January 27, 2016

When Rotten Attitudes Enter the Classroom {Homeschooling: Keeping It Real}

In our classroom, we always have a great day! We never have to worry about bad attitudes because the boys always love school and are always helpful and eager to do whatever is asked of them. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful and easy job as their teacher.....um. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahah. Okay. You really didn't believe me did you? Because if you did, well...you shouldn't. We are just like any other classroom. We have our good days and our bad days. Sometimes more bad days than I really want. It usually boils down to bad attitudes. In this second post of the Homeschooling: Keeping It Real Series, I am going to talk about what we do when someone has a rotten attitude during school!

The Problem

It is no surprise that as a homeschool parent, one of the hardest aspects of homeschooling our children is...well, homeschooling our children! They are our children, so we are well aware of their faults. We know their triggers. We know when they are about to lose it. And we don't exactly have the option of sending them...well to the principal or suspension to get them out of the classroom when they do lose it. A single child with a bad attitude can spell disaster for a homeschool day--just like it can in a public school classroom.

I have been there.
Like probably once a week.

I mostly see it in my oldest child. He's a perfectionist. He wants everything to come easy, and when it doesn't...well. It can be very ugly some times. It is interesting to me that for someone who talks all the time, he has a very very hard time expressing himself in situations like this and will just react instead. This ends up looking like a red face, angry tear filled eyes, and crossed arms--just ready to explode. Once we go there, it's very hard to get back on track. And if I handle it wrong, it will escalate and jeopardize our entire day.

Guess what?
I handle it wrong.
A lot.

I can't even begin to tell you the number of times things have gotten very ugly in the classroom because I reacted to his frustration in frustration myself. Oh man. It spins out of control very quickly.

Did I mention that he has a personality like me? 
So he knows how to push my buttons very easily?

I'm sure you can think of one (or more) of your children/students who push your buttons more than most. I see my own imperfections reflected back at me and it frustrates me. LOL.

So how CAN I handle it when he's on the brink?

Most children who react with a rotten attitude are usually doing so because there is something that they are frustrated with. Adults are the same way. So why would we think children are any different?

And speaking of adults...

Let's not forget that the TEACHER might be the one with the rotten attitude!

Been there. Done that.
And when it's a homeschool teacher with PMS...oh that's a whole other level of ugly.

So what do we do???
What can we do for our children with bad attitudes? What can we do for ourselves? What can we do when their bad attitude destroys our own?

The Solution

Here are some tips and tricks I've put together for diffusing the situation...because let's face it. School isn't going to be happening when attitudes are in play...and we can't just simply call off school every time because of them either!

*Get God involved. 
Okay, so this seems weird right? How can you get God involved? Well for me, it's simply making sure that God has been a part of our homeschool day. Did I start my own day with prayer and mediation to get my priorities lined up right? If not, I quickly discover a bad attitude waiting to happen. What about your children? Did you pray with them before starting school? I find that when we fail to pray before school, we tend to deal with FAR more bad attitudes. 

And when tempers flare and the attitudes are interfering--well, I take it to God again. I will have us stop what we are doing and take a time out for prayer to God to help us get re-focused and under control. It helps. Always. 

My friend Heidi has a similar method "When that would happen to us, we would all stop and each say a prayer together and write Proverbs for 15 minutes. It is like a reboot."

*Make sure your child's basic needs are being met.
Feed them.
What? Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of being "hangry"? LOL! My boys experience the most attitude disruptions in the period just before lunchtime. I make sure they get snacks about an hour before lunch because they need it to help keep them focused. We do nuts, pretzels, fruit, granola bars...things that can be eaten while they are working. Trust me. It makes a difference.

My friend Diana (of Busy Homeschool Days) agrees: "Food! I'm learning to feed the monster! {I feel like I'm in one of those snickers commercials!} It brings the blood sugar up and gives us a break."

Another friend Tiffany shares: "Sometimes we break for a snack or just don't begin until after lunch."

It's amazing the power of our stomachs and blood sugar when it comes to affecting our brains! Make sure your kids have enough to munch through their day! 

Make sure YOU have enough to eat. Drink that coffee if you need it. Brew your tea. Make sure you give yourself a chocolate stash to raid mid morning. Make a smoothie full of brain food! You need it just as much--maybe even MORE than they do.

Exercise them.
Oh boy. When my boys don't get to run and jump and play...well all that bottled up energy leads to serious attitude explosions! There is a REASON recess is so important! When I see them on the brink of explosion, I simply say "Finish up what you are working on right now, and then you can have recess." That usually diffuses the situation quickly. But if it doesn't, I have sometimes had them stand up and start doing silly things. At first they glare at me. But then they smirk. And then they smile. And then they laugh. And then they are ready to get back to work. 

I have a series of fun exercise cards where each card is a letter of the ABC's and has an exercise or movement that starts with that letter. In moments when we need a quick refocus, I will have them "exercise" their name. It works. 

What about PE? Have you incorporated physical education in your classroom? That can be considered tough for homeschoolers...but it is actually pretty simple. Create a circuit workout for your kids that includes jumping jacks, jump roping, hopping, pushups, leg lifts, squats, balancing...and then schedule 15-20 minutes to do it every single day. 

We started doing this and it has made a HUGE difference in our day. They look forward to it and remind me when it's time. Remember when we enjoyed PE back when it was actually still fun and mandatory? With the big parachute, relay races, scooters, and kickball? Our kids aren't any different. And when the weather is nice, take it outside! Get some soccer cones and set up simple games!

And get involved! YOU need the break and movements too!!

Jessica says "I have birthing balls instead of chairs for homework time!"

Millie shares "For me it depends on the child...For my oldest it's physical activity."

Alicia says "We break and I send him outside to take the dog for a walk. It always works between the exercise and the time with his dog...it changes him. And it gives me time to breathe and pray."

This is a no brainer. When my boys don't have enough sleep, they get cranky. Make sure your kids are getting enough good sleep every night. Maybe they need a time of rest? Or even a nap? Make sure YOU are getting enough sleep! It's so tempting to work while they are in bed for the night. Or to finish that one more thing...but then it's after midnight and you realize the alarm is going to go off in just a few short hours. Trust me. I am a night owl, who actually needs a lot of sleep. So FORCING myself to go to bed is crucial for my success as a teacher.

Millie agrees "My youngest has anxiety which usually means a nap is in order to reset her."

Charlotte shares "If we are tired. I put a halt on school and we have a two hour rest period where no one is required to go to sleep but lights are out and calming music or a calming Netflix show is put on while we lay there and talk, or don't talk, or sleep or don't sleep, but it is definitely a time to just "Let it go!" 

Angela simply says "I often send the kid to take a nap and have him try again later."

*Change Gears
Sometimes, the problem is simply accepting that your child is struggling with something related to school and they need to change gears to something else. Having issues in math? Don't let it escalate to tears! You are in control of the schedule, so change it! Let them shift to a subject they enjoy so they can get re-focused. You can attempt that math again later with a fresh outlook. 
I have saved us a lot of bad attitudes by changing up our school day so that we do blocks of two subjects with a recess after. He can choose what he does, but whatever he picks has to be done before he can go to recess. This gives him a sense of being in control and puts him in a much better frame of mind.
Charlotte shares "If we are having issues, then before we start back up a lesson, we focus with a small activity like a quick Lego build. I might say "build me a boat!" and she, and her little brother, build a boat. They giggle and laugh and then we can start again."
Lindsey says "My daughter is finishing up her reading lessons book, and does first grade math work sheets. But if she is easily frustrated by challenges. On days that she is really struggling I go back and do an easier lesson. That way she is still doing school, but being able to accomplish it with ease makes it more fun."
*Teach them how to communicate
What do I mean? Well as I said earlier. Most bad attitudes in children are related to a frustration about something they are experiencing. I have learned that my oldest needs to be reminded sometimes about how to communicate in these times of frustration. If he feels himself losing control, I remind him to communicate his feelings so that I can best help him. Give them the freedom to ask questions without being made to feel dumb or stupid. We want to encourage them to express themselves properly, so that we can avoid the blowups. 

9 out of 10 times, my oldest's problems relate to him not remembering how to do something I taught him. And he just forgets that he can simply ask me for help. Instead, he buries his head in his arms and sheds many angry tears at his own inability to grasp or accomplish something. We regularly have to walk through the following:

1. Will your tears fix the problem? (no)
2. Is the frustration you are experiencing related to something you don't understand? (yes)
3. If yes, have you asked mommy to help you with it? (no)
4. Is mommy willing to help you? (yes)

Once we work through these questions, I then advise him to take a deep breath, wipe his eyes, and think about what he needs. Then and ONLY then can he ask. This allows him to get control over himself so that he can communicate freely.

Sometimes, the bad attitude is not related to the current assignment, but rather school as a whole. If you are a homeschooler, I'm SURE you have heard at least one of them say "I wish I didn't have to do school." 

It's in times like this, that it might be good to just sit and TALK. What do they wish they could do instead? If it's just to play, have a good chat with them about the importance of education and the reasons why we go to "school". What kind of job do they want later? Obviously adjust this for your child's age. Sometimes just telling them that you understand but that there is a time for work and a time for play can suffice.

More than anything, during this time of frustration, I work on teaching him to communicate his feelings and needs properly to me or whomever is involved.

Don't forget the power of a "soft answer"
When it comes to dealing with frustrations, it's back to the basics...back to the source of all wisdom for our family...

"A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare." Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)

It's so simple. Yet I need this PLASTERED all over my desk in the classroom. When I respond to his frustration with a soft answer. A gentle touch. A hug. A pat. LOVE. I can diffuse the situation fairly quickly. When I demonstrate to him proper communication, it gives him the proper outlet for his own communication.

Do I remember to do this?
Not always.

I am working so hard on answering his frustrations with kindness and gentleness instead of frustration of my own. But I have a long way to go.

*Sometimes you have to deal with the heart
There are times when the issues are boiled down to a character level. It becomes a heart matter. It's not about you not helping them with something that causes them to lose it. It's about them losing control of their emotions just because they choose to. 

There are legitimate cases where children have issues of some kind that get their emotions out of whack. That's a whole other situation and issue. 

I am talking about cases when it's just downright a complete loss of control. When the countenance falls. The tongue becomes sharp. When it becomes a situation of disrespect.

We deal with that here. 
Frequently, I'm afraid.

Every family has their own methods for dealing with this, but it HAS to be done. Maintaining control of one's self is so important, and yet all too many children today do not know how to do it. And then they grow up into adults who have no control of themselves and become loose cannons. We as parents--the ultimate teachers--must always address this issue with fervent action! 

And sometimes that means stopping everything you are doing in the middle of school to take care of it!

One of my friend's Lindsey has this reminder "To all homeschooling moms I would say "Remember that we chose homeschooling so that we could prioritize character building over simple academia. If the focus of a day shifts from book work to character lessons and relationship building, it isn't a failed school day, it's a day devoted to only the MOST important learning."

Cheryl shares "We work on having our children recognize the first signs of a bad attitude & usually work at those first signs where it can be done with verbal admonition. We take the offending child aside for a one-on-one talk (usually on a knee) and talk about the attitude problem. We usually point that the root of the bad attitude is selfishness-- thinking about yourself and wallowing in it. We take them back to the stories of the bible and of some of their favorite heroes to where the character of selflessness is highlighted. Usually that does the trick and if their attitude is better afterward, we go do something that they enjoy.. Be it a walk, doing a hairstyle, building blocks, making some popcorn, reading a book, it simply take a nap etc...If the bad attitude was not caught ahead of time & it leads to the physical hurt of another, then that receives an escalated admonition with a stronger consequence."

Diana says "If the attitude is bigger than a simple need not being met, there are a few things I may try. I have given a chore list in place of school. Usually, the attitude shapes up and he gets back to work on the schoolwork."

We do something similar to all of these. We stop immediately and address the issue. A verbal warning is given and we continue on. If the attitude doesn't change, then we shift to a consequence--extra chores in the house, or outside the house, or a loss of a priviledge. We also do the traditional old school "Name on the Board". If the name is on the board, they have to explain to Love-Of-My-Life (the principal) why it was put there. If there are check marks...well, then they have escalated all their consequences. I have RARELY had to put more than 1 check by anyone's name in any given day. I have found that just having to talk to Daddy about why their name is on the board is a deterrent itself. For now anyways.

Extra chores is another plus. I always have things that they can do for me. It's amazing how quickly they decide a good attitude and schoolwork is better idea than scrubbing toilets and windows.

During these moments of correction, I also pull out scriptures which show the responsibility God has put on me as a parent. That I am responsible for TEACHING them to act appropriately. And that I am not doing MY job if I don't help them curb these attitudes and behaviors. That does seem to help shift the focus back to God. We have pulled out the 10 Commandments and discussed how disrespectful attitudes, break the 5th commandment about honoring a mother and father. 

*Sometimes YOU need the break
What? But THEY have the bad attitude, not me. Sure. Maybe they do. But all too often we get sucked into responding without stopping to think about what we are doing or saying. Then next thing you know you are maybe raising your voice. Or you just find yourself going head to head with them. Even when they have the attitude, sometimes it is best to remove yourself from the situation in order to count to 10 or take a moment to breathe before responding.

But sometimes...you are the one with the bad attitude. 

What do we do when it becomes apparent that WE are the ones with the problem?

Millie "For my bad attitude it's simply some time alone. I send them to recess or to take a break."

Jessica "Make sure you are de-stressed before going into teaching. If that means a cup of tea and doing the dishes first and maybe lying down for 5 minutes and visualizing, then do it!"

Tiffany "If it's me- Afternoon school instead of morning or we just may not do school that day. I do a 4 day school week...so there's an extra day to lean on if need be."

Charlotte "Since I work full-time as a night shift nurse I battle bad attitudes of my own often. Let's face it. Doing Math or listening to my first grader struggle with words when I'm exhausted is beyond challenging and not fair to either of us. Now, there are certainly days where nothing seems to work. Those days get a hot bubble bath and I lighten the load to do it in the afternoon." 

Diana "When *I* am in a bad mood, I'll go do a chore or take a nap. He's instructed to do what he can by himself and then he's free to go play. I may or may not bring him back to finish things later.
We seem to feed off each other when there are bad attitudes happening. So it's usually best that we separate ourselves for a time."

Lindsey "For MY bad attitudes I have to meditate on why I'm doing this, as it is usually caused by impatience or a desire to be done and doing something else."

Cheryl "If it is me that has the attitude problem, I retreat by myself (usually the bathroom) and say a prayer, have them listen to their favorite audio book to get my time alone doing whatever or we all go out for a walk/run and simply enjoy the day."

If I catch myself starting to get uptight, I remove myself from the situation. As Diana said, bad attitudes feed on each other and my attitude will spill over onto the boys and it will be come a big mess. So I usually go and grab my rollerbottle of a relaxing blend of essential oils and oil up. That helps so much. Sometimes I simply announce that it's lunch time...and we take an extended lunch--during which time I sit and read or listen to music. Something to get myself relaxed again. And every now and then I admit defeat and simply cancel school for the day. And pray. I do a LOT of praying. Calling up scripture to mind. There are days I do an impromptu bible study just to get refocused.

Whether dealing with a bad attitude from one of your children, or dealing with a whopper of a bad mood in your own self, there are always steps that you can take to diffuse the situation and salvage your school day. Thankfully as homeschool teachers, we CAN send everyone out to recess that last for an hour. We CAN drop math and go straight to art or PE. We CAN stop what we are doing and go on a walk outside. We can stop and deal with the attitudes in the middle of class without worrying about the time lost. We can even throw in the towel for the day if we need to. 

The next time the rotten attitudes come knocking on your homeschool door, try sending them packing with a few of these tips and tricks I have shared today. We all have those kind of days....but they are able to dealt with, without losing your cool and making a bad day worse!

Thank you for joining me for my second post in the Homeschooling: Keeping It Real series! Today we talked about how we deal with the bad attitudes that enter the classroom sometimes. The first post in our series was about having to make curriculum changes mid-school year. The next post is going to be a guest post from a friend about things she's learned as she started her brand new homeschool journey. I hope you will join me as I continue this biweekly series, giving you a glimpse into some of the nitty gritty aspects of being a homeschooling mom!

What are some things YOU do to diffuse a bad attitude?

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