School at Home: Ideas to Stay Sane
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
Tips and Ideas to Make Your Family Life Better
By Catherine Weiss
A struggling mama wrote to me the other day. She said, "(I'm) trying to stay sane... And struggling with guilt over homeschooling... I have tried several times to work with both of my kids, who are brilliant... But trying to do homework with them at home is always an all-out War."
In this article, I'm going to provide LOTS of help if you're struggling with the same thing. It's so common today and for the last few weeks and who knows how long parents will have their kids' home from school. Even when the kids are in school, there are so many parents who still face the nightly homework battles.
First, I want to address the root cause of the "all-out War". Then, I want to give parents some ways that they can understand, have compassion for, and manage their own feelings about these kinds of situations, both by learning from your responses/reactions in the past and what to do when strong negative feelings arise in the future. Next, I'll share my best tips and ideas to use as prevention as well as how to keep your cool and respond with wisdom during the next "all-out War" over homework in your house. And finally, I'll share my perspective about homeschool, in general.
I'm breaking this down into three age categories: Elementary ages, Middle-school age, and High School.
The Root Cause of Homework Battles
First, I'll speak to homework battles in general and then break it down for different age groups.
The root cause of homework battles is your war with what is.
It's that simple.
And, let me explain.
What is, is that your child is so happy to be spending more time with you. What is, is that your child's teacher might be "breathing down your back" and your child's back to continue at the same pace that was happening when they were at school. What is, is that your boss might be expecting you to continue at the same pace as well. You must first make peace with what is before homework battles will stop.
So, how do you do that, Catherine?
By practicing mindfulness.
Use the tools you know are available for deepening your mindfulness and then come to the homework situation again, but from a renewed place, a renewed sense that the moment is as it is and the only thing you have control of, truly, is whether or not you're going to practice being mindful with what already is. Only then can you influence it in a positive direction. If you're not practicing being mindful then the topic of homework will always lead to battles if that's your pattern in the past.
No matter what age your child is when you practice mindfulness - and the more you practice, the more mindful you will be – you will have released the root cause which, again, is your internal war with what already is.
Now, for different age groups…
The root cause of homework battles for elementary school-aged children is that most parents are fighting with the reality that children of this age would much rather be doing something of their own choosing than doing something of another persons' choosing. Couple that with parents' unconscious worries about their children's futures and you've got a recipe for war.
The brains of this age human being are still rapidly forming, building new neural connections based in the present moment and naturally want to follow the impulses that pull at the child's interest. Children this age are still very connected to their magical worlds. Up until the age of 6 or 8, children live and breathe their imaginations. Typical homework is the farthest thing from the actual reality of a young child's comprehension. When we parents go to make them do their homework, we are committing the first act of "war" because we are having a war with their reality. So, first, accept and merge with reality as it is. How do you do that? Here's how.
Without any meaning, fears or stories of your own past projected on to your child, notice what's actually going on in reality. Is your child talking to her stuffed animal? That's a real conversation for a five-year-old. Is your child putting Legos together? That's an actual car to her, you know. See the stuffed animal? See the Lego? Without your story about it, it's just what's happening. Aren't you okay with it if you're not adding your meaning on to it? Connect with your child right where they are. Merge with the moment. Be present with them.
A parent must do this first, important step in order to make a connection with the child, in order to even be able to enter the child's world so that communication can happen, in order for your child to even want to listen to you of their own free will, and not just because she wants to please you. If your child is doing their homework just to please the adults around her then she is not really doing the homework, she is made to be the one who is in charge of making adults around her happy.
If your child is in middle school, they are beginning to detach from you and attach to their friends. If they don't have personal motivation to do homework or homeschool by this age, then parents are definitely going to have "battles" about schoolwork unless they can enter their child's world right where their child is first, and then have a (sometimes long) conversation where you can both agree on a course of action for schoolwork. Nothing around schoolwork for middle school-age children is a life or death situation. Children view this "break" from school as a wonderful thing, except those who are dying to see their friends in person and can't. So, the root cause of homework battles for children of middle school age is that they see this time as a chance for freedom and an opportunity to connect with their friends in any way they can. Once parents can accept this, be present to it, without any stories or worries, then parents are more likely to have a child that will be willing to at least talk about new solutions for schoolwork.
If your child is in high school, then they are either self-directed in their schoolwork or again, like middle-schoolers, view this as a wonderful break and a chance to talk more with their friends, maybe playing more video games or having more FaceTime just talking. For high-schoolers, parents still have to accept the moments as they are before they can have influence with their child. Accepting the moment as it is is easier if you, as the parent, can find at least three reasons why the moment, just as it is, is wonderful and even better than if your child was in school. What's one reason why it's actually better that your child is home now? What's another reason? And what's a third reason? Once your mind has three reasons, then you actually start to believe that reality is good, even better than anything else, and you can accept it so much easier. Then, after your acceptance, and your increased ability to be present, you can connect with your high schooler to decide together the best way to address schoolwork.
How Parents Can Manage Their Own Feelings
Whether your feelings arise from guilt over not doing homeschooling, or forcing the kids to do homeschooling, or having battles with your kids over homework, what I'm about to tell you applies to any situation. Even if you're worried about your child's future education or worried about anything, the wonderful technique I'm about to describe will be your new best friend.
When I was a new mom, I was lucky enough to come across a personal growth process called self-inquiry, specifically The Work of Byron Katie. The Work is a way to question your stressful thinking so that you can stay calm in the storms of life and tap into your inner wisdom in any situation. It takes practice, like getting in shape at the gym, so you need to do self-inquiry regularly to see the best results. But once you do, oh my goodness, it's like all the lights turned on in your life when you didn't even know they were turned out. You can navigate through the most challenging aspects of parenting with grace, ease, and creativity. When you aren't stressed is when all the good ideas come to you, right?! So, the goal here is to chill. And The Work is the best way I've found to do just that.
You may have already tried lots of other ways to manage your feelings like breathing through a situation, meditating at certain times of day, saying affirmations, talk therapy, or lots of other things. Whatever it is, find something that works for you. And if you want something lasting, sustainable, and completely eye-opening (so you can see your beautiful self underneath all your stressful thoughts), then check out self-inquiry and The Work. My book, The Present Mother is a 40-day meditation guide using the self-inquiry process of The Work on all kinds of stressful thoughts about motherhood, so make sure to check it out if you haven't already.
5 Great Ideas for Preventing Schoolwork Battles at Home
1. Take a Deep Breath and Relax
Get present with yourself, get present with your child, accept the moment just as it is, and you'll immediately feel the angst lift out of you.
2. Consider Your Situation the New Normal
Whatever your specific situation is, another way to be mindful about it is to consider it your new normal. "Making peace with it", so to speak, starts the chain of peace, all starting with you. Once you're peaceful, creative solutions will bubble up from within you that will be in perfect alignment with the present moment and therefore perfect solutions to the current situation.
3. Consider all of the Learning Your Child is Already Doing
Another way to get more mindful about it is to look at your situation from additional perspectives. One additional perspective is to notice and document all of the learning that your child is already doing related to her school subjects. Science? Is she cooking and measuring and mixing? Check. Math? Cooking covers that too. Language Arts? Is she communicating with you and others? Is she texting? Is she communicating herself in any way? Then she is learning communications, which is what Language Arts is all about.
4. Question Your Worries
What are you actually worried about when it comes to your child's education? Whatever it is, write it down. Then, look at your worries from a distance, written there on your phone or paper. From an observer perspective, question how realistic your worry actually is. Look at how you react when you believe your worries are actually true in the present moment. Stressful, right? You want to transmute this stress into self-awareness, for the sake of your child and their education. Now, look at your situation again, the situation you're worried about. Try to see the situation from some new perspectives. Notice that many of your worries are about yourself… Things like, "I'm failing at this homeschooling thing," or "I'm not good enough (to homeschool my child)," or any other the other disempowering beliefs holding you down. These beliefs are false. Lies. Don't believe them. Find your inner power. Then your child will have a role model to do the same.
5. Let Your Child Pick
Allow your child to pick what time of day to do schoolwork, the location she wants to do the schoolwork in, which subject she wants to work on first, how and to what degree she wants your help. Putting your child in the driver's seat of her education is GOOD for her. Really, you aren't responsible for making sure her homework is completed, she is, right? If you're pushing and pushing her to do it, then you've created a pattern where YOU are the one in charge of her education, and not her. This takes all the ownership out of it for her. Give her back her ownership of her own education. Letting her make more choices empowers her… and you.
5 Great Ideas for Handling Schoolwork Battles at Home
Be aware of the signs that lead up to homework battles. Be aware of your state of mind as "homework" or "schoolwork" time is approaching. Notice your worries, notice what you're projecting on to the present moment. Notice if you're visualizing a negative future. Notice if you're remembering all of the battles in the past. Just notice. Don't judge. Be watchful of your mind. See that your images of past and future don't exist right this second. Notice your child's face, a table, a book, a laptop, a phone, a chair. Just notice what's right in front of you. Notice that no stories of past and future exist when you just notice what's right in front of you. See reality. Hear reality. Feel reality. Maybe you're tasting reality… that good cup of coffee. Whatever it is. Just notice, first.
Now that you've practiced noticing what is, this step is easier. When you notice, with your mind's eye, a battle starting to brew or is brewing, just stop. Stop your train of thought. Stop your speech. Stop your shallow breathing. Stop your quickly moving hands. Stop your darting eyes. Just stop. It might feel silly at first, to completely stop yourself from what you're doing right in the middle of an argument but, believe me, it is the crucial second step. Interrupting your negative train of thought is a critical key to moving to the next step.
3. Intentionally Breathe
Oxygen calms the brain. Oxygen centers the mind. Oxygen renews. Oxygen lowers cortisol. Oxygen gives life. Just breathe. Take a full, deep, long breath. Take another. Be mindful of the breath. Notice, with your mind's eye, the breath. Take as many deep, long, slow breaths as you need to. If your child is wondering what the heck is going on with you, you can just tell them you're learning how to calm yourself down and you're practicing. Another great thing to say that provides a role model for them when they're feeling overwhelmed about anything. So, just breathe.
4. Tune In
Now that you've calmed your nervous system, tune into your child. Tune in to her wishes, her desires, her worries, her thoughts, her feelings, whatever she's saying about school or homework. What is she saying? What are her concerns? Have you asked her? What are her feelings? Find out. This connects the two of you. This puts the two of you on the same page. This unites you so you can solve the challenges together. This puts you both on the same side of the net and the "problem" on the other side of the net. So, tune in to her as if she was your favorite song to hear. Which I know she is.
Up to this point, if you've done steps 1-4, you've done all the fantastic work to be able to successfully collaborate with your child regarding the topic of school. (BTW you can use this process on any topic, not just school!) Collaboration comes easy when we're on the same team as someone else. It's called, teamwork, right?! Collaboration assumes you, as the parent, are not pushing and pushing and your child is not succumbing and succumbing. Collaboration is mutual respect, mutual creativity, mutual wisdom. You were born with wisdom and creativity and so was your child. Collaboration helps you tap into it. Two heads are better than one, no matter their age or education level.
My Perspective on Homeschooling
I've been a homeschooling mom for 16 years. I've tried all the different ways of doing it. My kids and I have been through just about every method, technique, philosophy, and system out there that I've known about. I like to explore and experiment and that we did.
My oldest child is 16 and just finished making all A’s his first term at a Community College where he’s finishing his high school diploma, he’s delighted to make friends there, and truly misses going to classes right now. I say that to let you know that the practices I’m describing WORK if you’re interested in the best education you can give your child: one where they are empowered to learn.
I (mostly) never required my kids to study anything specific at any time. I don’t have a degree in teaching or education. And I really don’t like teaching. I’d rather inspire if I had my choice. My kids learned most of what they know 100% on their own or with some kind of instruction that they requested or that we agreed on together.
My younger child learned every dog breed when she was 5, their care instructions, their behaviors, training methods, and all things dog just because she loved them. She literally memorized them because she wanted to. She’s been told, and other adults have told me, that she’s highly emotionally intelligent.
I say this to inspire you to consider the perspective I’m sharing so that you and your family can benefit as well. This type of homeschooling is called “Self-Directed Learning” and I’ve modified it to define the “Self” as the higher self, the self that is guided by higher consciousness, not by the ego. (The ego wants the candy and wants it right now and is going to scream if it doesn’t get it. That’s the “lower self” with a lower-case “s”. So, don’t confuse Self-Directed with ego directed.) The higher Self is divinely inspired, is present, is in the flow, is creative and calm. You’ve experienced it probably when you see your child in imaginary play, or in a laughter-filled conversation with a friend, or painting if they love to paint, or even when you feel “in the flow” doing a favorite project of your own. Do you remember the last time you were in the flow? That’s what I always seek to create for my kids. An environment, both physically and emotionally, where they are in the flow because that’s where all the best learning takes place.
And here's what else I've learned along the homeschooling way.
Being a mindful, kind person in general and especially with your children is the best way I know of to win at the homeschooling game and at any game. I feel like I am staying true to my own integrity when I am being mindful and kind. A TON of collaboration happens when I'm being mindful and kind, especially with my spouse and kids. My perspective on homeschooling flows from being mindful and kind. I know for a fact that kids are smarter, kinder, and more creative than most adults give them credit for. And I make it my job every single day to notice how smart, kind, and creative my kids already are, without any teacher or adult sharing any knowledge with them.
Children WANT to do the right thing, they WANT to be successful, and they WANT to stay in their own integrity. They don't want to go against themselves. It feels bad to them just like it feels bad to you to go against yourself.
When it comes to you doing something you know is good for you, yet you don't really WANT to do it, how do you motivate yourself? Maybe you hate exercise. Maybe you hate doing the dishes. I don't like to do either one of those things. But I make myself do them. When my child says they don't want to do their schoolwork, yet they've told me three days prior that they want to accomplish it, I first acknowledge their feelings of not wanting to do it and I share that I feel that way sometimes too about stuff I have to do. Then, we work together, having a conversation, to see what the best way is to get motivated to do what we don’t want to do. Then, it happens. And then sometimes it doesn’t happen right then. Sometimes it waits. But it always eventually gets done. But I have to remain mindfully patient during the conversations and during the patience part. I have to remain mindfully respectful. I have to remain open-minded. Because I know that’s where all the benefits are.
So, my perspective on homeschooling is that HOME schooling can look any way YOU AND YOUR CHILD want it to look. You have freedom now. You have choices now - choices you never used to have. This is wonderful news! You can redesign education however you and your child want to. It's such a great opportunity! So, why not brainstorm with your child on what the most ideal education would look like for her and go for that instead of you both being frustrated about what's currently happening? That sounds like a much better use of your time, right?
The Bottom Line
Mindfulness, my friend. Mindfulness. Practice, practice, practice. Homeschooling, homework, school at home, whatever you want to call it gets SOOO much better when you practice mindfulness before, during, and after schoolwork. Practicing can take as little or as much time as you want to devote. It can look as simple as just recognizing that your eyes are looking at words right now. Boom. Now you’re mindful. Because you’re tuned into the present moment.
LIFE gets SOOO much better when you practice mindfulness. Sure, go ahead and, with your child's input, set a timer if that works in your family. But the bottom line is that when you, as the parent, are mindful during the school conversations or in any conversation, "battles" just don't exist anymore because you're not fighting with reality. You’re at peace with reality. And when you’re at peace, cooperation, love, creativity, and a successful, happy child is what you get.
This is an incredible opportunity to grow closer as a family when you take it on to transmute any stress that bubbles up in you into being more mindfully present. What else are you going to do? Keep having homework battles? Now that you know there's a better way you can do better. I know you, your children, and your family will figure this out together the best way you know how. And I'm wishing you and your family all the best!
You can find The Present Mother on Amazon at bit.ly/presentmother and you can find me at www.ThePresentMother.com or on the gram and FB @thepresentmother.