This edited Q&A is the fifth in a series in which we pose questions about home education to several experts. In this installment, Alice Churnock, Sue Jakes, John Kwasny, Cathy Duffy, and Mystie Winckler describe how to handle setbacks and hard days on the homeschool journey. (Click here for a short biography of each.)
Homeschooling is hard. In some situations, it can be overwhelming. What would you say to the parent who is pulling his or her hair out right now?
Mystie: New homeschooling families need to expect some adjustment time and for it to be hard. One bad day or week doesn’t mean you’re bad at homeschooling. And it being hard for the whole year doesn’t necessarily mean you made the wrong choice. A lot of good things can be hard to go through. That is where the growth really happens.
Cathy: Adapting your curriculum can also help. For example, you’re working through a grammar curriculum. Your child is just in tears over the amount of writing. Maybe try letting them dictate some of their writing to you. Not all of it, but give them less of a load where they struggle. Help them focus on the things that are most productive. If adapting doesn’t help, you could even take a break for a few weeks. Try a unit study with more hands-on activities. Many unit studies give you differentiated learning activities for all ages. So, they allow for more relationship building within the family.
EW: What unit studies do you recommend?
Cathy: Tapestry of Grace is an older one. Gather Round is a new one that’s starting to be really popular.
Mystie: I would also say, at the end of the school day where you really had to hold the line, make sure that you end the day in fellowship. Go to the park. Make cookies. Read a book aloud together. Try to keep the focus on growing in love with each other and with God.
Sue, you homeschooled as a single mom. What helped your family during hard times and setbacks?
Sue: You know, I didn’t ever say, “Don’t worry about it. We got this.” I brought Jesus into every point, and my kids learned to do that, too. I had one moment when I just was like, “What are we going to do? How are we going to eat?” And I cried, and I sobbed. And my daughter said to me, “Mom, Dad is gone, but Jesus is still here.” So I had very wise counsel. Even when we don’t like it, and we’re shaking our fists in His face, He holds us tight.
How can homeschoolers bring Jesus into their struggles?
Sue: You look at your kids, and say, “I am not all that I could be in Christ Jesus. I’m not the kind of mom or teacher I should be, so I’m gonna pray for me. Would you pray for me, too?” More out of desperation than wisdom, I began to pray with my kids. We had several years where we did that constantly. When you do that, you have a lot of answered prayer moments to celebrate. You also have a lot of confession of sin moments together. Author Valerie Bell says kids who will still be in church in 20 years feel unconditional love from their parents. And when their parents make mistakes, the parents ask for forgiveness.
Alice, what about kids who struggle with anxiety right now?
Alice: It’s very helpful for people to understand what is happening when they feel anxious. When I counsel kids, I talk about how your amygdala, the part of your brain that helps process emotions, is like your own personal superhero. So I’ll have a kid come up with their own superhero self—maybe Lovable Lily or something like that. I explain that anxiety is actually good, but it’s happening at the wrong time. When Amazing Alice thinks that I’m in danger, she tries to save the day by preparing me for fight or flight. She releases oxygen, adrenaline, and hormones to help me. But if I’m not running or fighting, those chemicals build up. So we have to burn them off to feel better. That’s why getting exercise helps.
Good to know.
Alice: At some point, we have to target the thoughts. I say, “Amazing Alice, thanks so much for taking care of me, but I don’t need you right now. You’re not helping.” So I teach kids to have those conversations with themselves. Another technique—get kids to write their worries in a journal, then talk about it with them at a particular time each day. That will keep kids from feeding fears by continually talking about them.
John, you wrote a book on how to counsel teens. How can parents help teens deal with losses and setbacks?
John: Parents need to talk with teens about God and their suffering. We need to ask, how does what we’re going through play a part in God’s redemptive plan? A lot of kids right now may feel angry or frustrated. My daughter’s dream senior year became a nightmare. The graduation party she looked forward to became a drive-by graduation party. We had to talk to her about grief. I will say my wife is a ton better at that than I am, and she always encourages me to have more heart-to-heart time with my boys.
How do you do that?
I hang out with them. Sit down and watch a movie or play a game or whatever. Sooner or later they tell me about something important in their life.
Any final advice for hurting families, Alice?
Alice: I want to encourage parents to hang on. In my counseling practice, I hear a lot of parents who say, “I’ve got to fix it.” To some degree, absolutely, show up. But there’s so much grace. The Holy Spirit is going to equip you with what you need in the moment for the task at hand. And in terms of what other people think, we’re never going to please everybody. People are not always going to understand, but our wisdom comes from the Lord. Our job is to continually go before the Lord and say, “Father, honor my questions … and what do you think I need to do?”
—Read the previous installment in this Q&A series on homeschooling: “How to meet kids’ spiritual needs while homeschooling”
Panelists for this article:
Alice Churnock is a licensed professional counselor and eating disorder specialist. She also offers counseling advice to Christian families in her podcast, Ask Alice. Alice is married and has two young boys in Birmingham, Ala.
Sue Jakes is the children’s ministry coordinator for the PCA Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM). She oversees the effort of CDM to connect and equip children’s ministries, develops and reviews resources for children and youth (including an online bookstore), and trains church leaders, staff, and volunteers. Sue homeschooled three children and lives in Georgia.
John Kwasny serves as director of Christian education and children’s ministries at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, Miss. He is also the director of One Story Ministries, authoring curriculum for children and youth such as Pursuing a Heart of Wisdom. In addition to his five years as a Biblical counselor in private practice, John and his wife have homeschooled eight children over the last 23 years.
Cathy Duffy began reviewing curriculum for her own kids. Her research led to several popular books including 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. See Cathy’s latest top picks as well as thousands of curriculum reviews at her website, Cathy Duffy Reviews. Cathy homeschooled three boys and now resides in California.
Mystie Winckler founded the website Simply Convivial, a resource offering gospel-centered homemaking and homeschooling self-paced courses. Learn more about Mystie through her Help for Homemakers YouTube channel. Mystie homeschools five children and lives with her husband, Matt, in Washington state.