April is National Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness Month. What better time to address this issue than when families are hold up together in their homes on lockdown. For many children, this pandemic has put them in harm’s way since they are kept from going away to school each day. Their school may have been a haven and a reprieve from an abusive environment. To compound the problems at home their “guardian” has now been given the added pressure of being unprepared to teach their children and/or having to work (or losing income) at home with children underfoot. This could cause even the most loving attentive parent to crumble.
Having muddled through homeschooling 7 children during unimaginably stressful times there are a few things I learned along the way that may be a help to some parents out there.
Get plenty of rest, Selah!
Let your children sleep more if they need to. Right now mark their height on a wall or growth chart and compare to their height when the quarantine is over. I have always noticed that when any of my children slept more than usual that they were going through a growth spurt. It is also good for their immune system. Children also feel the stress of the changes and uncertainty in their lives and may need extra sleep for their minds to adjust to the new situation.
Set a very specific bedtime and routine. The success of any day usually begins the night before. Have a bedtime ritual that prepares them and winds them down (ie. light snack, putting away toys, bedtime bath, comfy jammies, brush teeth, goodnight hugs, cuddly stuffed toy, etc.). Make sure that they have a bottle of water because it is very important to drink frequently to prevent Coronavirus. If you are concerned about bedwetting have them go to the bathroom before bed and use pull-ups or sleep pants. Never scold a child for bedwetting because from my experience of being a bedwetter as a child and having young children that did THEY CAN NOT HELP IT and scolding them only makes it worse. If they are not tired allow them to read in bed, chat quietly with their siblings, or have them listen to a bible recording and sleepy heads will prevail.
Limit certain foods such as refined sugar products and red or blue food colorings. I have done my own clinical trials with raising my 7 children to know that these things definitely affect childrens’ (& adults’) behavior. One of my children would also become depressed after eating chocolate so we avoided this as much as possible. When children act out stop and reflect on their diet and make adjustments in the future.
Don’t forget vitamins & food supplements. Many times when children (& adults) don’t feel well they act out and have meltdowns. Besides being a great way to build our immune systems during this pandemic, supplements can give us a feeling of wellbeing that will help to ease our stress. Do not use medications unnecessarily as these can actually lower our immune systems.
Create a peaceful quiet atmosphere with soothing or uplifting music and singing, use diffusers with calming essential oils, light a candle in a safe place, turn off the TV (only watch the news in small doses) and only watch non-violent programs, etc. Think of your interaction with your children as velvet on steel. Be inwardly firm and unmoving but speak with a quiet kind voice and handle them gently. Practice speaking very quietly when you have something to say that they want to hear like, “Your ice cream is on the table”, or “Let’s play a game”. Use that same tone when giving instruction or correction but speak with the firmness of steel in your tone. When parents continually talk in an octave higher to their children the kids learn to tune out and not respond even when it is important. If a good horse trainer can command an 840 – 2200 lb horse to obey with a simple click of their tongue and gently spoken instructions we as parents should learn something from them. Set aside certain times for rambunctious or rowdy play but make it clear that those times are an exception to the rule. Kids still need to be kids and work out their pent-up energy or frustrations.
Post your family’s “Rules of this House” on the fridge. Include the children (all ages) in creating this list with consequences/rewards and each can participate in policing. Use this time to discuss the difference between tattling and upholding the rules (lovingly). I read a good article that a dear friend of mine, Mary LeBlanc, wrote in her blog, “Wisdom and the Law of Kindness“(this is a link to one of the articles she wrote about our house fire) where she taught her children “The Two-Step Rule” based on Matthew 18: 15-16 at the end of a 4 part series “Martyrdom or Vengeance? (Part 4). It is a good read.
Limit screen time by filling their waking hours with fun and educational activities such as reading time, outdoor projects (collect and label leaves, flowers, rocks, etc.), water play, craft time, exercise, build a fort, create & act out a skit, play an educational game, create an educational YouTube video, etc. Seize this opportunity to tap into your and your children’s creativity. All of these things count as homeschooling as long as there is learning involved. When I first started homeschooling in 1990 I went to a Greg Harris Homeschooling Seminar and learned about the concept of delight-directed schooling. Find something that your children are interested in and do unit studies on their interest. Work out a word problem, write a story, read a book, do scientific research, study the history and geography, relating to their interest.
Make a chore chart and list of sorting and organizing activities. There are many chore chart ideas but my personal favourite is to use a hanging jewellery zipper pocket organizer (see Amazon link above) and 3’X5″ cards cut in 1/2 to fit in the slots. Write the chores for the entire month on the cards (weekly X4, twice-weekly X8, monthly X1, and one set of cards for daily chores). Label the pockets Sunday – Saturday like a calendar. Sort the cards into the pockets for the month. Each day take the daily cards and the weekly, twice-weekly, and monthly cards for that day and let each child pick a card one at a time. Some jobs may need to be assigned to older children. A reward for good behaviour could be to give the best behaved 1st choice and/or to skip a turn on drawing a chore. Also, kids can do amazing things with all of those little projects that we were going to get to “someday”. One time when my 5-year-old granddaughter came to visit I had her help me match all of my earrings and put them neatly into an organizer box. She had a blast! They can match your Tupperware/Rubbermaid to their lids, organize your sewing kit, organize pens and pencils, even sort receipts by date for tax prep, etc. Children love to feel helpful and get a feeling of accomplishment when they see a job completed. This will instil a good work ethic in them.
Make a schedule punctuated by meals and snack times. You can use Google sheets to make a spreadsheet schedule and fill in the meal and snack times first, then fill the in-betweens. Before breakfast get dressed, brush teeth, make beds. After breakfast Bible memory/reading & language arts. After morning snack math. After lunch Social studies & Geography. After afternoon snack Science, PE & then chores. Outdoor play after chores and before dinner. After dinner free time with minimal screen time. Bedtime snack then bedtime ritual. If you are feeling ambitious you can have the children help to make a menu at the beginning of the week just like at school to put on the fridge so they will know what to look forward to for each meal/snack. Also, get them involved with food prep and cleanup. This is teaching them life skills which is even more important than reading, writing or arithmetic.
Ask for or hire help. There was a time when I became completely overwhelmed with homeschooling, helping with our family business, and dealing with health issues. For the sake of our family, we hired a friend to come in a few days a week to teach the children. It was a lifesaver for me. As a woman, I like to think I can do it all. Then my friend reminded me that even the most industrious woman in the Bible (the Virtuous woman in Proverbs 31) hired maidens to help her carry out her many responsibilities. Perhaps during this quarantine, there is a family member who lives alone or is recently unemployed that can move in with your family temporarily to help. Many times we just need to ask (James 4:2 KJV).
Never Discipline in Anger. Unless a parent, caregiver, or guardian can correct or discipline a child with a calm decisive loving indignation it should not be done at all. Never call them names or humiliate them in front of others. Verbal abuse leaves deeper more permanent scars than physical abuse. Many times we tend to parent the way we were raised even if we know that it was done wrong but we have the power to break the chain and not pass these faulty behaviours onto our children. Abuse may run in a family but we can say, “This is where it runs out”. We only get to raise each child once so you don’t want to mess it up. When they are grown up like my 7 children are it is too late to go back and they will surely remind us of each and every one of our mistakes.
Be your children’s’ advocate. If there is abuse in the home it is usually from one of the parents and the other is conflicted about reporting them or seeking help. I speak from experience. Turn to someone you can trust and talk about the problem and make a plan to get away from the abuse. Even if the children are not being physically abused themselves but seeing the abuse perpetrated by one parent against the other this is emotional abuse. I know that there may be fear of the fallout from the abusive parent, fear of where you and the children would live, fear of how you will provide for the children, fear of being alone, fear of failure in giving up, fear of further traumatizing the children with a family breakup. Dr Phil has said the children would rather be from a broken home than living in one and every one of my children would confirm this. I have been bound by all of the above fears and also suffered from debilitating health issues because of the stress that further fed my fears. I have many regrets for not putting those fears aside and being a stronger advocate for my children. Please don’t make the same mistake. God will bring you and your children through it and equip you with everything you will need to protect your children. Call 211 and ask for resources available to you and your children. Before you leave or ask the abuser to leave make a plan and confide in someone that can help. Stronger Than Espresso and Hopes Door New Beginning Center are a couple of organizations here in North Texas that helped me but there are many resources available all over the country. Just do it. The Lord will give you the strength you need to make this difficult decision to take action. Just ask him. Please feel free to message me if you have concerns and need help making a plan. I will do whatever I am able to.
A final word to those who are abusing those around them, Stop! Just stop! Get help for yourselves for the sake of your families. Do not be your own victim because the abuse you inflict on those around you will come back on you when you find yourself alone to reflect on the fallout of your misery. Start by loving God and yourself so that you can give love from the overflow of the grace that the Lord pours out on you.
Below are some resources for information about child abuse to learn more to become more clearly aware of the problem and to learn how to take action to stop it. I hope this is helpful to someone. I would love to hear your comments (see comment section) and other ideas on homeschooling without abuse. Till then….
- 8 Ways You Can Stop Child Abuse Today! (Huffpost 02/07/2017)
- Child Abuse Prevention (Childhelp.com)
- Ten Ways to Prevent Child Maltreatment (Chadkids.org)
- Facts about Child Abuse and Neglect (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC)
- Preventing Child Neglect (Prevent Child Abuse America)
- Ten Ways to Help Prevent Child Abuse (Prevent Child Abuse America)
- What You Can Do to Prevent Child Abuse (University of Rochester Medical Center Encyclopedia)