Help your child defeat discouragement

by Kathy Kuhl

Encouraging Your Child series, Part 1
Adapted from Kathy’s upcoming book, Encouraging Your Child

Homeschooling can help our kids avoid discouragement. Perhaps your daughter was feeling dumb in school for being the slowest reader in the lowest reading group. Maybe you homeschool to let your kids with special needs escape bullying. When I told teachers that my third-grader would sometimes erupt after school if I asked him to put away his backpack, one teacher understood. “He’s emotionally exhausted,” she explained. (Soon after, we brought him home.)

Homeschooling can spare our kids some of these pains. But our kids still need encouraging. It’s easy to praise the child who gets As and Bs. But how do you encourage the child who still hasn’t got subtraction facts memorized after three years? What if little sister has just mastered those facts in 6 months? How to we help our children with special needs to keep trying in physical, occupational, or speech therapy? What about the bright kid who cannot spell or remember to capitalize?

First, recognize and praise effort. Don’t withhold your praise until the end of the lesson, day, or week. Saying “Good try!” “Yes,” “You can do it” or “I can see you’re trying” can give them a little more strength to keep on.

I don’t know in what areas you are a struggling learner. For me, it’s sports. (Team captains used to fight over me, but not in a good way. “You take her! We had her last time.”) Most days, I’m the oldest and least-coordinated member of my exercise class. But a simple “Good” from the instructor can help me keep going.

Second, praise your child for not giving up. To try one day shows effort; to keep trying for many days shows perseverance.

My son worked harder for his Cs in geometry than I did for the As I earned in geometry many years ago. As he struggled, I told him that I respected the way he did not quit. He astonished me once by saying he was glad he had taken algebra, which he hated, because it taught him perseverance.

If you’ve heard me speak, you’ve probably seen a snail my daughter drew for her little brother as we started homeschooling. An odd way to show her concern? No. Academics came easily to her, but there he was, in third grade—not reading, not even getting the alphabet song correct, yet obviously bright in history and other areas.

Snail maze by Elizabeth Kuhl, all rights reserved She drew the snail because, in our first months of homeschooling, we’d found and loved a quotation from Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of Victorian England. He said, “By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.” So my daughter drew a maze of a large snail heading to a distant ark. Like the snail, my son pressed on. He has incredible perseverance.

Have you ever struggled hard in a class, only to get a C, D, or F? For me, my first 400-level math class in college summer school was a revelation. For the first time, I was delighted to get a C. Studying abstract algebra wasn’t life changing. But working desperately to get a C changed how I thought about learning. It gave me deep respect for struggling students. A low grade is not much of a prize, considering the effort it can cost.

For some children, trying again and again is heroic. Is your child doggedly keeping on? Praise him for it. Brag on her when appropriate.

When has your child heroically kept going? Brag on them in the comments below. We’ll cheer with you!

Adapted from Kathy Kuhl’s upcoming book, Encouraging Your Child.

Encouraging Your Child


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