How much should your push your sensitive homeschooler ~
Written by Kara Anderson
I used to do this thing when my kids were small.
When we would enter a busy place, I would sort of situate them in front of me, and waddle behind them, steering their shoulders as we navigated the room or store or farmer’s market.
I thought this made sense because if they were in front of me, I could see them. There was less chance of losing them in the crowd.
The problem, of course, was that I was sending a toddler or pre-schooler into the fray ahead of me, with no idea what sorts of sights, sounds and smells they would encounter.
More than once a little one turned around, threw their arms around my kneecaps and started wailing.
How did it possibly take me so long to figure out my mistake – that I was literally pushing my kids into all sorts of unknown situations?
This sort of push-waddle-steer might not be a big issue for a lot of kids.
Kids who would view Disney World as a dream come true instead of a scary, loud, sensory disaster, for instance.
Somebody else’s kids.
But for my kids, doing this was overwhelming and scary.
When I finally realized my mistake I did things differently, and the results were very different. They could enter situations feeling safe and confident.
They knew I was there. That’s a big deal.
I should explain that I consider my kids sensitive.
I first suspected that there was something “wrong” with me in first grade. My teacher was mean. She yelled. And often pinched us if we made her angry.
She would hit my knuckles when I would pick up my pencil with my left hand.
I was terrified of her, and so my mom tried all kinds of things to help me cope.
I brought stuffed animal friends in my backpack. She talked to the principal.
But eventually, something became clear – everyone else was able to deal with first grade.
So the diagnosis was that I was “too sensitive.”
Being told at the ripe ol’ age of six that you are too sensitive is a lot like being told that you write with the wrong hand.
You might think to yourself: “But I can’t help it. That’s just how I am.”
And so I did what any six-year-old-church-going-grown-up-pleasing child might do when continually pushed into a nasty situation day after day:
I shut down completely.
I grew quiet and withdrawn.
And in the 1980s in the Midwest, I have to tell you, this went over really well.
Quiet girls were “well-behaved” girls.
Clearly I had finally put all my silly worries aside.
And so maybe you can see why I have a particular concern with my own kids about pushing them.
(Especially since literally pushing them didn’t work out so well, right?!)
I worry about the fine line between encouragement and throwing my kids to the wolves; the razor’s edge between a gentle nudge and knocking them off the cliff completely.
Sometimes, my kids will want to try something new – a class, or a sport, and I feel like I have to consider things really carefully.
We started a new co-op this year, for instance. It’s more academic than our previous co-op, and there’s homework.
Every week, I wonder if I should push my children to complete the requirements or back off and see what happens. (“Natural consequences” and all that.)
Because I want my kids to learn responsibility, but I also know that my sensitive child, especially, is destroyed by public embarrassment.
Take last week, when my usually happy kiddo left the classroom crying, feeling terribly misunderstood.
The hurt took a week to resolve. Long conversations. Too much brooding for a child.
And so, when I think about signing up for the next session, I wonder – Is it a good idea? Or is it time for a break? Is this really the place for us?
We’ve confronted this with music lessons too. And I’ve grappled with protecting my child’s musical soul from teachers who want to push and can’t understand why I don’t.
It’s a situation that makes me reminisce about how we got started on this homeschool path in the first place. Schools like to push highly gifted kids. The school we started with wanted us to push handwriting and spend a summer getting ready to skip a grade.
We decided, instead, to skip all the grades…and homeschool.
It’s worked well so far. But still — it feels like a big job sometimes, guarding this tender soul.
Remember how I said I used to push my kids into a room or building? I didn’t mean to overwhelm them. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
But once I realized my mistake, I changed my approach.
I would instead take my child’s hand, and give it a squeeze.
I would look into their eyes.
“Ready?” I would ask.
And we would forge ahead side-by-side, as a team.
And so, we still do.
Because I don’t know how much to push. I don’t know what’s ahead.
I just know that the most important thing is to be here. And for us to figure out the next steps together.
Do you have a sensitive child? How do you decide when to push and when to back off?
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