Friday, April 30, 2010

A Wake-up Call

Matthew and I haven't done any formal schooling for almost two weeks.

About two weeks ago, Matthew and I were doing a reading lesson and Matthew very suddenly got frustrated and called himself "stupid" for not being able to remember a sound that he'd learned some time earlier.  I was shocked by his view of himself in that moment.  We left the reading lesson for that day and talked quite a lot about his comment.  The next day, when we were about to start a lesson, he got quite upset and, quite simply, didn't want to do the reading lesson at all.  I decided not to push it, and so I closed the book; but I let my (genuine) disappointment show.  Turns out that letting my disappointment show was a mistake.  I think Matthew's been anxious about it.  I think he's begun to do reading lessons for the wrong reason: to make me happy, instead of because he's still enjoying them.  Thus, when I was upset that he didn't want to do a lesson, it made him feel crappy about himself.

So we've completely let the reading lessons go for now.  I was so shocked by the turn of events that I've been stewing (day and night sometimes) about how I need to change my parenting style so that Matthew doesn't feel pressure from me to conform to expectations that he perceives that I have of him.  I so do not want Matthew to be learning because he thinks he's making me happy.  That will only bode disaster - like his feeling terrible about himself when he can't do something that he thinks I want or when he doesn't want to do something that I want him to do.  I am terrified that I am creating anxiety for my beloved child, who is already of a nature to be anxious.  Matthew is a kid who is, to quote his kindermusik teacher, "a deep thinker and an observer."  He's not the fastest processor.  Once he learns something, it's his forever - but it takes him a while to absorb and learn.  A kid who processes more slowly, and who thinks and observes, is bound to experience higher levels of anxiety, especially given that he is also a very sensitive and intuitive person.  His way of processing and his whole way of being is one of the reasons why homeschooling is a great option for him.  But oh, I/we still need to be so careful not to create anxiety for/in him.

Matthew and I have talked through this situation a number of times in the past couple of weeks.  A couple of days ago, I finally asked Matthew directly if his seeing me disappointed about his reading lesson had caused anxiety for him.  He said that it had.  My heart inwardly breaking for having caused him this burden, I asked him what he worried would happen if he thought he disappointed me.  He started to cry (two full weeks after the incident - so clearly he'd been processing it!) and he said that he was worried that if he didn't do a reading lesson, I would send him to public school, and he wanted to continue homeschooling.  Well, didn't I just start to cry, too, from grief that my precious boy would think that he had to perform for me in order to stop me from sending him to public school.  A few minutes (and a few hugs) later, I apologized to Matthew for acting in a way that caused him anxiety, and said that this is the last thing I wanted him to have to worry about.  I told him that he didn't have to do a reading lesson, or other school work, just to make me happy - that his very existence made me happy, and that his behaviour would not change how I felt about him in any way.  I also told him that dad and I had already decided that he was going to stay home next year for grade one.  His response: "good [accompanied by a sigh of relief]!  But does that mean that the next year I'll have to go to a school building?"  I was quick to reassure him that I hoped we could continue at home, but that whatever the decision was, he would have a strong voice in the decision and that we would do nothing without his involvement in the outcome.  That visibly relaxed him.

I can hardly bear to write this even now - it's still so painful for me to realize that things that I've been doing have caused him anxiety.  As I've posted before, I grew up with a focus towards accomplishment and pleasing others.  I do not want Matthew to inherit the anxiety I've lived with as a result of something I am doing as his parent.  Frankly, I've worked very hard to cultivate the opposite, and so it's hard to hear this.  I recognize that he (and I) may be predisposed to this kind of orientation, but as his mom (and together with his dad), I want to ensure that how he is parented causes as little stress as possible about the need to please us.  I want him to be, and to become, the person he was created to be - not the person he thinks I/we want him to be.

While I try to figure out how best to move forward, we've dropped all formal school lessons.  I've changed to informal schooling.  Basically, we've spent the last two weeks playing games, going on field trips, and doing lots of reading.  Mostly it's been me reading to Matthew - chapter book after chapter book...and he's loved it.  While I read to him, I stop a few times on every page and point to the next word in the sentence - which he then figures out and reads.  He seems to enjoy this.  I've started looking (covertly) at future lessons in his reading lesson book, so that I can casually include some of those things into our reading; and this has been working.  In the past few days, I've noticed that Matthew suddenly wants to read aloud to me again, too - interestingly, he's been choosing the easiest of his early readers to read out loud, which is fine by me because, even though he's fully capable of reading some of the harder ones, I think he needs the confidence boost right now of reading things are are pretty easy for him.

I am so grateful to have had a bit of a wake-up call, painful as it is to come to terms with.  I'm praying for clarity in how best to parent him and how to create a learning environment that is consistent with his learning style and character.  I can totally understand why many homsechoolers move in the direction of unschooling - we may yet become unschoolers!

* Corrie, thanks for your comment to this post...your kind words brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.
* Joy, Sharla, thank you, too.  I've been really struggling with feeling like I've been failing Matthew, and your comments were so helpful and compassionate!  I've been really moved by the supportive comments.  Sharla, I also so appreciate your comments about your kids and the advice you received about reading, etc.  I've read your comment twice already and plan to print it out and read it some more because I think there's quite a lot in there that I need to learn.  Thanks so much!!!!!


  1. you are an awesome mom and homeschool teacher!!!!! you ARE already doing what is best for Matthew in acknowledging and recognizing his anxiety!

    He will grow into the man God intended him to be...with a deep understanding and empathy towards others....because of you!

  2. I think someone with a certain temperament and outlook on life which makes them prone to anxiety will likely always have that tendency (even with skilled parenting...not a bad thing, it just is what it is, I think). But it is through the responsiveness and intuition of parents like you, who "get it", that a child of this persuasion can overcome the drawbacks of this personality, and experience the many blessings of being a sensitive, observant person who cares about others and how they feel. Also a wonderful thing that Matthew is growing up in a home where he will be taught God's truth regarding peace and relationships with others!

  3. Ruth,
    you are so in tune with Matthew and are doing such a good job with him. Even just that he is able to talk openly with you will go a long way towards relieving his anxiety.
    As for the reading and homeschooling, if you don't mind, I'll share my experience. With my oldest, I did things more structured for kindergarten, grade one and grade two and he even wrote standardized testing every year etc. With my second, he was not learning to read and nothing I was doing was working. I could see him getting stressed out and I was stressed out too. I also had him write the standardized test for grade one and he is by nature a more introverted, anxious kid and it made him a nervous wreck. Then my sister-in-law who had homeschooled her four all the way through the end of high school told me two things that changed my outlook. She showed me studies that showed that it is best for formal learning not to start until the age of eight and she told me that if I planned on always homeschooling the kids, then they had until they were eighteen to learn what they needed to, not just to the end of the school year. It took the pressure off and I changed to a more relaxed method, playing lots of board games, doing things more interactively, more field trips, etc. and no more standardized testing or following curriculum that someone else chose. I started following the kids' lead on what they were interested in learning and taking everyday opportunities for teaching. I also realized over time that the important things for our kids to learn aren't even taught in schools, things such as character and managing money and practical skills. It turns out that Jonah had a form of dyslexia and didn't learn to read at all until he was almost nine. Sometimes, I felt a bit panicky about that but I reminded myself that I didn't want to teach him how to read...I wanted to teach him to love reading! The month after he started reading, he read the entire Narnia series and he hasn't stopped reading since! He reads more than one novel a week and loves reading. If I had pushed him, he may have been an earlier reader, but I don't think he would have loved it. He also may have felt stupid and not been confident but by letting him go at his own pace, he was able to gain confidence.

    P.S. Mackenzie read at age four, Jonah at age almost nine but Mackenzie now reads way less than Jonah does and doesn't love it. When Josiah was six, he taught himself to read. He is eight and reading University textbooks. Gracey is eight and still not reading simple words.

  4. My 13 year old has anxiety issues and struggles quite a bit with certain aspects of school. Learning to read was painful in the extreme, getting him to write anything that requires creative input from him is like getting blood out of a stone and doing any kind of public speaking is his absolute worst nightmare.

    He has always known that we do think it matters whether or not he does the things he finds difficult but he has also always known that our love for him is not contingent. So despite all the hard times we've been through, with no doubt more to come, he's got a core of security to hang on to.

    You're spot on in the way you talked to Matthew about his anxieties, I reckon you'll all be just fine :-)