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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sometimes Your Kid Hits a Brick Wall…

…and you want to bang your own head against it.

You’re going along swimmingly.  Things like place value don’t cause conniptions anymore.  Adding with regrouping is not fun, but do-able.  The addition and subtraction facts have finally been mastered.

And then you introduce double-digit subtraction with regrouping. 

You can almost hear the gears in your child’s head grind to a halt…

…just before he explodes and dissolves into a puddle on the floor.

If you homeschool long enough, eventually one (or more) of your kids will hit a brick wall.

Or several.

It happens to everybody.  The simple truth is that knowledge and understanding isn’t effortless and at times it requires more effort than a child has on tap at the moment.

The key is not to avoid come up against the wall at all.  You can’t. 

Sometimes Your Kid Hits a Brick Wall---how will you help them to scale it?  Homeschooling Hearts & MindsSometimes a fog will descend without warning when everything seems to be clear skies and sunshine.  Meteorologists can’t predict the weather with 100% certainty, and you can’t predict with 100% certainty how your child will react to a new concept.

Or if he’ll be hungry or have a scratchy tag on his shirt or feeling a little under the weather or be sick of winter…whatever factors happen to magically align and lead to him wanting to pull out his hair.

It is possible that if subtraction with regrouping had happened next week or even an hour earlier that he would have handled without blinking.  It’s also possible that this particular concept is simply beyond him right now.  Maybe he’s a really concrete kid who needs to work more with real things.

It’s ok when your child hits a brick wall. 

The key isn’t avoiding the wall.

The key is how you react.  What do you do next?

There’s a strong tendency to want to fix things.  Nobody wants to see their child struggle.  Nobody wants to deal with meltdowns.  Nobody wants math to feel like pulling teeth. 

You just want to take a sledgehammer to the wall and bring it down.

Sometimes you can fix things pretty easily and bring the wall down right away.  Maybe it’s simply a matter of tackling that subject earlier in the day, changing the environment, or explaining it a different way.

But sometimes you are in for a long haul of hard work.  You may need to reexamine your methods, try new materials, or just doggedly stick with what you are doing until it sticks and take the wall down brick by brick.  Or find some tiny footholds and painstakingly scale up and over it.

When the going get tough, stick it out.

I feel for you.  I’m going through this right now.  Again. 

When you are in the thick of the blank looks and the wall to understanding seems unscalable, it’s tempting to want to take a shortcut.  Or even run away.  Sometimes it seems as though you are never going to get there, especially if you seem to run into wall after wall.

And if you have a child with learning issues, sometimes that road seems to meander through deep, dark woods, with walls closing in on all sides, and you realize that your map is out of date or some of the details have been rubbed out by unfolding and folding it over and over again.

Maybe you feel like you’re not a very good guide?

The very worst thing you could do is give up. 

Don’t be beaten by the wall.  Believe in your child.  Believe that together you can find your way.  Just having you by his side is a blessing to him.  It is better to be lost with someone who loves you than to be lost in a dark on your own.  And…this is important…you can give him a boost up.

When you stick by his side, you are sending him an important message.  You are telling him, “You are worth it, I will work hard to help you.”  You are also setting a strong example for him---how can he give up on himself if you will not give up on him?

And you know what?  This is true whether you are educating your child at home or are sending him to school.  He needs you.  He needs to know that you will see him through.

There may come a point when someone (maybe a teacher) will say to you, “Your child will never learn x.” 

And she may or may not be right.  But don’t you believe it!  Learning is a lifelong journey---even if a child does not learn something in the timeframe prescribed by educational experts, be very careful with “never” and “always” statements. 

In the realm of humanity, they are rarely true---“You always leave you socks on the floor,”  “You never remember to do your chores,” “Your child will never learn to read.” 

If you give up, and if your child gives up on himself, chances are he really won’t learn it.  Give him the support he needs.  Maybe he needs testing.  Maybe he needs a different approach to the material.  Maybe he needs more developmental maturity.  Maybe he just needs to do a little bit each day, each and every day.

Don’t skip it.  And don’t give up.  Just help him find his foothold or a bit of loose mortar.

And most importantly---don’t take it personally. 

It’s not your fault if you child has trouble learning subtraction with regrouping at first (or, at least, I keep telling myself that).  Learning is always worth it, even when it’s hard.  Especially when it’s hard.  If it all came automatically, they wouldn’t need us to teach them at all. 

They’d just get it. 

And they’d have no reason to feel good about themselves when they win a hard-fought battle.  It’s a battle worth fighting, and they have a right to be pleased.

Have your kids run into any brick walls lately?


  1. This happened with my son and a Chemistry chapter just last week. He finally threw up his hands and left the room. I thought about giving up. Later, after we both had a break, I gave him a way out, to go on to another curriculum we are going to do next instead of finishing the last 3 or 4 chapters of this curriculum. It was his choice since he is working through this curriculum on his own. Luckily, he is in 11th grade and has a good head on his shoulders. He said no. He wanted to conquer the chapter and finish the book. This is my youngest and last child homeschooling. I was so proud of him. Sometimes Mom's get tired of the struggle and the kids pull us through. Great post. Great encouragement. God bless. Keep on keeping on.

    1. That's great, Debbie! And a very good point---as they mature, our kids will learn to push themselves when they get stuck. I'm not there yet, but I hope that if my kids see that I'm not giving up, they won't give up.

  2. We've had some brick walls lately. In fact tonight we had a nice little powwow and included Dad. He seems to help my son better sometimes and brings a fresh perspective.

    1. A fresh perspective can definitely help. My oldest had a really rough day yesterday---nothing seemed to be going right for him. At the end of the day, he came to me and said he KNEW what went wrong and then proceeded to tell me how he was going to do things differently the next day.

  3. It's unavoidable. I took a clue from my own early childhood, and the time I spent in the nursery as a teenager. I would watch kids fall down, and get back up without fussing, but the minute mom started carrying on "Oh baby, are you hurt? Come to mama!" then the child would suddenly burst into tears.

    I applied that knowledge to my own kids when they were little, and then as with our homeschooling. If they hit a wall, it's no big deal, and I assure them that they will eventually get it when they are ready. We may do some more review, and then approach the topic again from a different angle - especially if I can find a real world explanation or application.

    The point is that if they see that I'm not stressed, they don't stress. If I can take it in stride and with confidence that the understanding WILL HAPPEN, that faith rubs off onto them, and they relax. When kids relax, they learn much better.

    A Big No-No is to ask a kid what is wrong with them, compare them to another child, or take it personally and have a nervous breakdown at 137 decibels.

    1. Yes. If you must have a meltdown about it, do it after the kids are in bed asleep. Or write a blog post about when they aren't looking. :)

      And tomorrow is another day. That kid who couldn't "get" subtraction with regrouping did just fine with it the next day.

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