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Moody, defiant, and uncooperative kids can quickly transform your homeschool from dream to nightmare — for all involved. How do you make it through and come out the other side?

"I could never do that," many non-homeschoolers exclaim when finding out another parent educates their kids at home. "I'd go crazy being around them that much!" At our most harmonious and sanctimonious, we may pity those people. Faced with sibling bickering, kids who don't want to complete their schoolwork, yelling and door-slamming, though, we start to relate really fast. Our kids, too, may start gazing at the local public school with loving eyes. 

Conflict and struggles are inevitable, but how do we make them constructive rather than morale-breaking, and how do we keep them to a minimum? 

Are Your Child's Basic Needs Met?

  • Adequate sleep is key to feeling alert, satisfied, and motivated — might your child be sleep deficient? On a related note, adolescents have been found to perform better academically if they're able to start school a little later in the day [1]. You might try working out whether your child's productivity and attention peak in the morning, afternoon, or even the evening, and moving the most challenging academics to that part of the day. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the fact that we have the freedom to do that!
  • Is your child hungry? While chronic hunger has a serious impact on academic performance [2], short-term hunger certainly has an impact on mood [3] — and nobody learns best while hungry!
  • Is your child getting enough physical activity? Regular exercise will boost mood, concentration, and overall wellbeing  [4]. My son, in particular, is much more cooperative and focused on his schoolwork if he is at least able to go for a run in the park each day. Some families might like to start their days with a brisk walk or some yoga, while others will find that participating in sports a few times a week later in the day meets their child's need for physical activity. 
  • Are your child's social needs being met? This is particularly something you may want to take a closer look at if your child is an extreme extrovert, while you're an introvert yourself. Wondering how to meet your homeschooled child's social needs? If they already have a wide social circle, see how getting together with friends more often can fit into your child's schedule. If your child could do with some new friends, try signing up for new activities. 

Knowing What Motivates Your Child

People are born curious, but research suggests that they're most motivated on their quest for knowledge when they have some control over what and how they learn [5]. Some subjects — like math, language arts, science, and history — aren't really optional, but kids can still be a lot more engaged in learning all about them if they get a say in what materials they use. Other subjects — like wood-working, public speaking, sewing, computer coding, and nutrition — might be elective (depending on your personal philosophy), and asking what your kids would like to learn about this year can be a great way to get them on board. 

If a child hasn't (yet) discovered the joy of learning for the sake of learning, or simply hates certain subjects, external motivation may also work, and many homeschool parents have had luck with incentives like:

  • Letting their kids know they'll be able to do something fun after they're done with school for the day — going to the park, playing a board game, meeting up with friends, whatever. 
  • Alternating subjects the child doesn't enjoy with those they do. ("After we're done with this page of math, we can work on that model of the solar system!")
  • Keeping lessons short, and working on a subject in short bursts. In this case, the timer becomes the motivation. 
  • Though officially "debunked" as a scientific theory, learning styles can play into how motivated a child is to learn. If you're wondering what you need to know about learning styles as a homeschool teacher, click the link to read more. 

Research also shows praising students for their hard work, and encouraging them to keep going, does a lot more for both self-esteem and academic performance than praising students for inherent intelligence [6] — something you may want to test out with your own kids.  

When You're Just Having An Off Day

Homeschooling means you spend a lot more time together as a family, so you get to see each other at your best and your worst. It also means you have the freedom to take "mental health days" when you need to, or "mental health periods", as the case may be. Are you or your child(ren) simply having an off day? You don't have to let the frustration build, and can just take a break. Depending on how off your day is, that can look like anything from getting a glass of water and taking 10 to veg out to getting out the house and going to the zoo. If you've had a conflict with your child, or your kids have been bickering among themselves, waiting until you are all feeling a bit calmer to discuss the issue in more depth will allow you to come at it with empathy. 

Constant Academic Battles: Could Something More Be Up?

What if you notice that math is a battle every day, your child just hasn't had any enthusiasm for spelling since you started that new curriculum, or your child can't seem to focus no matter what you try? Whatever the problem is, it's time to look deeper if it's recurring. You may be dealing with something as simple as "that curriculum really isn't working for us", or something as complex as learning difficulties (dyslexia or dyscalculia for instance), ADHD, or mental health struggles like depression. It may be time to switch your resources up or to get an evaluation. 

Make Sure To Recharge Your Own Batteries

Let's face it — no matter how uncooperative your kids are being, it's much easier to cope and find a way to overcome your struggles if you're feeling happy and optimistic yourself. Stress has been proven to make people irritable, after all [7]. In a negative frame of mind, you're also much more likely to characterize your kids as defiant, moody, and difficult, rather than as people who are facing a hurdle of some kind. Stereotyping people causes them to behave badly [8], so you want to pre-empt that negative cycle by making sure your own needs are met, too. Regularly do things that fill you with joy, whether it's gardening, taking calculus at community college, volunteering, working, or sending the kids over to grandma so you and your partner can watch a movie by yourselves.

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