Best of Afterthoughts, Educational Philosophy, Home Education

On Inconveniences in Homeschooling: Meltdowns and Other Messes

August 20, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

It’s been an interesting day in my Facebook feed. So many of the homeschoolers who were posting glorious photos yesterday are finding Day Two is not quite so glowing. I can’t say I’m experiencing this personally because Day One for us consisted of having Second Breakfast at the park with friends, and being on time to our orthodontist appointment.

Obviously, we’re slated for trouble tomorrow.

Ahem.

If education is about formation -- about becoming something other than we are -- then meltdowns are an opportunity.

Okay, so regardless of whether a meltdown hits my home tomorrow or not, I think I can state the obvious and say that Meltdowns Happen. They just do. Every child has a day where they think they can’t take it and they begin to wail and scream or do whatever it is they can do to respond inappropriately to the situation.

And oh how often we are tempted to be annoyed by this because clearly when they are sobbing they are not doing math or grammar or checking any of the other boxes we are interested in having them check.

We might as well start the year off by getting one thing clear: education is not and never has been about getting through curriculum. It’s not (primarily) about knowing more, nor doing more. It’s not about this project and that craft.

Oh, sure, all of these things can be tools of education (though I admit the word “project” frightens me just a bit — it sounds suspiciously like me doing work while they watch — also not education, in case you were wondering). But these things are tools. They are even content. But they are not its substance.

Education, you see, is about becoming.

Ancient men like Plato and Aristotle called it virtue. Augustine (and CS Lewis after him) called it ordered affections. Charlotte Mason called it character. David Hicks called it style (among other things). Most recently, it looks like James K.A. Smith is calling it worship.

Call it what you want to call it, inner change is the name of the game. Growing up. Getting ordered inside the soul. Maturing. Becoming what we are created to be.

And all this sounds so great until someone turns on the water works and starts howling about math.

Here’s the deal: if education is about filling young minds full of facts, then a meltdown really is getting in the way. But if education is about formation — about becoming something other than we are — then meltdowns are an opportunity.

(This is really easy for me to say right now because no one is crying.)

But still, I’m serious. And therefore I repeat: meltdowns are an opportunity.

As are bad attitudes, sibling squabbles, and all the rest of the rot that sometimes dominates our daily lives as homeschool mommies, especially if you have more than one student.

These things are a chance to get out those tools and start sculpting.

Some children need to let go of their perfection. Others need to learn to work harder. Some need to be patient while they think and take time to figure it out. Others need to learn to ask for help when they’re stuck. Some need to learn to love their neighbor even when “neighbor” includes “my sister.” Others need to learn to be grateful for all the blessings God has given.

Every meltdown, every frowny face … it’s all a chance to peek into the heart and see where the child stands.

And where I stand.

Hypothetically, it is possible that there has been a time or two around here that I was standing on the other side of the room throwing an internal tantrum of mine own.

I’m just saying.

This is the part where we need to pray for wisdom. Insight into what the root issue is. A path to follow in reforming that sadly misprioritized soul.

You see, it’s all part of the curriculum. Every single time our days bump up against hard things, we find hidden in the pile the chance to help a child change his faults, to fight the inner beast we all have. To say no to being selfish, to being obstinate, to whatever it is that tempts him.

Do we want meltdowns to stop?

Of course we do.

But there are ways of stopping them which corrupt. If we pay the child, for example. If we bribe him. If we appeal to his pride.

But if we have repentance and then a plan of action for the formation of new habits well, now we’re talking. He’s practically a new man already.

About three weeks ago I had to start making a child say it over.

“Say it over. That is an inappropriate way to say it. You’re going to have to say it the right way.”

Context is everything, right? So for some children the right way would be “respectfully” while for others it’d be “audibly” and for others it’d be in a “not-so-bossy” way. My point here is that the habit path, this road less taken, it’s really working, but it’s also really work.

Do it again. Get it right. We’re not mad at you, but we are trying to help you.

So, next time we face a meltdown, might I suggest we pick the little puddle up off the ground and think in terms of habits? Childhood is the best place for do-overs because adulthood isn’t quite so forgiving.

Let’s do it over. Let’s do it right. Let me help you. We’ll build a habit.

And then?

Then you’ll be truly free.

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53 Comments

  • Reply Joli May 30, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    I may, or may not, have done a key word search for “homeschool mom encouragement” and fortuitously landed on your beautifully written post. Thank you!! This was just exactly what I needed. When the baby is sleeping and the toddler is howling (threatening to wake up the baby) and one or two other students are not being studious, it is easy to feel completely ineffective and unsuccessful in this journey….education…..formation….meltdowns…..opportunities! Keep up the good work.

  • Reply Kiel August 19, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for including the link to this post this week, Brandy! My 5 year old is prone to meltdowns, and quite honestly, I am not so great at keeping my cool, either. I appreciate your reframing of the situation to an opportunity to do it over, say it over, get some help, and work together…all without getting angry with my child. He and I are both highly sensitive personalities, so overwhelm happens fast and frequently. I need all the reminders I can get to slow down, take a deep breath, and reframe things to help us both deal with meltdown in a more positive way!

  • Reply Tasmanian June 13, 2016 at 4:13 am

    Thanks for your authenticity. Meltdowns here too.

  • Reply Nida February 14, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    I wish to print an paste it all around my house. I need to read this all the time.

  • Reply Tania August 18, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    Yes. We had tears this morning. Yes. I threw an internal mummy tantrum that may have seeped out a little onto my face, and may or may not have crushed my little ones already fragile heart ?. Thank you for your timely reminder about what I’m really doing this for. A great encouragement.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 18, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      Hang in there, Tania. Tomorrow is a new day! ♥

  • Reply Encouragement for New Homeschool Moms - Real Life at Home July 4, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    […] card, but the fact is, those days can truly be hard. Viewing your child’s meltdowns as an opportunity to build character is equally noble-sounding – and often just as […]

  • Reply Cindy April 30, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    You have no idea how this post has blessed me. I have four children – two on the autism spectrum, one with ADHD and a one-year-old…this is meltdown central some days!!! We are bringing home our oldest – most severe autism – to homeschool in the fall and plan to stair-step the rest home over the next couple of years. Our primary goal next year is therapy; I keep feeling guilty over the amount of academics I’d like to do but your post so pleasantly reminded me…LIFE is the academic schedule. It’s so classically CM ;). I just love what you said about education being about becoming. Thank you so much for this reminder.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 1, 2015 at 10:46 am

      I am thrilled that it was an encouragement to you! Your plans sound really good to me — and the therapy should make your academics easier in the future, so it’ll be totally worth the time sacrifice, I think. 🙂

  • Reply Catie August 19, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Clicked over here from today’s post. 🙂 “But if education is about formation–about becoming something other than we are–then meltdowns are an opportunity.” Love it, love it, love it.

  • Reply Pam Barnhill February 6, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Loved this — because most often I am just wanting to make it go away as quickly as possible. I need the reminder.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 6, 2014 at 3:51 am

      I always want it to go away quickly, too! ♥

  • Reply Jason & Kathleen Braden January 28, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    I love “picking up puddles.”

    God bless your efforts.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 29, 2014 at 12:23 am

      Thanks!

      And welcome to Afterthoughts. 🙂

  • Reply amy in peru September 1, 2013 at 12:01 am

    yep. this one is destined to become a classic. thanks for writing it, brandy. 🙂

  • Reply Amy Caroline August 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Excellent. I really need to hear this today! God bless.

  • Reply Carla August 27, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Love, love, love this! I have struggled and struggled with my daughter’s meltdowns during school over the years. It’s so refreshing and encouraging to remember that it doesn’t just happen in our homeschool and to remember the “opportunity” behind it. I do a much better job handling meltdowns in other contexts, outside of “school” (like at the store, or park, or even at bedtime) but this one is still really, really tough for me! I’m going to pin this, print this, memorize it if I have to! A great word for this homeschooling mama! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply Elizabeth Williams August 27, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Love your blog, hopped over here from amongst lovely things.
    Does it count if tears are from Mom? 😉
    This all makes me want to cry because the only ones crying at my house are my children too young to have any school to cry about. I hate that I have to say no to them so much. I’m ready for Day 3– But glad I read this on Day 2!! Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 27, 2013 at 7:39 pm

      Welcome to Afterthoughts, Elizabeth. 🙂

      Mommies cry, too, yes!

      Have you tried doing a Circle Time where your preschoolers are welcome? That was revolutionary for me, especially in the beginning when most of my children were preschoolers. We did simple things like singing and memorizing short poems and Psalms and parables–they loved it! Just a thought. Sometimes just half an hour to fill up their little love tanks can make a big difference in how the day goes…

  • Reply Laurie Hawley August 24, 2013 at 5:20 am

    Loved this philosophy!

  • Reply picturingtheordinary August 23, 2013 at 2:59 am

    This is a wonderful perspective. I’m really struggling with my daughter’s meltdowns so I am definitely going to remember this during the days ahead.

  • Reply He Sets You Free August 22, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Absolutely loved this post so much. Thank you for such wisdom. I myself have been known to tanty so my boy learned it off me :/ encouraging advice. Tara.

  • Reply Jenny August 22, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    FABULOUS, must-read post! I will be sharing tonight on HEDUA’s FB page (facebook.com/heduaonline). Hoping to get a good discussion going–help the newbies not feel so bad and help veterans remember. 🙂 I think homeschool parents should read this monthly.

  • Reply Mary Prather August 22, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Brandy – thank you for being so honest – I just shared this post generously all around! 🙂

  • Reply Christy August 22, 2013 at 3:44 am

    This post is a keeper, Brandy — thanks for being transparent, teachable and always inspiring!

  • Reply Kristen @ Dem Golden Apples August 22, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Brandy, this is such a great reminder. Meltdowns happen often in our house of dramatic young ladies. I am one of those who melts down at times. This is encouraging as we go on to day 4 of school tomorrow. Thank you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 22, 2013 at 4:20 am

      Kristen: drama in a house full of girls? That is so unexpected! 😉

  • Reply sara August 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    yay for this!

    • Reply sara August 22, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      We had some wailing and squealing today and thanks to you I remembered that these things just happen. Deep breath, reassess, flare prayer, and keep moving. I’m not sure I remembered to use it as an opportunity, but it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Reply Quinne August 21, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    “Education, you see, is about becoming.”

    Amen, right off the bat.

    This is a mighty post, Brandy, thanks!
    What a truly lovely encouragement.

    A brand new visitor with you and so very glad
    to have been introduced. ♥Q

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 21, 2013 at 10:26 pm

      Welcome to Afterthoughts, Quinne. 🙂

      I have to ask: is the e at the end of your name silent? Or do you pronounce it like ee? I *must* know. 🙂

  • Reply amy August 21, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Brandy! This is seriously amazing. Thank you!

  • Reply Trisha August 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Brandy, posts like this (and more) are exactly why I tell fellow homeschooling Mamas that if they’re going to spend time reading blogs, yours should be one of them. Well done!!

  • Reply Anonymous August 21, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Brandy,
    Judging from the sheer number of comments, I think you can tell you struck a chord! Thank you for the reminder of truth this morning!!
    Julie in St. Louis

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 21, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      Perhaps it’s because Day Two really *is* harder than Day One?

      For the record: there really WERE tears at my house today! I just had to laugh…

  • Reply Tracy August 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Great post! I wanted to let you know that I’ve linked to it from my home school encouragement page here: http://tracystreasury.blogspot.com/p/hs-encouragement.html

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      Now, *that* is a great page! I look forward to reading your other links!

  • Reply lisa-v August 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you Brandy. It is so good to know it is not just my house that this happens in. Keeping my cool in the midst of these meltdown moments has been a real struggle for me and it’s good to have it reinforced that I need to continue to pray for self-control for myself, so that I can help my children grow in self-control as well.

  • Reply Dawn August 21, 2013 at 11:51 am

    This is a perfect reminder, Brandy, of what this journey of homeschooling using a CM philosophy is all about. Thank you, as always, for a remarkable post.

  • Reply Jeanne August 21, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Just so you know, major meltdowns happen when you have only one student as well. And they’re just as bad. Sigh.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      You can’t fool me, Jeanne. I know she is perfect. 🙂

  • Reply Jen August 21, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Yesterday was one of those meltdown days at our house. The 7 year old was wailing that everything was just.too.much.work (despite the fact that it’s the same amount of work she generally does cheerfully) and the 3 yo went from one disaster to another to another…. Thank you for the reminder to keep these things in perspective…

  • Reply Carol August 21, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Thanks for this Brandy. I’ve had 2 children sick over the past 2 weeks & was feeling frustrated over what wasn’t happening (and the extra interruptions of drs appointments etc) but it just created another set of circumstances for the ‘formation’ you were talking about – in me, as well as the rest of the crew; a bit of consideration, kindness, stepping up to do the household work the sick ones couldn’t do. So true about childhood being the best time to learn all this!

  • Reply Sallie August 21, 2013 at 1:45 am

    Thanks for this. I just shared it on my Facebook learning page. 🙂

  • Reply dawn August 21, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Perfect!

  • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    We’ll just say that I wrote this now so that tomorrow when everything breaks down, I can read it. Saves time in trying to muster a sermon for oneself if one writes it in advance. 😉

    • Reply Mystie August 21, 2013 at 1:17 am

      Amen to that. 🙂 Isn’t that what blogging is, at its best? 🙂

  • Reply Daisy August 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Amen. Funny, Jon says the same thing about public school. Those first few weeks are about molding character, building respect, establishing routines, and training habits. Hard work (aka curriculum) just becomes a tool for accomplishing that.

  • Reply Mystie August 20, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Beautiful! We are having a day of triumph followed by a day of meltdown over the same exact math for a couple weeks now, and I’m taking lots of deep breaths myself so I don’t devolve into my own meltdown. Interestingly, I’ve figured out it’s not actually the math; it’s “arguing with your mother” in various manifestations. So we’re doing the “try that again” routine a lot!

    I like “education is formation,” but these are all sentences trying to get at the same concept, really. And it makes it both much simpler and also much harder! I think it’d be easier to get kids into college with decent test scores than to help them learn good habits and grow in virtue. 🙂

    • Reply Erica February 26, 2017 at 8:32 am

      Hi Brandy, as everyone else has said (and although it’s been 4 years), I really appreciate this post and your honesty. I’ve been reading your blog, doing random searches here and there as thoughts arise, and storing away much of what you have shared as I prepare to homeschool this fall. Many of your ideas and much of your advice has helped me to narrow things down and have a clearer vision of what I want our homeschool to be. Your (after)thoughts are a blessing! Thank you!

      • Reply Brandy Vencel February 26, 2017 at 8:16 pm

        Oh, Erica! Thank you for saying so! ♥

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