difficult children

Difficult Children Will Bless Your Homeschool

When I first began this homeschooling experiment, I had grand visions of my little 5-year-old calculating blackboard-sized equations, painting masterpieces, and writing eloquent novels.

You can probably relate.

We moms are prone to see our kids as geniuses.

My 5-year-old was pretty amenable to my requests. I was able to get her excited about Latin and the capitals of foreign countries without a problem. She also had an uncanny ability to memorize and retain information. She made teaching as easy and enjoyable as sipping lemonade on the front porch!

My 4-year-old, however, was another story entirely. I called him my little monkey, not because it was an affectionate term of endearment, but because he was literally my little monkey.

Most children are active by nature, but my monkey was always on the move, constantly climbing and bouncing around the classroom I had worked so hard to build and decorate. I had built bookcases, painted a gigantic tree on the wall, and purchased two kindergarten-sized desks for my 4 and 5-year-olds.

I bought him the desk so he’d feel welcome, but I really didn’t expect him to participate in our schooling every day. In fact, in an attempt to maintain sanity, at first I tried to entice him away from our homeschool, to keep him happily busy elsewhere so my daughter and I could homeschool in peace.

Imagine my amazement when later that year my little monkey could regurgitate everything my daughter could, and more! I was surprised to learn that an inability to sit does not equal an inability to learn.

Over the next couple of years, I was pretty much continually surprised by my little monkey! Though I wouldn’t have chosen most of the surprises, I learned more from my most difficult child than I did from all of my other kiddos combined. I’d love to share just a few of the things I learned with you, in the hope that I can calm the anguish of another mom out there with a monkey of her own.

7 Things a Difficult Child will Teach You:


1. You’ll realize that learning happens all the time; not just in a desk.

As a homeschool mom, I needed to understand (the sooner the better) that school didn’t need to look they way my public schools had looked growing up. Learning didn’t always look like a bottom in a seat, quietly completing workbook pages.

As I realized that learning that takes place during road trips, in foreign countries and in national parts is actually superior to learning that comes from a textbook, I grew more comfortable with eschewing desks and textbooks to pursue travel and experiences.

The learning that has resulted from being outside of our classroom dwarfs what we ever learned inside it. I’m so grateful that my little monkey showed me how much learning could be achieved while not in a seat.


2. You’ll invite more movement into your homeschool.

I don’t think my son has ADD or ADHD. We never sought out a diagnosis either way, because we were able to make things work to his advantage.

I don’t think I’m hyperactive, either. And yet I couldn’t possibly sit in a desk all day.

Just ask the hubs, who I drive bonkers on long flights and during church. I need to move!

I had my kiddos take learning style quizzes not too long ago and learned that each of them were a mixture of learning styles — and each had a good bit of kinesthetic. I would guess that most people are a pretty good mix of learning styles and benefit from learning in a variety of ways.

If all of my children had been like my oldest, I would never have had the opportunity to learn about and address all of the learning styles. Doing is always better than listening, so you can transform their doing into a learning activity.

We probably would not have implemented dance parties, which are one of our favorite things!


3. You’ll seek learning and growth (and God) as a teacher and parent.

Teachers won’t become better teachers if everything always goes perfectly and nobody challenges the status quo. It’s common knowledge that we grow the most when the challenges are the most difficult.

Heavenly Father wants us to learn to be like Him — to share his Godly attributes. And yet, he values agency (freedom of choice) so much that he would never force us to choose what He wants for us — even though he absolutely knows what’s best for us.

Heavenly Father has organized us into families so that we can learn to be like Him. As parents who love our children unconditionally, we learn how He loves us unconditionally. And we learn, as parents, to let our own children have their agency and make their own choices, regardless of what we want for them, and to keep on loving them unconditionally.

My monkey let me know right upfront that he wasn’t going to attempt to learn Latin. He harbored no secret hopes of being the Pope or a botanist, which meant it would be a total waste of his time and effort.

Nor was he interested in memorizing useless facts or studying things that didn’t interest him. He would only put effort into things he felt were worthwhile. Like reading every astronomy book ever written, including college level string theory books.

And I learned that it was okay for him to make those choices. I could try to help him see why things were useful (math and physics are necessary tools for astronomy) but ultimately I had to let him choose and be okay with his choices.

It was much easier to be okay with his choices when he was five than now that he’s 18 and living on his own at college. It’s a good think I’ve had the last 13 years to work on letting him have his agency.

I’m a better parent and teacher for rising to the challenges my difficult children have set for me.


4. You’ll learn to work with him rather than against him.

Enlisting a difficult child to help with extra chores will burn up extra energy while helping him to feel valuable and useful. It will also build his sense of responsibility and his sense of individual worth.

For awhile my monkey would continuously cause such trouble that I spent a whole lot of time on my knees, praying for inspiration and guidance. My answer from Heavenly Father was that I should tie him to my apron strings. Literally, I should keep him right by my side all day, sunup to sundown, and involve him in my daily tasks.

There were times that this arrangement drove me batty, but other times my monkey was seriously helpful. He never did learn to enjoy cooking, but he was my right hand man for yard work, gardening, and especially building things.

We completely gutted and remodeled the upper two floors of our house, plus we finished the basement, and my little monkey helped me every step of the way. That kid can do plumbing (he almost singlehandedly busted out the concrete to move toilet plumbing in the basement), framing, electrical, hang drywall, mud and tape, paint and finish work. I was so appreciative of all of his excess energy, once I learned to channel it!

5. Your organization skills will improve.

I quickly realized that my little monkey would not sit quietly and wait for me to find and arrange all the things we needed to conduct an experiment. He needed things fast-paced and constantly engaging.

While it was challenging to prepare ahead of time and have things ready, it improved my organization skills. We learned that a simple and predictable routine for mornings, chores, music practice, homeschool, play and evenings helped our days to run more smoothly.

Involving my little monkey in my life, cooking, cleaning and helping with younger siblings, helped tremendously, too. So did cuddling, reading aloud and rubbing his back. He seemed to need an extra measure of love and security. The times he would get into the worst trouble was when he had nothing to do.


6. You’ll relax.

Relaxation was the very biggest benefit of having a difficult child. I learned to let go of unrealistic expectations and not sweat the small stuff.

I would have invariable learned this anyway, I know. A whole passel of kids isn’t exactly conducive to perfection. But my difficult child was a catalyst. He shoved me off the diving board into the deep end.

The most interesting thing I learned in the process was that letting go of things I thought were my dreams didn’t make me less. I wasn’t unhappy. I may have ended up in a totally unexpected place, but it was always better than the place I had dreamed of.

So what if learning didn’t look the way I initially thought it should. It didn’t need to.


7. You’ll learn to believe in your child.

Your difficult child just might be the most enthusiastic, creative and passionate of all of your children. He might be the one to connect the dots nobody else has thought to.

I always think of Albert Einstein’s mother. The story goes that young Albert was sent home from school with a note. Seemingly mentally deficient, Albert couldn’t read. With tears in her eyes, Mrs. Einstein read the note to Albert, “Your son is a genius. Our teachers are not qualified to teach him.” And she taught him at home thereafter. And he was a genius.

There is a similar story about Thomas Edison.

I don’t know how true the stories are. But it doesn’t matter whether they’re fact or fiction. Positive mental reinforcements work wonders on children — that’s a fact. Your child doesn’t need to read at a certain age or perform mathematical calculations at any particular level. What he does need is for you to believe in him.

Your child is exactly what God needs him to be. This is God’s plan, not ours.




Final Thoughts on Difficult Children

Fellow homeschool mama in the trenches, I know it’s exhausting. I know that it seems like people are watching and judging and condemning. I know that it feels like nobody understands.

I know you wake up full of purpose and go to bed defeated. I know you cry your heart out in your prayers.

I also know that, regardless of your religion, you are a daughter of Heavenly Father and He loves you and He understands. And He is grateful that you are a good mama to your special son, who his also His special son. Heavenly Father knew you would be the very best mother for your child, and that’s why He gave him to you.






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