Frustration-Free Homeschooling? … Not Quite

Here’s a question that came into one of the comment boxes:

How do you prevent frustration (on your part and your child’s) when homeschooling? What do you do when you get frustrated? We’re thinking of homeschooling and I’m very worried about my lack of patience especially with an easily frustrated child. Please advise, thanks.

Frustration is a part of parenting, whether or not you home school. We all get frustrated with our children. We can minimize our frustrations, though, and doing so often has to do with managing expectations. 

Setting realistic expectations for our children

Parents often become frustrated when their children fail to meet their expectations. For example:

  • What do you mean you haven’t finished your math yet? (Meaning: I expected you to be done 45 minutes ago!)
  • When are you ever going to learn to pick up your dirty socks? (Meaning: By now putting dirty socks directly into the laundry should be a habit!)

I’ve seen a lot of coaches screaming at their sons for making an error in a game. It is just a game, right? So why are they so upset? It’s because their “star-athlete” child has failed to meet their expectations. 

We need to have realistic expectations for our children. As parents, that can be hard because we tend not to be objective about our children’s abilities. When I taught high school, I once had the ordeal of dealing with a parent who was livid because her daughter did not pass the audition to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at school sport games.  The student simply couldn’t sing the high notes in tune.  Yet, her mom thought she sang the song beautifully. Sometimes our perceptions of our children’s abilities are inflated; other times we can be too critical and negative.

But does this render us incapable of educating our children at home? Not at all.

One of the great things about homeschooling is that you get countless opportunities to observe and understand your children. The sheer number of hours you spend teaching your children and grading their work gives you keen and detailed insight into their natural strengths and weaknesses, their temperaments and learning styles. The more you understand your children (I have a chapter dedicated to that in my book), the better you are equipped to set realistic expectations for your children.

If you’re just beginning homeschooling and you’re not sure what to expect, begin with a pre-made curriculum from a well-established provider. These curricula have been tried and tested, and you can feel confident that they are age-appropriate and well-balanced. If your child breezes through, then you can very slowly add in other activities (or not). If your child struggles in a particular subject, slow down the pace or wait for readiness. Over time you will begin to see your child’s aptitudes and short comings, and you will be able to adjust your expectations accordingly.

Accepting our children the way they are

Part of setting realistic expectations is accepting our children for who they are. Our children are not meant to be mini versions of ourselves; they have their own personalities and will develop their own tastes and preferences. As much as I love classical music, I have to accept the fact that my sons prefer Christian rock. I am a morning person, but one of my kids works well in the evenings.  If I Insisted that my children do everything the way I do or like, we would be at odds most of the day. It would be very frustrating for all of us.  It’s better to recognize and respect the ways our children differ from ourselves.

At the same time, it’s important to know their weaknesses so we can patiently help them to overcome any bad habits they may have. I have one son whose handwriting, after years of effort on my part, is still… interesting.  Almost every day I have to remind him to write neatly and to fix basic spelling and grammar errors. I have come to accept that since he has a tendency to rush through his work, his handwriting leaves much to be desired and he tends to gloss over details. However, he’s an extremely efficient worker, and he wastes no time. These traits are like the two sides of the same coin — they come together. So, I take the good with the bad, praising him for his expediency but patiently working with him to be more deliberate and detailed.

Interestingly enough, one of my other sons is quite the opposite: He’s extremely accurate and neat, but he used to work very slowly. I used to feel impatient with his plodding pace, but I eventually came to appreciate his accuracy. Little by little we were able to build in some speed without sacrificing his preciseness.

Accepting our children the way they are does not mean we consent to their short comings. It means acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses and helping them overcome any undesirable tendencies with lots of understanding and patience.

Expectations for our home school:

In addition to having realistic expectations for our children, we need to have realistic expectations for what our home school day will look like. A trap many new home schoolers fall into is forgetting that curricula catalogues are really sales pitches. Flipping through the catalogues, you begin to believe that homeschooling is a walk in the park because, “Your child will LOVE doing math with this fun program!” and “Even a third grader can teach himself Latin with this easy-to-use book!”.  This leads to unrealistic expectations. Some parents of smaller families boast that they are done school by lunch time. This was never a reality for us. Here are some realities I have come to expect and accept:

  • Toddlers require lots of attention, and they often distract siblings.
  • Young children are neither efficient nor focussed. 
  • My kids do not always enjoy their work. Sometimes they gripe about it.
  • Homeschooling is a full-time job. School takes all day (not for everyone, but definitely for me).
  • My house is messy most of our waking hours.
  • My best plans will be derailed several times a week, and I need to be flexible.
  • Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I lose patience with my kids. When I do, I need to apologize.

If these expectations are daunting or discouraging, know that these are also my realities:

  • My kids are flourishing academically, emotionally, spiritually.
  • Their faith is well-grounded. They know and love Christ.
  • Even though they bicker at times, my kids enjoy each other’s company. We have strong family bonds.
  • I know that God makes up for where I am lacking and that He blesses and multiplies my efforts.
  • These years of homeschooling are filled with challenges but also great joys. It is a blessing to watch my kids learn and grow, to witness their “AHA!” moments, to see them struggle and succeed, and to read and enjoy books together.  

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Parenting requires much patience and sacrifice. Homeschooling requires even more. Once you come to expect and accept this reality along with the fact that you will mess up and lose patience, you will find yourself less frustrated and discouraged.

Less frustrated, but still frustrated at times.

Because that’s just part of the human condition.

Dealing with feelings of frustration

Perhaps even Our Lord felt frustration. After all, St. Paul writes of Jesus: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) So Christ, who was tested in every respect as we are, probably had his patience tested. In Mark 9: 14-29, the disciples try to cast a demon out of a boy but are unable to do so. In response, Jesus exclaims, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” (Mk 9: 19)  I’m no bible scholar, but doesn’t Jesus seem frustrated?  

Let’s remember that feelings of frustration are like temptations. They can lead to sin, but they are not sins themselves. It’s only when you succumb to feelings of frustrations and lash out in anger do you fall into sin. Furthermore, just as temptations can help us to grow spiritually stronger, these feelings are opportunities to grow in patience and self-control.

So don’t get discouraged with yourself for getting frustrated. Instead, offer up these feelings and pray for patience and understanding. Try to shake off your frustrations as quickly as you can. Don’t brood, stew, or count offenses; smile instead. One great thing about kids is that they easily forget their anger. We should try to do the same. Maybe this makes you feel like Dr. Jekyll and Hyde – furious one moment and laughing the next – but we need to fight to keep joy in the home. Most importantly, take all this to your prayers. Our Lord sympathizes with your struggles and appreciates your efforts. With the grace of God, you will eventually grow in patience and serenity.

 Next post I’ll share some thoughts on helping our children deal with their frustrations.

9 thoughts on “Frustration-Free Homeschooling? … Not Quite

  1. Thank you for answering my question! Thank you for also giving examples of the good and the challenging realities of homeschooling. I needed those. Your tips are much appreciated and I’m going to reflect on how to manage expectations better in my family.

    I’m so grateful I found your blog through your book (which I picked up at my retreat). You have definitely helped me try to put God more in my parenting. Thank you!

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  2. Great article Marylou!
    I often also think that sometimes we expect our youngsters be at our level instead of going to their level when explaining things.

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    1. You’re right! I remember when our oldest child was a toddler. She was taking a tantrum and we told her, “Come on! Be reasonable!” Somewhere between her and no. 6, we’ve figured out that you can’t expect a 3 year old to be reasonable 😉

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  3. My oldest has dyslexia and before he was diagnosed I would get so frustrated. I remember nearly yelling at a 6 year old because he couldn’t remember a letter sound! Its so embarrassing to think about now. I learned when my oldest 2 were younger they feed on my frustration. So anytime I would feel that familiar tightness in my chest, I would call a time-out for all of us. I’d let them get up from the table and I would go have some tea or a cold glass of water. Then we’d restart (some days we wouldn’t!). Now, I don’t need to do that nearly as often. Maybe when the toddler is climbing on the table and my 5 year old is singing very loudly – while I am trying to read aloud… that gets frustrating!

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