and takes on the responsibility without waiting to be told that it’s his duty. I have known bosses who swept the floor because the lower-level employees didn’t think it was their duty to sweep. Sometimes it may not your assigned task, but you do have all the talent required. Teach your kids do look for tasks they can do at home, because it will pay benefits in the long run. As employees in that all-important first job, they will receive more positive feedback from taking the initiative to do a task (or asking if it’s okay to do it) than they will from standing around and waiting until someone else tells them to do it.

How to Do the How-To’s…

Start small—don’t expect your inexperienced teen to understand how to do multiple loads of laundry if he’s never had to hang up a single shirt. If your teen doesn’t know how to do laundry, start by showing him how to fold towels and work up from there. Help him master each crucial step before adding in more complications. It’s never fair or just or right to scold someone for doing a task incorrectly, if he’s never been properly taught how to do it.

Show & Tell—demonstrate the task and explain the critical parts. Example: explaining that a clothes hanger is a substitute for shoulders can teach how to hang a shirt straight. Talk about the various steps of the tasks you’re doing and explain the why’s for each step. Kids are more likely to do it your way if they understand the reasons behind why you do it the way you do it. I fold the towels this way so they will fit into this skinny cupboard. Also, specify which steps are required to be done a certain way and which steps can be done as the child wishes—giving him freedom to make it his job, not yours. It’s also helpful to the Family Team concept to listen to others’ suggestions of different methods. Mom is not God, and Mom can learn shortcuts from her spouse or kids. Been there, done that, changed my ways.

Let him try it—and don’t expect perfection or speed. Re-demonstrate any steps that are really crucial. Simple charts can come in handy here, too, such as how much detergent to put in the washer, what settings to use for different loads, and a reminder to clean out the dryer’s lint filter.

Give reminders—without nagging. No one enjoys being nagged. Set a very basic schedule for repeated tasks, such as “Make sure to empty all the wastebaskets and take the trash out by Thursday mornings, because the trash collection truck comes right after lunch on Thursdays.”

Say a sincere thank you—because everyone enjoys being appreciated. Hey, the trash is already emptied—and I didn’t even see you do that! Thank you!!

Keep it simple for success—even very complicated tasks can be learned one step at a time. Allow your child to keep trying until he gets a task done correctly, but do it by encouraging his progress, rather than scolding him for his failures. We worked for mastery in our homeschool lessons, believing that a concept wasn’t fully learned until a score of 100% had been reached. However, the child got to keep trying and keep correcting his work until he had mastered it. The same philosophy was used in learning chores and other tasks: keep trying until you get it right, keep working until you get it done. My daughter now works in a retail clothing store with many high-school-aged co-workers, and she finds their attitudes of “a just-barely-passing grade is good enough” to be completely unsatisfactory. Her work ethic of “keep at it until the job is done right” shows that she takes responsibility and personal pride in how the store looks and in how she serves her customers.

Teach your kids to be industrious by being industrious yourself—laziness breeds laziness. Don’t treat your kids as your servants by always asking them to fetch-and-carry for you, if you are fully capable of getting up and doing the same things yourself.

 

Teaching kids to help at home teaches them how to learn from others, something that will be very valuable in their future jobs. Teaching kids to do their assigned chores in a timely manner teaches them responsibility, again a valuable future skill. Teaching them to look for unassigned tasks they can do teaches them to take initiative, the most valuable skill of all. Being teachable, taking responsibility, and taking initiative combine to form an excellent work ethic, whether your child grows up to become a stay-at-home spouse or a corporate executive, and it starts with learning to pick up toys.

See also (in no particular order):

The Importance of Play in Education
Spoken Destinies & Learned Behaviors
Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M
Sorting Toys Is Algebra
I Give One Grade: 100%—But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It
Using Your Household Staff
Biblical Model of Discipleship
Pregnant & Homeschooling (great ideas for delegating, even if you’re not pregnant)
Full-Bodied Education: Mind, Body, & Spirit
We’re Not Raising Children – We’re Raising Adults
Respect Must Be Earned (good look at our attitudes toward each other)
Taming the Laundry Monster

Bullying

Everyone encounters bullies somewhere. Even homeschooled kids can be confronted by a bully in group activities or once they become old enough to enter the work force. “Forewarned is fore-armed,” so we are presenting several strategies for equipping your children to recognize bullying behavior and strengthening them to be able to deal with bullies effectively. The headlines are current proof that when allowed to continue unabated, bullying will escalate to extremely serious, even lethal consequences. Our aim is to help you stop it in its very early stages. Since not all of our readers are able to homeschool, this article also addresses bullying in school situations. Many of the scenarios presented here are also used by adults, whether deliberately or just out of habit. As parents and role-models, we must break the cycle of bullying among our own peers, as an example to our children. Some readers may object to the statements made in this article, and those who do are invited to take a long, hard look at their own behavior, beliefs, and values, because they may unintentionally be using bullying tactics themselves.

Why Bullies Bully

Bullying affects almost everyone in some way at one point or another. Some people willingly and eagerly push others around (whether physically or verbally) in an effort to make themselves feel more powerful or important. Some people become their unfortunate victims, just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simply put, bullying is a way to manipulate and control other people.

Help your children see that people who pick on others have been picked on by someone else.  Explain that the kids at the park who say mean things are probably being verbally abused by others—very likely by their own family members. When kids have someone in their lives who is routinely insulting to them, they feel the need to pile insults on someone else. They have learned through what has been done to them that it is right and acceptable for them to do this to others. Many families know nothing else: all forms of abuse become generational, simply because no one knows any other way to behave. For someone who comes from an environment where name-calling and ridicule and manipulation are rampant, bullying becomes their interpretation of “appropriate” behavior. Knowing nothing other than this pitiful behavior, they grow up to continue the hurtful legacy with their own children. Breaking the bullying cycle requires adults who are willing to reassess their own value systems and stand up against the patterns of needless hurt, but it can be done successfully.

I know a woman who accepts bullying from her friends because she is dependent on the company and approval of others for entertainment and self-worth. She bullies her friends in return, trying to manipulate them into doing what she wants to do. She’s a grown-up who never learned to cope with bullying in a grown-up manner and therefore dishes it out herself as part of an endless cycle.

Subtler  Methods Used by Bullies

It’s easy to identify the playground bully who shoves other children out of his way and stomps on their toys. The adult bully who loudly curses at the Little League umpire or uses his vehicle as a road-rage weapon is also easy to spot. Recent headlines have provided horrifying examples of bullying taken to such extreme ends that it resulted in murders or suicides. However, most bullying begins with much simpler, less conspicuous methods. Beyond the obvious punching, hitting, and name-calling, there are many more subtle forms of bullying:

  • Putting down others just to make oneself feel good
  • Telling someone they are “useless,” “good at nothing,” “a baby,” “a loser,” or other demeaning labels
  • Making rude comments that only the bully considers to be funny, but everyone else recognizes as just rudeness
  • Not allowing others to voice their opinions (especially dissenting opinions), whether objecting face-to-face, behind the back, or through social media
  • Needing to have the last word
  • Touching someone who doesn’t want to be touched, no matter how lightly
  • Tickling!
  • Reprimanding a student for asking too many questions in class or for answering questions too frequently in class
  • Labeling a child as ADHD or other “disability” where none exists, just as a method of controlling the child’s thoughts and behavior. [I’ve seen teachers label eager-to-learn students as ADHD to make them be quiet, because they (consciously or subconsciously) didn’t like the student’s teach-me-more attitude.]
  • Exhibiting overly dramatic behavior or adding drama to nondramatic situations to gain attention, create or break alliances, and fuel their own desire for power or control
  • Bribing others to be nice (doing whatever it takes to maintain control)—not to be confused with rewarding good behavior [see Is This “Acceptable Behavior”?, linked below]
  • Insisting on being bribed to be civil
  • Being irresponsible as a means of controlling a situation, such as not doing a task that others are depending on
  • Making excuses and/or blaming others for their own irresponsibility, mistakes, and shortcomings; the need to assign blame for whatever goes against their wishes; not accepting the premise that they can be at fault
  • Keeping others waiting, as a means of control
  • Arriving unprepared and making excuses, rather than admitting it; forging ahead anyway, assuming his (or her) “talent” will make up for it
  • Whining, as a means of control
  • Treating every facet of life as a popularity contest
  • Assuming everyone adores and admires him (or her) and getting angry and vengeful when someone doesn’t
  • Not allowing others to learn to lead; won’t delegate or train a replacement; believes no one else could possibly do what he (or she) does as well as he does it
  • As a leader, serving his (or her) own purposes first, before the group’s

The most frequent bullying I had to endure in my own school years was from my teachers: drawing the other students into laughing at one who had fallen asleep or given a wrong answer, rolling his or her eyes at a student who asked a question that the teacher felt had an obvious answer, asking pointed questions of a poorly achieving student to emphasize his lack of preparedness. One of my teachers in high school dubbed one of my classmates “Flycatcher” because she yawned once without covering her mouth, and he called her that for the remainder of the year. I even had an elementary teacher who got angry with a little boy who kept putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans. She stood him at the front of the room, pinned his pockets closed with huge safety pins, and then forced him to stand there while she led the rest of the class in pointing fingers at him and singing a little ditty about putting his hands in his pockets, and not just once—she made us all repeat the song several times and encouraged us to repeat the song any time we noticed him with his hands in his pockets. I found it horribly humiliating, and I wasn’t even the boy being singled out for embarrassment by the teacher. Should I mention the set of monstrous rubber ears she made another student wear who was caught not paying attention? I doubt that any of her students went home to tell their parents about what a bully that woman was, just because she held that much power over them. Even if the parents had learned of her abhorrent methods, they were just as afraid of her as their children were, and no one would dare to cross her. That teacher had no respect for the children she taught, and she proved it through her bullying tactics.

In institutional school situations, teachers, staff members, and bus drivers are now being encouraged to stop bullying when they see it. Schools and communities are enrolling in popular anti-bullying campaigns today. However, those same authorities aren’t likely to judge a few quick remarks or intimidating glances from one student to another as bullying, but instead consider it just as “kids being kids.” After all, if they recognized those methods as bullying, they would have to stop using those methods themselves! A closer look at some of the anti-bullying propaganda reveals that they are attempting to bully the bullies into submission. Is that really supposed to be an improvement?

As a homeschool parent, I witnessed bullying from adults in church situations—and I must admit that much too often in our experience, those adult bullies were closely connected to the public schools as teachers or support staff. They viewed their own behavior as being “instructional” or “disciplinary,” but it is just flat-out bullying when an adult ridicules another person (of any age) for any reason, especially when they encourage others in the room to ridicule and laugh at their victim, too—or they don’t stop those who are bullying through ridicule, name-calling, finger-pointing, or other unacceptable behavior.

Parents are not immune from bullying either, and often exhibit it toward other parents. Consider the moms who put hours and hours into organizing some mom-and-kids events, only to have other families arrive late or not show up at all (despite their promise to attend) or complain about the details of the events. They are showing disrespect for someone else’s work by making sure it doesn’t happen as planned. It’s subtle sabotage, and it’s bullying to maintain control. Yes, there are times when unavoidable delays happen, kids get sick on the way out the door, or numerous other problems might prevent a family from fulfilling their plans. However, one quick phone call can let the others know what has happened, and even if the apology comes a day after the missed event, respect and appreciation are still shown to the organizers. The person who undermines the plans and hard work of others is a bully who wants to control events to keep all the attention focused on himself. Ignoring the effort, commitment, and time expended by others on your behalf is a form of bullying. If you join a group, whether an organized club or an informal play group, you must be willing to set aside time on your calendar to participate. If your time, money, and energy are too important to be wasted on the group, do the other members a huge favor by dropping out and letting them get on with their plans.

This also applies to that one family whose single veto can shut down an event that all the other families in a group want to do. No matter if the group is made up of public school parents, homeschooling families, church members, sports teams, or dance moms, allowing a single voice to overrule the majority for his (or her) own selfish reasons, is openly granting bully privileges to the troublemaker. If one family doesn’t approve of a specific event, they don’t have to come. If they are not available during the scheduled time frame, the group shouldn’t be required to change the entire schedule to suit the bullies. On the other hand, if all members of the group are in agreement and are making a courteous effort to accommodate each other, that’s completely different from one member disrupting everyone else’s plans, just for his personal convenience. Mutual respect compromises; bullies command and control.

Some people are able to break the pattern of bullying and stop the abuse; others carry it on, and the bullies from high school become the bullies in the workplace. Bullying is nothing more than showing disrespect. Most bullies don’t even know they are bullies—they just know that they are only happy when they get everything they want. They don’t have enough consideration for anyone besides themselves to even know they are being disrespectful. Narcissism and bullying go hand in hand.

Ways to Deal with Bullies

Be extra-nice to take the power out of their “punch.”   Proverbs 25:21-22 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (NIV) Thinking back to the two main bullies I had in school, Mom pointed out Proverbs 25:21-22 and Matthew 5:44 to me and told me to be super-duper nice to them when they were being mean.  If they said something mean, then I said something complimentary to them. If that didn’t work, then I asked them if they wanted to hear about Jesus or pray with me, and they just started avoiding me. ~Jen

Pray: God can change what we can’t.  Matthew 5:44-45 “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (NIV) God loves the bullies just as much as He loves anyone else, so pray for Him to bless them and make their lives better, taking away their need to hurt others.

Empathize. Consider why the bully acts the way he does, perhaps he is being bullied by a family member or other authority, such as a teacher, coach, or boss. Understanding that, we can be sympathetic to him, although we probably can’t fix his problems. Parents can also help their kids to see that they don’t have that abuse happening elsewhere in their own lives (like the bully does), which is a good thing. It can confirm to the child that the name-calling is only the bully’s opinion and no one else’s.

Expend energy. Whether you’re crocheting an awesome princess costume for your friend’s cat, kicking a soccer ball around the yard as hard as you can, running a few miles, hammering nails into a block of wood, or cleaning out the shed just because it’s fun to break up all the junk and slam-dunk it into the trash can, finding a way to use up all your pent-up aggression will help you to decompress from the stress of the situation. While working at a consignment shop, my daughter would occasionally notice an employee being harassed by a rude customer and assign that co-worker the task of hauling discarded glassware out back to the dumpster. A session of practicing 3-point-shots with cracked plates and chipped vases never failed to redeem that person’s entire day!

Respect yourself. Finding your self-worth from what peers think of you makes you more susceptible to bullying and peer pressure.  If you have learned to find pleasure in your own company through hobbies and personal interests, you won’t be dependent on others to provide you with entertainment, and bullies won’t be able to control you by taking away your sources of pleasure and recreation.  Someone with hobbies, interests, and proficient talents is also less likely to believe another’s put-downs and more likely to have friends who will defend their worth. If your child is being bullied, build up his self-image by reminding him of the things he is good at and the things you as a family value in him. Give him a list of positives in his life, and let him know that you see worth and value and importance in his life. Can he make awesome origami animals? Does she have the recipe memorized for chocolate chip cookies? Has he never yet been stumped by a math problem? Has she picked up complex lesson concepts more quickly than you anticipated? Does he have flawless rhythm or a beautiful singing voice? Can he impress Grandma with his card tricks? Has he studied his hobby extensively and can rattle off dozens of facts about it? Think about all of the skills your child has that you consider ordinary just because you see them every day, and let that child know that not every kid can do these things. These are the skills that make him special and unique and important. Being able to entertain oneself through those hobbies and interests means that even when no one else is available, you can still be in the delightful company of yourself, where every activity is enjoyable.

Respect others. Respect and bullying are polar opposites. Teach your children that everyone has value, everyone is good at something, and everyone is knowledgeable in some area. A person who respects others can learn something from every person and every situation. Teach your children that unkind words are not acceptable. We had a favorite children’s book called Never Tease a Weasel that we quoted often, as a reminder that teasing was a form of bullying and unacceptable behavior: “Never tease a weasel, not even once or twice. The weasel will not like it, and teasing isn’t nice.” The excuse of “I was just teasing” is a definite sign of bullying.

Surround yourself with positive influences. If someone has enough supportive friends and family around them, a bully isn’t going to take them on—they’re too well protected.  In extreme cases, that may require walking away from an unsupportive, negative situation. If that means leaving public school and beginning homeschooling, or finding a better homeschool group, church youth group, club, or whatever—do it. After all, you joined these groups for their positive influences, so if they only offer negativity, then they aren’t the right groups for you. Removing yourself from a bad situation, leaving a group, not replying to a rude comment, or any other method of “walking away” is not defeat—it is actively taking back control over your own life by breaking the cycle the bully needs to continue to maintain his power and control.

Involve yourself in your child’s situation.  My husband used to join our daughter for lunch occasionally at her public school.  She felt protected and encouraged by his presence, and whenever a bully came up she could introduce her dad, and suddenly the bully wouldn’t want to bug her any more. (He also may have promised to hire a big 5th grader to beat the kid up if he didn’t stop behaving badly, but that’s mostly an unsubstantiated rumor.) Years later, when bullied in her workplace, Jen used her established friendships with her managers to let the bully know that she had influence in high places.  She could casually ask her managers “Do you know what’s wrong with Mary? She seems angry anytime I talk to her.” Then they would ask Mary why she was upset, sending the subtle message that they were looking out for Jen, too. By surrounding herself with metaphorical parents and siblings, she let the bully know she had a powerhouse of support.

Be weird. Weirdness scares bullies, who are counting on predictable reactions.  If you are a loose cannon, you are intimidating. Example 1: My daughter works in a retail store where she wears elf costumes to work during the Christmas season. Her curious attire and jovial spirit are welcoming to the innocent shopper and threatening to the co-worker bully who just doesn’t understand how anyone can be that happy all the time. Example 2: My son enjoyed his buddies and loved them like brothers, but one day things had gotten to the point of him always being the victim of their shenanigans. He restored balance quickly by seizing opportunity and turning his face to sneeze directly into the face of the oldest and largest boy, who didn’t mess with him after that. Incidentally, bullies usually don’t have a true sense of humor, since that requires showing appreciation for another’s creativity. A rubber chicken produced at an opportune moment can be a delightfully effective, yet harmless weapon against a bully. Hone your inner Robin Williams; yodel along with your iPod; disclose a secret wacky talent; scream like a velociraptor; or reply to a bully, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English,” spoken in perfect English.  Catch a bully off-guard with something bizarre, and he won’t have a prepared response, and that takes away his power and control.

These coping strategies may not completely convert a bully back into a human being, but they can enable someone to tactfully deal with him and remove his phony authority from the situation at hand. Family-as-a-team provides the wonderful advantage of familial support, giving children more reassurance of their worth and status, the things that help them recognize the lies that bullies spew. A child who knows his own value will not be intimidated by a bully—he will be more apt to scoff sarcastically, “Yeah, right, good one,” and walk away.

Teacher-bullies are an example of a bully that can’t usually be overcome by being nice or funny. They have all the control in their own territory, and as the supreme authority, they are power hungry. This is where parents can step in for their child and try to settle matters, but a true bully teacher still won’t be intimidated. They will hurl all the typical arguments (excuses) of how they know what’s best since they are the “professional,” they have taught this way for years, it’s your wimpy kid who’s the real problem, and so on, ad nauseum. The administration will stand behind their teacher, unless you can produce copious amounts of evidence and witnesses to the contrary. The only way out of that circumstance is to change classrooms, change schools, or homeschool—my preference.

The hurtful things that rude people say to us are like bags of garbage they throw onto our doorstep. We can’t stop them from dumping their garbage there, but we don’t have to drag the garbage into the house, dump it all out, and spread it around on the furniture. Let a bully’s hurtful words remain outside your door—they don’t belong to you. To counteract bullying, you have to break the cycle and disrupt the bully’s plans.  A bully cannot be a bully without a victim. Refuse to cooperate with him, walk away, or do anything necessary to leave him victimless.

See also:

The Socialization Code

Respect Must Be Earned

Becoming a Successful and Proud Quitter

Dropping the Drama

Family Is Spelled T-E-A-M

Siblings as Best Friends

Is This “Acceptable Behavior”?

If You Can Present Your Case with Facts and Logic and Without Whining, I Will Listen with an Open Mind

Teach Your Children the Art of Amusing Themselves

Never Tease a Weasel (children’s book)

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

A Homeschooler’s View of Education

My view of academics and education changed significantly throughout my years as a homeschool teacher. Once upon a time, I thought of education as something that ended with 12th grade graduation or was extended by some people with a foray into college. During my stint in college, there was an older gentleman whom we younger students joked about as being a “professional student” because he had been taking a class or two each semester for years. I did not realize then that education could be a lifelong endeavor; I just assumed he did not know what he wanted to be when he grew up. Now I can look back at my foolish naivete’ and be grateful that maturity eventually replaces youthful ignorance and its accompanying arrogance.

Education is merely the process of learning, and I continue to learn every day. Learning is learning, whether one is studying a foreign language or making a mental note to avoid the pothole down the block. Learning is the reason why we read the newspaper or watch the local weather forecast on television. We become more educated when we try a new recipe: at the very least, we learn whether or not we want to make that recipe again. Learning, education, and academics take on new, more personal meanings with the advent of homeschooling.

Legal homeschooling in our state required that we submit documents annually to the state Department of Education. One form had boxes to check to indicate your students’ participation in various extra-curricular activities. At first, I viewed those activities in much the same straightforward way that any other educator would. After a few years of homeschooling, however, my viewpoint had shifted, and I began to see things a bit differently — from a homeschooler’s point of view.

Regular library visits? Well, we had never experienced an irregular visit, no matter how infrequently they occurred, so, yes, we planned regular library visits.

Field trips? Yes, we participated in field trips, whether to the grocery store or with more structured, group activities.

Music lessons? Yes, group singing would be taking place at church. There would also be the intermittent “Happy Birthday” choruses and Christmas carols, singing along with children’s videos, banging on the pots and pans, and singing the latest catchy advertising jingles. (It does not have to cost money to be a real lesson.)

Sports activities? Most definitely! You cannot make these children sit still for long! I did not see this as requiring us to join the local soccer club; to me, it could also mean playing horsey with Dad, riding your bike, or splashing in the wading pool — getting off of the sofa and out of the house.

Other planned social experiences? This must have been listed just to satisfy those weirdos who think that homeschoolers never leave the house, but, yes, we did plan to experience society from time to time, and Wal-Mart was typically a melting pot of society in our community.

Another required document was our “plan” for the year’s lessons. I learned to view that with the same earnestness with which I viewed preparation time for dinner each night: we would eat dinner each night, so therefore there would be some type of preparation for it. One night’s dinner may require several hours of hands-on preparation, while another night’s meal may only require phoning the pizza delivery guy. Either way, we ate. Similarly, some lessons received intensive, hands-on preparation, and others were delivered by flipping open a book, but either way, we learned. My Plan of Instruction did not list detailed lesson plans, but did list the approximate amount of time each student would spend per day on each subject (per week for lower grades). [See also Guilt-Free Lesson Plans and Scheduling] If we spent more time or less time on any certain area on any certain day, what did it matter? Some lessons were fast-food snacks, and other lessons were seven-course-meal events. The learning itself was what mattered, not the speed of the delivery, and there were many times when we learned more from the spontaneous, quick-snack lessons than we did from the this-took-me-all-day-to-prepare lessons.

Information of academic importance obviously means different things to different people. Another mandate on our annual report stated that a revised form was to be filed if any of the listed information changed during the year. Throughout the years that my children were enrolled in public school, we were rarely informed of changes to the routine, including some important changes in the staff. After we had been homeschooling for a few years, we were (again) not notified when the district’s Homeschooling Coordinator left on a two-week vacation, leaving a letter of resignation and two weeks’ notice on her desk, a gaping hole in the district’s staff, and many confused families in a state somewhere between shock and limbo — during the busiest time for the district office, the month before the fall semester began. Therefore, based on their precedent, I concluded that most of the changes I could make to our plans would be of minor significance to the district, and I switched textbooks and materials whenever I felt the need to do so, Guilt-Free, without bothering to inform them of such trivial details.

My view of the ideal teaching methods for individual subjects also changed. Once my students were reading well on their own, I allowed their “reading” course to be done in bed at night as a “decompression” time before Lights Out. I found that I was able to monitor their reading ability in their other subjects well enough that I no longer bothered to keep track of their personal, pleasure reading for a “reading class.”

Education, learning, and academics mean different things to different people. “Professional” educators view learning as an activity that takes place under their highly trained supervision. I, as a homeschool educator, see learning as more of a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week pursuit. We do not always need books or plans or even a stone-faced serious attitude in order to come away from something as a smarter person. Education and learning can and do take place in the garage or on the playground, while doing chores or while having fun, early in the morning or late into the night. Education is the process of learning. Learn something every day.

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.

Second-Hand Attitudes

I refer to a “second-hand attitude” as a mind-set that is not a part of your core family philosophy. It is an attitude that is held by another party outside of your immediate family and that has been subconsciously adopted by a member of your family who does not actually hold to those beliefs himself. It is not your attitude; it is someone else’s attitude, but you are wearing it. Second-hand attitudes can come from a wide variety of sources and show up in an equally wide variety of ways.

“When you put your hat on, the attitude just takes over, and you can’t stop it,” the older woman responded to a her adult daughter, who was concerned as to why her normally mild-mannered, very polite mother had suddenly become an obnoxiously loud, rude customer. The mother and her group of friends regularly don their unique wardrobe for social outings, but their uniform of choice has had a rather anti-social effect. Sales associates would often prefer to run and hide, rather than deal with these customers, and other shoppers can be seen giving them a wide berth, getting out of their way. This is not a scene from the Jim Carrey movie, The Mask, where an ancient tribal facemask holds mystical powers and transforms any wearer into an alter ego. This is real life. It causes me to wonder just how well the same argument of “I can’t help it” would have worked for the daughter, had she used that excuse when she was a misbehaving child. I am guessing it would not have worked well at all, so why does Mom think it is a valid excuse for herself now? The rudeness is simply a second-hand attitude that Mom picked up from her friends, but she is attributing it to an inanimate object from her closet.

My young daughter used to spend occasional nights at Grandma’s house, which were followed by extensive shopping excursions the next morning. They would make the rounds of dollar stores and half-price stores, prowling through the low-priced trinkets, and my daughter would usually come home lugging a bag of treasures that Grandma had purchased for her. The most serious item she brought home, however, was a change in attitude. Suddenly, in place of the kind, gentle, and helpful member of our family, there was a dramatic, selfish, commanding, and demanding Princess. Her every whim had been catered to and every desire had been fulfilled, to the point where she believed that she was entitled to that excessive amount of attention and expected that service to continue at home as well. Sorry. That ain’t happenin’ here. Grandma’s attempts at bonding resulting instead in a second-hand attitude.

During their high school years, my son and some other boys became good friends with a twenty-something single man at church. The young man felt he was mentoring the boys, but the results were so objectionable on our end that we had to curtail our son’s involvement in the relationship. He would come back from group activities with the guys wearing a very irresponsible attitude and stating that it should be acceptable for him to stay out until the wee hours of the morning just because his older friend was along, even though he himself was not yet even old enough to drive. Aside from the premature independence issues, “accidents” and “incidents” seemed to follow this group wherever they went, and the young “mentor” showed himself to be more of a ringleader in mischief than a role model for mature behavior. Again, sorry. That ain’t happenin’ here. Suffice it to say that a mid-teens boy should not take on the mind-set of a post-college man, and since the troublesome attitude enveloped someone too large for me to pick up and place in his bed for a nap, stronger measures were required. When he could not shake off the second-hand attitude, we removed him from the group.

In each of these cases, a second-hand attitude was inflicted by others, then adopted and brought home by an unwitting recipient. The infectious attitude was not previously held by the recipient, nor was it accepted by the recipient’s family, but there it was nonetheless. Second-hand attitudes do not have to stick. I usually had to explain in matter-of-fact terms exactly what I found undesirable about the attitudes that had come home with my children, but once they understood what to watch out for, they could more easily spot problematic attitudes in their friends. Their motivation for careful attitude analysis was the guarantee that the relationship would be terminated if the attitudes continued to come home. If the friendship itself was beneficial, it could be allowed to continue — but the poison attitude had to be eliminated.

A common childhood ploy is to say, “But Amanda’s Mom doesn’t care that she acts this way,” or “Joey talks like this all the time.” My response to that is, “Joey and Amanda should be very glad that they are not my children. If they were my children, they would not be allowed to act like that.” That reaction helped my children immeasurably to see that other families may have different values from ours, but it is our values that rule in our household. While it is rarely possible to discipline someone else’s child, I have gone so far as to look an offending child (who was not my offspring) straight in the eye and say with a firm smile and without flinching, “You are so lucky that I am not your mother.” My meaning was seldom lost; they nearly always stopped the unwanted behavior or dropped the selfish attitude and behaved in a more civilized manner. They already knew how far over the line of acceptability they were, but they needed a reminder that someone else was watching.

A positive viewpoint is a wonderful thing to bring home. An encouraging outlook cheers everyone. Conversely, an attitude that produces negative changes in behavior has a nasty effect on everyone who even comes near. I have learned the hard way that I cannot allow these unwanted attitudes to infect my family. I have no problem restricting associations that prove harmful to members of my family. I might decide to skip activities, stop arranging play dates, or just say, “If you continue to bring home _____’s attitude, you will no longer be allowed to go see him/her.” The friendships were not more important than the relationships within our family.

By homeschooling, our children’s friendships are naturally more limited than those of their public schooled counterparts. If my children were only going to have one or two good friends, I wanted those relationships to be worthwhile. Another mom I knew from a very remote area would travel any distance to allow her teen to interact with any other teens, even those of questionable character. I disagreed; I was willing to “go the distance” for a positive, worthwhile experience, but not just because a child demanded to go. Perhaps I have the mercenary tendencies of “what’s in it for me,” but I believe there should be some benefit to my child to make the relationship valid. My child may merely gain experience as a mentor or role model by befriending someone less outgoing than himself, but that in itself is a healthy, positive thing. Picking up harmful second-hand attitudes from those friendships is neither healthy nor positive.

Parents, you have permission to control who your children’s friends are. If your children are old enough or stubborn enough to react negatively to your decision to end their friendship with an unfavorable character, let me assure you that God is just as concerned for your child’s welfare as you are. I have seen many cases where parents prayed for a friendship to dissolve, leaving their child unaffected, and watched exactly that take place. Usually, the offending “friend” became disinterested in continuing the relationship and moved on. At other times, the child’s eyes were suddenly opened to how he was being misused in the relationship, and he broke it off himself.

It took a few tries, but my children finally learned that they could recognize the symptoms of an unwelcome attitude and take steps not to adopt it themselves. In the case of my small daughter going to Grandma’s house, I told her before she left that I expected her to behave the same way at home after visiting Grandma that she had behaved before she went to Grandma’s. She understood that I expected her to be just as helpful and kind when she returned, even though she had not had to lift a finger to help while she was away. There were several times after that that I would notice her begin to respond one way, then catch herself, and change her reaction. Sometimes, she would change a verbal response. At other times, it was just a look on her face that betrayed the presence of The Attitude, and then The Attitude disappeared, leaving her countenance clear and free. In my son’s situation, it was beneficial for the other boys to have him present as a positive role model, but even that relationship had to be ended when it did more harm to him than it did good for them. The welfare of our own family had to take priority.

I read once that the things other people do to us are like bags of garbage they leave on our doorstep. We cannot prevent them from dropping their trash here, but we do not have to bring it inside and spread it around on the furniture. A Second-hand Attitude is nothing more than someone else’s garbage that gets dropped on our doorstep. However, we can recognize it as their trash and refuse to put it on and wear it as our own. If your children bring home an undesirable attitude, help them to recognize it, eliminate it, and take steps to avoid it in the future. If the attitude continues to prevail, do not be reluctant to break off the relationship that generated the attitude change. Second-hand attitudes are infectious, and the welfare of your family must take priority.

When Good Kids Become Not So Good

[This article may not be much help to parents whose children are in total rebellion. Not having experienced that, I feel unqualified to speak to it. It is my desire to help families stop problems while they are still small, in order to prevent them from becoming huge. My son is now a sophomore in our local community college and a most wonderful young man. I will attempt to explain the changes we went through.]

You had a few beautiful babies, you survived their transitions from infancy through toddlerhood into childhood, you are now homeschooling little sponges who soak up everything you present, and life is good. Then one day one of your sweet, adorable, precious babes morphs into this mouthy, irritating, button-pushing creature that you do not even recognize most of the time. How in the world did this happen? What can you do to reverse it and get your sweetie back?

As a general rule, I did not allow sassy, mouthy comments or superior attitudes as a part of normal communication. Occasionally, we would all engage in some light-hearted teasing, but never aimed at embarrassment, humiliation, or ridicule. (If you can’t feel “safe” with your own family, where can you feel safe?) I have noticed, however, many families whose children are permitted on a regular basis to say very hurtful things in very hurtful ways to parents, siblings, and non-family members, and often without any correction whatsoever. I have many memories of gently, but firmly, pulling one of my children aside to a private conference, where I explained what I had found objectionable, what I considered a proper alternative response to be, why this behavior should not be repeated, exactly what the consequences of a repeat offense would be, and what must be done immediately as restitution.

Despite this basic training in acceptable behavior, sometime in his pre-teen years, my son gradually began mouthing off more and more often, purposely irritating his sister, and becoming generally more uncooperative to me. My husband and I tried heart-to-heart discussions, reminding him that this behavior would not be tolerated, and that helped — a little. We revoked privileges as necessary with the same results: temporary turn-arounds, but not a long-term change of heart. It seemed as though there were still times when he just had to misbehave, as if it was uncontrollable, pent-up frustration.

A couple of years before this, we had joined a homeschool co-op group where my children made new friends, we participated in many activities with the group, and we all enjoyed the fellowship. However, there were some undesirable elements in this group, but they were not other children — it was a few of the adults with exceptionally rigorous, legalistic standards. It seemed that the most unreasonable parents had especially introverted offspring and did not respond well to outgoing, fun-loving, happy children acting like children.

When one of the ultra-legalistic parents felt my son had stepped over the line on her rules governing our coop-class days, he replied that he was not aware of any wrong-doing. When I also stood up to her abusive control and supported my son, it was a breakthrough point for both of us. He was thrilled to know that Mom believed in him, and I was thrilled to know he was strong enough to stand up against corrupt authority.

We were attending a church at that time that was also less than desirable. Through several nightmarish situations, we decided to break fellowship with both the church and the homeschool group. It was like the dawning of a new day. The longer we had stayed with both groups, the worse my son’s attitude had become, only I could not see that at the time. Once we were free and the haze had cleared, I began to see that both of those groups had put an expectation on my son that boys are bad. Even though my son had a good, pure heart, the atmosphere of both places was poison to him. He was told he would be mouthy, rebellious, and a trouble-maker, and he found himself fulfilling those expectations even when he did not try to do so knowingly.

My prayer at that time was to be able to teach and discipline the boy, while still encouraging the young man within. It is a difficult transition when our sons and daughters begin to look like the men and women of their future adulthood, but think and act like the children they still are inside. A mom sometimes has to reprimand a teen-aged boy with great tact so as not to emasculate the man who will later head his own household. I tried to be especially sensitive to my son’s physical, mental, and emotional changes, speaking to him as to an adult, so as to avoid insulting his efforts to attain manhood. At the same time, I tried my best to remember that he was not yet an adult and that his occasional childlike behavior was appropriate to his age.

As we began attending a new church, we did not whine or complain about our previous situations, but quietly joined the fellowship with no “baggage.” People in the new church saw things quite differently: since my son was no longer expected to be the token hoodlum or trouble-making ringleader of the group, he did not feel the need to act out. He could relax and be himself again, without fear of anyone lurking around corners, watching his every move. He was recognized as a peer-leader in the youth fellowship and held up to all as a prime example of a fine young man (age 13). What a boost that was to his self-image! He was suddenly free of the negative cloud that had shadowed him for several years, and he felt led to rededicate his life to Jesus Christ and begin afresh. Since that time, he has grown tremendously in his personal faith, makes time every day to read his Bible, and has a strong desire to serve God in whatever capacity is available. He now has a true servant’s heart where he formerly had frustration and confusion.

My summary advice is to look outside of your currently-not-so-good child to see if there is a larger influence causing the problems. I firmly believe that children need to be allowed their small, harmless, “finding myself” rebellions so that they will not need larger ones, but sometimes they may be the innocent good apples stuck in the barrel with the proverbial bad apple. God’s guidance pulled us away from two bad influences before permanent harm was done, and I pray the same for your family, that God will guide you to break any ties that may be potentially harmful.