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Homeschooling a Child that Quits

The other day my child looks at me and said the dreaded words ‘I can’t’ and quit. Right then and there. They wouldn’t budge, they wouldn’t bargain, they couldn’t be coerced. They quit. So the world stood still a moment as so many thoughts ran through my mind “What have I done wrong? Don’t they know they HAVE to do this work? What if I let them quit? Will they refuse to learn anything ever again?” Oh, the doubt is real. So today, in our ‘Homeschooling a Child that:’ series, we will address The Quitter.

Now, quitting is not in and of itself a problem, this is something I always want to drive home in this series, it is a simple act. Quitting could be a symptom of some bigger problem, or it could simply be an exercise of independence. We will look at possible problems, motives, and solutions with a focus on communication in this post.

Possible problems with Quitters

A quitter can stall the homeschool day and disrupt the flow the teacher has carefully planned.

The quitter may discourage others in the classroom from putting effort into their work, may derail a group project, or even spoil a fun day away.

The quitter may create a habit that will sabotage not only their unpleasant topics, but future learning in topics they enjoy as well.

Why are you Quitting?

As with all issues we face in the schoolroom, I suggest open communication as the first mode of resolution. The worst thing we can do when trying to help our child is assume the issue and offer just one resolution based on that. We might be right, more than likely we are wrong. So, we must ask the child, calmly, kindly, ready to receive the answer, ‘why aren’t you trying?’

The answer will vary, but typically the child will claim they ‘can’t do the work’ ‘it’s too hard’ or something of that nature. Occasionally the reason is ‘I forgot’ or ‘I got distracted’ even if you just told them. The reason may even be ‘I don’t like it’. These are all reasonable from a child’s perspective. We now follow up with questions to understand this better:

  • Why do you think you can’t?
  • Why did you get distracted? What were you thinking about?
  • Why do you not like it? Can you be specific?
  • What do you not understand about this?

What to do

The quitter has a reason for quitting. Once we find that reason we can help them better.

If the work seems too hard to them, but they have done it in the past, encourage them and remind them. Show them their previous work if possible. If it’s new and difficult I ask them to just try. They don’t have to do good, I say, just their best. All I ask is that they try. Most of the time they are able to do their work excellently and are then encouraged again with lots of praise. If they cannot do the work then we look again to see if the work is too much for them now or if they should come back to the lesson another time.

If the child is distracted to the point of not doing their work then we must try to reduce the amount of distractions in the working area. Cut out any background music or noise, have the younger siblings sit down with books or do the work during nap time, put toys and books out of reach and eyesight if possible. Vocalize all that you are doing in your effort to not distract them and tell them you expect them to put in the same effort to not be distracted. Remember that ‘Executive Function’ is a developmental milestone that each child reaches on his/her own time, and it may be different between children. To help teach this important skill, recently I gave my son a list of ‘helps’ he can have from me when he needs them. He can choose from the list what he needs whenever he needs help to stay focused and remember to finish his work. This made an overnight change in my recent ‘quitter’ and turned him into a ‘doer’ again!

If they ‘don’t like’ the work, I ask them to be very specific. That way they have to get past their ‘feelings’ and move on to ‘reason’.

“I don’t like cursive because it’s girly!” My boy cries, “I don’t like math because it is hard!” Says my daughter. So we look at it logically:

“Ok, is the Declaration of Independence, written by a man, girly? No? It’s fancier than cursive! How about your father’s signature? No? But it’s so swirly! How about it’s fancy looking, and fancy is not girly, in fact boys can be fancy too. You like fancy things, and if you learn this, not only will it help your regular letters look better, but you will always know how to read and write with these fancy letters because you only have to learn it once.”

“Is the math really hard dear? You are getting every problem correct, you aren’t having trouble understanding it, and you enjoy some parts about it. But learning is working the muscle of your brain, and your muscles get tired don’t they. Do you mean you have to work at it? Work is good right? And it get’s easier with time too! And once you know these things they will always be in your mind for you to use when you need them. A little work today will be good. How about 10 minutes for now?”

As we communicate with our children we can help them not only overcome their own obstacles, but help them in overcoming future obstacles as well with the problem solving skills we give them. And you may even find them reciting the solutions to you as well, I have:

“Oh, I really don’t feel like cleaning the kitchen,” I said. My 9 year old daughter responded “Well, it only has to be done once, and if you get it done now think of all the free time you will have!”

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