Take pain seriously

The following is a guest post written by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer.

Recently my daughter, Caitrin, took up “longboarding.”

A longboard is an over-sized skateboard, and it looks like you’re surfing on asphalt! My youngest son, Liam, owns one and uses it all the time. Caitrin got curious.

The other day Caitrin flung open the front door and exclaimed through stifled sobs: “Get me bandages. I’m bleeding.”

Liam leapt to his feet; I abandoned my laptop.

Caitrin took quite a spill (“street pizza”)! One knee gouged and bloodied, an elbow throbbing in pain, scraped red, another patch of skin bleeding on her side, with lesser abrasions littered across her thighs and forearms. Spectacular crash!

I quickly assessed my resources and agreed with myself: “I’m no nurse.”

We limped to the car and drove to Urgent Care where the attending doctor, I kid you not, related his own downhill crash on a longboard in college (which must have been only a pair of years ago, if you were to go by his baby face).


Caitrin bucked up. She bore the pain of clippings, injections, and the pressure cleaning of the open wound like a champ. Naturally Liam Snapchatted and Instagrammed the event. Consolation flowed in from all her friends while Caitrin was still on the table! (Social media is awesome.)

We drove home with bandages, Neosporin, and Advil.

A child’s physical pain and/or injury arouse any parent from work or sleep, television viewing or yard work. We jump to action and take care of our kids.

Imagine if Caitrin had come through that door, bleeding, and I had said the following:

“You’re not hurt. You’re lazy. If you paid better attention while skating, you wouldn’t be injured now. I’m in the middle of work. I don’t have time to help you with bandages. Get in that bathroom and attend to yourself. I don’t want to hear another word until you are bandaged, AND back out there trying again. This TIME, do NOT fall!”

We would be seen as the worst parents ever if we took this approach to physical injury.

Yet how do many of us respond to emotional injury?

If your child is struggling with math or reading, writing or French, the struggle may not be as obvious as blood streaming down a leg. It shows up as listlessness, dawdling, whining, arguing, giving half effort, not trying.

All of these behaviors are inconvenient to you. Yet they are covers for pain. Your child is mitigating the dull throb of undeveloped skill. It’s hard work to write, read, think, calculate!

When a child fails (crashes into the wall of criticism, red pen strokes, a whole page of calculation errors), the child hides the embarrassment by pretending to not care.

Pretending not to care = pain.

Competence leads to joy and alertness.

Development equals struggle, strain, effort.

Do not expect a child to sustain interest beyond what he or she can. If a child can give you a minute of undivided attention, take it! If that minute turns into 2-3, even better. But if by minute five, the child is looking at the ceiling swinging his legs, he’s done.

For kids who are yelling, whining, complaining, and fighting with you—that’s the WALL they just crashed into. Pain! Right in front of you.

Get out the bandages (hugs, understanding, a cup of hot liquid, a yummy treat, a break).

Move on to the next less taxing lesson. Do not create chronic pain by pushing, yelling, shaming, blaming, or labeling.

No child wants to fail in school. No child wants to stay a non-reader or non-writer forever. All of those declarations are cover-ups. Your child wants a ride to Urgent Care and Advil.


Photo by Mario Antonio Pena Zapateria

So, follow these steps for emotional pain:

Dress the wound: “This is too hard today. Good work so far.”

Rehabilitate: “Let’s focus on ______ now. We’ll come back to X another day.”

Heal: “I want to help you not hit that wall again next time. Let’s talk about ways to make _________ less painful.”

Take pain seriously.

That is the best gift you can give your children.

Have you run into any of these pain signals from your homeschoolers?

Originally posted on September 25, 2014.

About Julie Bogart

Julie Bogart is the creator and owner of Brave Writer, an online writing and language arts program. She has five kids and homeschooled for seventeen years. Her credentials include ghostwriting, freelance writing (such as a weekly column for UPI), operating as the senior editor for a quarterly industry publication, and she is also an adjunct professor at Xavier University. Brave Writer began in January 2000 and has taught thousands of families from all around the world.


  1. This is fantastic! I needed to read this today, so much. Thank you for a great (re)start to our homeschool day.

  2. This post is just so so valuable, thank you for writing it… I grew up in a time where hearts were hidden and “if there was blood” it got a band-aid. It sure was a different world to the one that my kids have grown up in and I am so very very glad for that.
    se7en’s latest post: Se7en + 1 Crafty Rhino’s… And a Fantastic GiveAway from CNA.

  3. Love this!

  4. I needed to read this. I am ashamed of my treatment of my slowest student (in finishing things, not in ability). I get so frustrated that she takes forever to complete her work and end up badgering her. Thank you for writing this!

  5. ugh. So good. I’m there, trying to force my way through the wall. Thank you for the gentle reminder.
    Sarah M
    Sarah M’s latest post: MOVE WEEK!

  6. This was very touching. Glad to hear your daughter is on the mend.
    My favorite part was: ‘Rehabilitate: “Let’s focus on ______ now. We’ll come back to X another day.’
    Not just because of the feeling of relief I got just from reading it, and the good way I know it would make any child feel, but because it dovetails with what we know about learning. As a music teacher I have seen real evidence of Dr. Edwin Gordon’s advice: When a child keeps making the same error in performing a piece of music, if you switch to another (hopefully very different) piece and ask him NOT to practice the problem piece until another day, the error usually becomes easier to fix and may even disappear on its own at the next playing. Our minds often solidify learning while at rest, without direct attention or force! And like you implied with this wonderful post, our feelings heal that way, too.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • I love this piece of music advice. It definitely applies in all areas of learning. Sometimes We need to stop staring at the problem in order to see it newly when we return to it. I call that letting your eyes go “fuzzy.” Thanks for such a thoughtful comment! (Btw, my daughter is fine, thriving at college and bearing her knee scar proudly!)

    • misspegotty says:

      That is so true on other spheres. With my 3 old, we somtimes explain things to him, and he gives a try and it doesn’t work. After some weeks, when we think he might have forgotten that he even tried, he just manages to do it. As if something had clicked inside him. It’s amazing!

  7. We are mending today. LOL. Yesterday everyone was a mess. We stopped and took a break. Today, one kiddo woke up with a cough and not feeling well. Sometimes, not only is it that they need a break from the difficulty but also because they are exhausted or fighting something. Unfortunately, it is tough to remember this when they are in the midst of crashing. I love the comparison to the wounded child. That definitely puts it into perspective.
    Sharon’s latest post: Geography Block

  8. Thanks for the helpful analogy. It is easy to get caught up in our own thing and become frustrated at our kiddos for not keeping up with our schedule.

    I do have a question, though. My son (8.5) hates writing. We’ve tried several things and finally found that the Evan-Moore workbook works well because it is slow and the daily writing builds so well on each previous day. But we get to day 5 and he needs to write the full thing into his journal and he has an instant wall of pain. He feels like he’s got an impossible and daunting task looming over his head and sulks as soon as the assignment is mentioned. The crazy thing is that he’s practically written the whole thing by day 4 in his workbook. I try to encourage him. More sulks and “I can’ts”. More encouragement. More sulks. Finally I have to start getting firm with him because he absolutely can (and does a great job, too) but he’s telling himself this lie and believing it. Now, I’ve begun to tell him, firmly, to get the first sentence written and I’ll be back in 5 minutes to check in him. Once he begins, he does just fine. It is the fear of failure that keeps him in pain and keeps him from beginning in the first place.

    I guess my question is, do you have any other suggestions for dealing with this kind of perfectionist / fear of failure – type of pain? Because I can’t allow him to keep putting it off until tomorrow. He HAS to write, and he can write. I know that as we plod through it will get better. He did the same with learning how to read — he’s not dyslexic (I have special training in that area) he just didn’t want the struggle. Now he reads great. The same with his adding facts. It was just a fight. It didn’t come easily and he didn’t want to try, now he flies through them. But it was a fight. So I realize it isn’t just about writing, it is about struggling through a topic you are afraid you will fail in — he is a total perfectionist. (We are working with him on that.) He’s afraid to fail so he doesn’t even want to begin. How would you deal with the emotional pain on this level?

    Thanks ahead of time for your thoughts!

    • I am wondering the same thing. My daughter sounds very similar – yesterday our “wall” was basic multiplication facts and her almost refusal to buckle down and learn them so that she can move on to multi-digit multiplication. (WHich she totally understands in concept but her lack of memorization causes her to get frustrated when the problems take too long and she makes basic calculation errors.) If it’s not easy and pain free, she digs in her heels and it’s a fight. I attribute it to perfectionism and fear of failure.

      I’m reluctant to allow her to stop when we hit this wall because 1) I don’t want her to be crippled perfectionism and fear and 2) I don’t want her to become manipulative and think that if she gets frustrated and upset enough, it means she gets to stop. It’s such a tough line with perfectionist kids.

  9. I try, when I remember (not often), to reflect on what I’ve said or done by turning it around. I imagine someone saying my words or doing what I’ve done to me, or to another adult. I’d never say “You can try harder” or “That’s no excuse” to any other adult at any time. Accepting our children exactly as they are isn’t just a good idea, it’s absolutely necessary. Acceptance and trust are vital.
    Laura’s latest post: Why Learning Must Be Hands-On

  10. Thank you Katie and Natalie for your comments and questions. A couple of things to consider:
    Small children have undulations in energy. It sometimes helps to simply admit that with them: “Wow. It feels like a wall! I get that. I wonder what might happen if we took it in chunks. I’ll sit by you. You write a sentence, then we’ll shake out our hands and play a hand clap game, and then try the next one. If you need a break in the middle, we can stop while you run around the table a few times.”
    In other words, don’t simply clamp down, but acknowledge the pain, and think of ways to get through it.
    Consider this. You are pregnant with your 5th child. You are about to go into transition and are in the hard part of labor. Up until that moment, you have managed fine. You have been through labor four other times. But no matter how prepared you are, transition is always scary and daunting and (let’s face it) painful.
    What if your husband looked at you and said, “Get in there and get that baby out. You’ve done it four other times. I know you know you can do it. I’ll be back in five minutes to see if you’ve gotten it done. Millions of women have had babies and complaining about it doesn’t make any difference”?
    You’d feel abandoned wouldn’t you?
    But what if your husband said, “I remember you hit this wall called transition before. It’s scary. I know it’s painful. I will be right here to hold your hand and breathe through it with you. Let’s practice right now. You can clamp hard on my hand if you need to. I promise the other side will be a beautiful baby. We’ll get there together.”
    You’d love that guy, wouldn’t you?
    We can do a version of that with our kids.
    “This is a big task! I hear you. Would brownies help? Seems like on Fridays you feel overwhelmed. I’ll be right here. Let’s make this into manageable chunks and I’ll rub your shoulders if you need some support part way through. If it is really too much, we can stop and return to it in an hour or two.”
    Compassion, support through the challenge, brownies, and love. These help kids the most. 🙂

    • OK, Julie, I can’t believe you succesfully likened labor to writing — but it was awesome!!! I totally get you! Lol! And I’ll add it’s not easy being the husband watching and he would so love to take our pain away…but he can’t. He can only encourage and comfort and pray. Likewise, I can’t take the pain away from my son. He has to get the work done, but you are so right. I need to be patient and cheer him on. And pray for him to not be incompacitated by fear of failure.

      I tend to lose patience because I know what he’s capable of. If he’d just buckle down, he’d get it done. He spends so much energy complaining about it. But today is his Day 5 writing and I did help him break it into chunks today. It is still taking a while, but at least we didn’t have any major meltdowns today. Thanks for the timely reminders!


      • I so remember when everything seemed to take foooooooooooooooooooorever! Sometimes it is the fear of fooooooooooorever. Sometimes a timer helps. My son also struggles with letter formation and spelling….it all adds up to hardness, then add the length and it seems like Mt. Everest! I hadn’t looked at it like a war wound though, I’ll give that a try. (What I have seen of fear of failure is just not finishing…because if it is not finished, nothing is wrong with it, it is just not done. Then I relate Dr. Saulk and his many experiments to find a Polio vaccine…..every time he failed, he said “well that is another way not to make the vaccine, down, now let’s start on another one!”

  11. Wow, what an awesome perspective. Too many people do that, even adults, so I think this is an excellent lesson for all of us as parents, and as friends and members of society.
    Jennifer’s latest post: 50 of the Best Homeschooling Blogs – 2014

  12. I’m reading this and thinking, “Oh, this sounds like Brave Writer and Julie’s awesome advice.” And then, it’s you! Such a good reminder; gentleness & understanding are great teachers.

  13. Thank you so much for writing this. My oldest is having a hard time starting to read and I realize I should now view her not trying as part of her frustration/struggle. I really needed this wake up call today 🙂
    Katie | The Surly Housewife’s latest post: This Moment

  14. Did you write this one for me this week, Julie? Lots of walls. Oodles of hugs. I was feeling the homeschool “you should be doing this” guilt, but now I feel better.

    Thank you.
    Cait @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: Code Master by ThinkFun

  15. Love this! And I have missed reading your wise words, Julie (my bigger kids have headed to college and highschool and I stopped checking into your blog- my mistake!). Not only should we heed our children’s pain but often as adults we need to be more compassionate with ourselves when we struggle- and model this to our kiddos.
    Krista’s latest post: 10 Calming Strategies for When Tension Mounts

  16. Christine says:

    So true! Thanks for the reminder. This post spoke to the heart!!

  17. My 2nd oldest son has what is known as “body intelligence”- he can pick up on any physical activity almost flawlessly and almost immediately, but he has no patience for school work. At all. I spent years arguing with him about this, until I realized that it’s just the way he is. I’ve learned to sit down now and ask him what he wants to learn about and HOW he wants to learn it. For this year, that means learning Language Arts through LOF (which takes about 5 min.) or journalling, math through LOF (which takes about 10 min.), watching 10 min. astronomy videos, and every Friday a documentary or movie on one of the American wars (Revolutionary right now). He chooses his own independent reading books, although I do ask him to read at least one chapter per day, which has been okay so far. This may not sound like much, but I truly feel he is learning so much more in the moments when he is not specifically doing school. A friend of mine just pulled her son out of school because he is the same way as my son. This is her first experience with homeschooling, so I’m mentoring her through this time. What a blessing to be able to help others!

  18. Excellent reminder as I’m, unfortunately, of a rather suck-it-up bent. Thanks for this!
    Hannah’s latest post: Fall Break

  19. This is brilliant. Thank you so much for the reminder and the encouragement.
    Shawna @NotTheFormerThings’s latest post: The Definition of Insanity and Motherhood

  20. What happens when, despite support and patience those skills just don’t develop and you have a 17 year old who is not fitting in and desperately wants to. Who is not competent to enter the adult world and who you are not sure has the capacity to do so…..but all tests come back saying they are able to climb these seemingly unscalable mountains of learning?

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