A note from Jamie: Find an update to this post, written five years later, here!
The whining starts before breakfast. It rapidly escalates to full-blown screaming, and we never know how long it will last.
Maybe ten minutes, twenty, or thirty. Maybe one hour.
On our worst days, maybe two.
When it’s over, the heartfelt remorse finally kicks in:
Would you rather listen to this post?
Then it’s damage control and recovery time:
How many things have been thrown and need to be cleaned up? Is anything broken? Our nervous systems now shot (especially my highly sensitive one), we may or may not continue with our learning rhythm for the day. It depends on whether or not we can pick up the pieces–literally and emotionally.
“Hi, my name is Jamie, and I am homeschooling an angry child.”
I didn’t realize it for the longest time. I thought that we were just dealing with typical developmental stages that would eventually work themselves out.
We figured we probably had one of those strong-willed children on our hands, and with firm, loving, consistent discipline (like all the books recommend) the situation would resolve itself.
You’ve heard, of course, about the “terrible twos.” But what about the terrible threes, fours, fives, sixes, sevens, eights, and nines? By this point it became glaringly obvious that we were no longer dealing with the norm.
Photo by David M. Goehring
After years of this, I was one tired, sad mama. A mama convinced that I must be seriously screwing something up. A mama with a popular homeschooling blog who was just about ready to throw in the homeschooling towel.
A mama feeling ridiculously angry herself.
My journey with my child is far from over, far from being wrapped up with a beautiful, “we’re fine” bow. But there are a few things I’ve learned over the years, a few things I wish someone had told me earlier.
Homeschooling an angry child – A few suggestions:
Photo by Samuel Sharpe
1. Tell someone; don’t hide it.
For the longest time, I didn’t open up about what we were going through. Because most of my child’s anger is directed toward me, I felt like it was my problem, my fault. So I kept it inside or tried to make light of it.
THIS WAS MY BIGGEST MISTAKE. Please, if you have an angry child at home, tell someone! Make it a dear friend, of course, but you need support.
One of my turning points was when, in the middle of one of my child’s tantrums, I wrote this to a handful of trusted friends:
“Right now my child has been screaming for over an hour and I am so sad. I need you guys to know, just because I don’t want to feel like it’s this dark secret I’m keeping, and also because I need someone to tell me that it’s not all my fault, I guess. I know I can trust you and I would really value your prayers.”
Typing those words was a relief, and so were the kind, caring responses that came back afterwards.
2. Try stuff.
Anger can arise due to a host of reasons: physical causes, spiritual causes, emotional causes. In some cases all of the above.
This means there’s plenty to investigate and try to see if something helps: curing your child with food, cutting out sugar, counseling, neurofeedback, exercise, time in nature, medication, and/or new discipline techniques.
If you’re dealing with anger on a daily/weekly basis, you have nothing to lose by taking steps toward solutions that might improve the situation.
3. But know that it might not work.
We’ve tried a lot of stuff over the years, but none of it has been the magic cure-all that we hoped to stumble upon.
And that’s why we’ve learned to celebrate victory in baby steps.
In our case, it’s been the slow growth of maturity in our child’s life that has started producing a bit of self-control in their heart.
We cling to and celebrate each good day, each peaceful hour.
Photo by Mark Dixon
4. Make sure you’re standing firm when it really matters.
One of the most helpful things I realized from this popular book by Dr. Ross Greene is that I was making my life harder by fighting battles that weren’t critically important.
I now try to ask myself: “Is this issue going to matter in ten years’ time?” If the answer is yes, I follow through; if it’s no, I backtrack and try to give some leeway. This allows my child to retain a sense of control and independence, which helps.
5. Identify your own anger.
I never thought of myself as an angry person before I began raising this child. My how things change.
Acknowledging my own anger, and the ways I handle it badly at times, has definitely been a part of my own growth through this process. I have been on my knees again and again, weeping and pleading with God to change my heart.
Sometimes my child is right there beside me, doing the same thing.
6. Tie in a reward for yourself.
This may sound cooky, but I promise it makes a difference. On days when my child has had an outburst, I get to watch an episode of Little House on the Prairie.
Crazy, right? But it changes (to a small degree) the way I view and respond to my child’s anger. Usually after a tantrum we need a bit of recovery time, so a show (which the kids can join me for) ushers in calm before we start again.
What would help restore your equilibrium after a child’s explosion? A walk, a bike ride, a story? Just don’t make it a food reward or you’re creating a new issue to deal with!
7. Consider your options.
This past year I reached what felt like my breaking point when it came to homeschooling our angry child. As painful as it was, Steve and I started to consider other options.
For us, public school is out. This child would absolutely not work well in that environment. We might solve one problem by enrolling, but we would create a whole host of others.
Then we looked at private schools, but the cost is prohibitive. Having a child in school full-time would also alter the mornings and afternoons for all of us, which isn’t a trade-off we’re willing to make.
But now I think we’ve stumbled upon a solution–a drop off program for homeschoolers two days a week. I’m hopeful that this break in our week will help us all feel as though we can breathe a little.
It’s more than legitimate to consider your schooling options when dealing with an angry child. You need help and can’t do it alone, so brainstorm what your choices are in this life season.
Imagine what the ideal solution would look like if you could design one, then pray into it and ask God to provide what He knows you need most.
Photo by Vinoth Chandar
Mamas and papas of angry children,
I wish I could wave a magic wand over you today. But I can’t. I can’t make grand promises, can’t tell you how long this will last, can’t offer you ten steps to make it all better.
I can tell you this, though: Your pain has a purpose. It’s a testimony, showing what real faithfulness and devotion looks like in this all too fickle and unstable world of ours.
Your job is not to “fix” your child. Your job is to love. To see with eyes of faith beyond this moment to what one day could be. To believe: Today, tomorrow, and for however long it takes.
As long as your brokenness leads you back to the One who makes all things new, you and your child are in good hands.
Hands that can be trusted–both now and in whatever tomorrow brings.
In this together,
Are you also homeschooling an angry child? What would be your most helpful suggestion for others in the same situation?
This post is part of our Hardest Part of my Homeschool Year series.
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