There were scratches up and down my arms and my mascara was smudged.
I glanced in the rear view mirror and noted that my hair would also need to be fixed before I went into the office.
I looked like I had been in a fight.
The truth is, I had.
As I drove away from my son’s school, I fought back tears. “Just getting him in the door is like a battle,” I thought. “How must he feel, having to go to school now for seven hours after starting the day like this?”
My child was only seven years old.
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Two years later, I sat next to him at our kitchen table.
Again there were scratches up and down my arms and his.
Broken pencils littered the floor and his history book was torn in two.
He rocked back and forth, over and over again.
“Just getting him to do a simple history lesson is like a battle,” I thought. “How is he ever going to learn if our lessons are so explosive?”
We had pulled him from school for a variety of reasons, one of which was this behavior exactly. But bringing him home seemed to increase the explosiveness.
More meltdowns, more stress, more anxiety (at least that I could now see – before, I had the advantage of leaving for the day).
Tears streaming down my son’s face and mine, I realized I had to find another way, not just to help him learn but to help our entire family find some semblance of peace.
Homeschooling The Explosive Child
We have been homeschooling both of my boys for six years now.
The first year, I simply recreated a traditional school environment at home. (I even had a bell, that I would ring when it was time to start school and break for lunch.) It was not our best year. Both of my boys hated it.
I hated it.
The second year, we found out what sensory processing disorder was, received an autism diagnosis for my oldest, and confirmed my youngest son’s dyslexia and dysgraphia diagnoses. We knew why their behavior could be so out of control but still had no idea what to do about it.
By our third year homeschooling, I was pretty sure I had completely ruined my children. Every single day was once again a battle, for all of us. Mid-way through, I decided that I would try something totally different for the last half of the year. My thought was that it couldn’t really get any worse and if this new approach didn’t work, I would put the boys back in school the following year.
They didn’t go back to school.
Here’s what changed.
What I’ve Learned About Homeschooling Explosive Children
Life Skills Matter – A Lot!
I spend a large percentage of our “learning time” focused on life skills and coping skills. My assumption is that they need these skills first, and far more than they will need to multiply fractions in the future.
It is encouraging to witness my boys’ ability to research topics they are interested in (my oldest son taught himself how to build a computer, part by part, using Google and YouTube). It is a reminder that if I miss something academically, they will know how to get the information they need when they need it. They cannot, however, learn how to understand their bodies’ signals and sensitivities in a YouTube video. They cannot learn social nuances and non-verbal communication in a Google search. This is what I focus on most in their learning.
For example, my youngest and I are currently working on this book.
We are currently in the chapter entitled, “Three Survival Skills For Dealing With Difficult People.” Kid friendly and focused, it takes an honest and direct approach to helping kids who tend react poorly when under stress.
Movement And Sensory Input Are Important
Regular and frequent breaks, scheduled time in nature, getting outside to walk the dog and get some fresh air – all of these changes to our school routine have helped decrease my sons’ likelihood of melting down over learning.
Incorporating sensory activities into our learning (bouncing on the pogo stick while practicing math facts, writing spelling words in soapy water on the ground, taking a ceramics class instead of learning a new language) not only makes it more enjoyable for my boys, it also allows them to retain more of the learning itself.
Rewards Are Not Bribes
I have struggled with this one for years.
I used to feel conflicted about giving rewards for things that my sons should just be doing – like I was bribing my son to do his reading practice. Then his educational therapist reminded me that reading is incredibly challenging for my dyslexic son. She said the way to create consistency was to “over-reward” when he displayed the determination to practice something so difficult.
She was right.
Because our children can often feel completely overwhelmed by even the most basic aspects of life (getting dressed, brushing teeth, dealing with others) rewarding their tenacity in academics is more than reasonable. It makes sense.
The more I reward, the more they participate and learn.
Creating A Learning Lifestyle Is More Effective
Although I started homeschooling believing that I needed to create as close to a school environment at home as possible, I have since completely changed my mind.
Because of the children I have been given, because of the unique needs of our family including frequent doctors appointments and intermittent daily meltdowns, because of my own desire to help my children learn in a way that inspires their curiosity and natural talents, our school day looks nothing like it did in the beginning.
I have found that incorporating learning into our overall lifestyle is what has made the most significant impact in homeschooling my children with behavioral needs.
We have been making this shift for some time, almost by accident. (Meltdowns and chaos will do that to a Type A Momma’s school schedule no matter how hard she tries to cling to it.) The greatest encouragement to help me settle in to this approach has been from the blogs, podcasts and Youtube videos from Julie Bogart at BraveWriter. Not just a writing program, Julie (a mom of five grown homeschooled children) describes the Brave Writer Lifestyle as one focused on relationships first, on protecting the “enchantment” of learning, and on being “patient observers” of our children. I cannot recommend any and all of her resources enough. As a mom, I have found support and validation for the learning choices I’ve made, and encouragement for the days that just aren’t working.
This lifestyle of learning allows me to slow down on the days when my children are overwhelmed – and not feel guilty about it. (The truth is, if they were in school and had a meltdown, they would likely spend a portion of their day out of the classroom anyway.) It allows me to not freak out if we go a few days or even weeks without doing math, because we are focused on the basic skills my children need to thrive.
I want our days to be about their hearts first, and all the rest can follow.
I believe homeschooling is an excellent and viable choice for children who struggle with dysregulation and explosive behavior.
It has made our lives so much more manageable and enjoyable.
It has made our relationships with one another so much stronger.
As difficult as it is to parent an explosive child, I imagine it is infinitely more difficult to be an explosive child.
Homeschooling is one more option to consider in helping our children learn to thrive.
For More In The Parenting Explosive Children Series: