Your Top Parenting Questions Answered

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Do you wish you could ask a Christian homeschooling psychologist a parenting question? This is The Homeschool Sanity Show, the episode where I answer the most common parenting questions I receive.

Hey, homeschoolers! Most of the questions I’ve received in my personal and professional life center around parenting. As a parent myself, I understand that. We live in an age that has parents terrified of making mistakes and being blamed for any and everything that can go wrong in their children’s lives. Apart from that fear, we have the earnest desire to love and teach our children well.

While I didn’t begin this podcast or my time as a speaker thinking I would focus on parenting, I have found that I enjoy answering these questions. My prayer is that you’ll have some of your questions answered in this episode. If you have other questions, please don’t hesitate to send them my way via email (melaniephd@gmail.com) or on social media messages (@homeschoolsanity). I am happy to respond individually.

So, let’s jump in to six of the most popular questions I’ve answered over the years.

#1 Am I disciplining the right way?

This question comes after an explanation of a child’s problem behavior and a description of what the parent has done to address it that has improved the behavior.

The short answer to this question is YES. If you are responding to a child’s behavior problem in a way that is working, albeit imperfectly, then yes, you are disciplining the right way. I haven’t had to say no to this because no parent has ever described an abusive response with this question and no parent has said, “And I just ignore the problem behavior.”

The other reason my answer is yes is because you’re the authority on whether or not a disciplinary approach is working and appropriate for your family. I once fell for the lie that I couldn’t be trusted to know the best approach for each of my kids, just as I thought I couldn’t be trusted to know the best way to homeschool my kids. I thought I needed an expert to tell me. I didn’t and you don’t. If what you’re doing is working and it feels right to you, continue on. If it’s making things worse or you feel guilty about it, try something new.

#2 How can I discipline when my spouse isn’t on board?

The truth is most parents don’t phrase this in the form of a question. They say, “I CAN’T discipline because my spouse isn’t on board.” My answer is that it’s ideal to have you and your spouse on the same page with discipline. But it isn’t necessary for you to discipline in a way that works and feels good to you. Any time our kids aren’t with us and under our authority, they will likely be dealing with a different disciplinary approach. Outside teachers, coaches, grandparents, babysitters, and divorced or separated parents are probably not going to be on the same page with discipline. Of course, that doesn’t mean we throw up are hands in despair and drop discipline entirely.

It is always worthwhile to discuss discipline with your spouse when you have different ideas about how to approach it. But in these discussions our number one focus has to be humility. That is true even when your spouse is making what you think are obvious mistakes. Let’s consider a common scenario. You want to calmly use specific consequences for misbehavior, but when the kids act out, your husband yells instead. Instead of lecturing your husband about the negative effects of yelling and his need for self-control, dig deeper during a quiet discussion. Find out what is driving his frustration.

It’s possible it has little to do with the kids’ behavior. Is it a desire for quiet when he gets home from work? Is it being met with a mess or dinner being delayed on a regular basis? It could be problems at work, with extended family, with finances, or with his health driving his frustration. But it could also be as simple as his feeling out of control when the kids misbehave. Many disciplinary problems come from lack of options. If your husband doesn’t know exactly what to do or say, he will go for what has worked in the past–yelling.

If your spouse doesn’t have a disciplinary plan, you can humbly describe what you’re trying to do and the results you’ve seen with it. You can ask your spouse how you can support him in disciplining so you can be a team. I’ve heard from more than one father that they are frustrated when their disciplinary efforts are undermined by mom with excuses for the child or telling the child that the consequences Dad gave won’t stand. If you have a problem with Dad’s discipline in a specific instance, go to him privately and humbly ask him to reconsider. When he calms down, he may change his mind about consequences. I’m going to offer a disclaimer here that I am not talking about abuse. If your spouse is abusing your children, get legal and professional help to protect them. That is a parent’s responsibility.

But apart from that, if your spouse still doesn’t agree on discipline, carry on. You will do more to influence him by modeling your approach to discipline than debating him. And your children will benefit far more than if you give up on discipline completely.

#3 My child has special needs. How can I discipline?

This is the hardest question I get because I don’t know. I have given options that will work for most neurotypical children but could backfire with some children on the spectrum. But even if I had an approach for kids on the spectrum, kids with ADHD, kids with sensory processing disorders, and more, your child would likely be unique. As much as I’d like this to be easy, it’s not. You’re going to have to be a student of your child. Experiment. What works? What doesn’t? What are the circumstances when things go well and when they don’t? I have every confidence that you are the perfect person to find a discipinary approach that’s a good fit for your child.

But there’s a variation of this question that I want to address too. I get the “My child has OCD, ADD, and ODD and I’ve taken them to all these specialists and nothing works. I can’t discipline this child.” I’m going to be straight with you on this question. I don’t think that particular parent wants me to offer up a magic strategy because when I do give suggestions, I immediately hear why they won’t work. I think this question comes from a place of frustration, exhaustion, and fear of being blamed. There is no doubt that there are children who are very difficult to discipline. They have iron wills and don’t seem to care about punishments. The run-of-the-mill strategies will not work. I have compassion for these parents. But I also know that it can get worse–much, much worse. If there is no discipline, this child (who likely already feels out of control) will believe that not even his parents can get him under control. Children see discipline as love and all of them need it. When we withhold it, they feel unloved and will act out.

My advice is to keep loving, keep disciplining, and keep studying your child. The book The Defiant Child is an excellent help as well. Consider professional help as an adjunct to what you’re doing.

#4 My child doesn’t understand or agree with my plan or discipline. What do I do?

My answer to this question is to imagine an adult authority asking this. Would a police officer complain that people don’t understand the law or agree that they should be ticketed, so there’s nothing they can do? Would an IRS agent complain that people just don’t understand or agree with the tax law and can’t be audited and fined? No. We don’t have to understand and agree to be under authority and neither do our children. They just have to respect and obey. That doesn’t mean that we don’t explain our rules, particularly to older children, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t hear them out if they offer their opinion respectfully. But ultimately, we decide. We are the ones accountable to God for their upbringing. If we allow our kids’ obstinance to dissuade us, we lose our kids’ respect. Stay strong and you will reap a harvest of righteousness.

#5 I keep having to take things away from my misbehaving child. There’s almost nothing left!

This is a common problem with strong-willed children. We get into a cycle of punishing misbehavior. The strong-willed child wants to prove that she won’t be broken, so she misbehaves again. The trouble is this cycle can convince a child that she is a problem child and she will begin to live out of that identity. A deep-seated fear of being unloved and rejected adds fuel to the fire.

We want to interrupt that cycle. We will not change a child’s strong will. But we can help our child see that strong will as a blessing. We can love and affirm our child in that strong will. If we are caught up in the punishment cycle, we want to develop a praise and reward cycle instead. Affirm your child’s positive behaviors, no matter how small. Give this child responsibility and tell her you know she will do a great job with it. Give this child physical affection if they are open to it. Make goals easily achievable at first. Instead of asking your child to exhibit positive behavior for a day or a week, ask for 15 minutes. Give a desired reward and be excited about this positive step. When you do have to give consequences for misbehavior, make it clear that you know your child will learn from it and will get back on track. There is a lot more to say about parenting strong-willed children, but I’ll leave it with this short answer for now.

#6 Why is my child behaving this way?

It could be misbehavior, a strong will, reluctance to learn, anxiety, depression, or sibling conflict that drives the question. Unfortunately, once again I don’t have an answer for you. You’ll have to study your child, and it will take time. But I can give you some of the most common reasons for childhood behavior problems for you to explore.

First, deal with the marriage. If there is a problem in the marriage, children’s behavior will often be a reaction to it. Children are understandably afraid of their parents getting divorced. They feel anger at one or both parents whom they perceive to be the source of the problem. And they will mirror any disrespect they see on display between mom and dad. If you’re having problems, be honest about it and tell your kids what you’re going to do about it. Denial of difficulties does more harm to a child’s mental health than divorce, in my experience. As far as it depends on you, honor your spouse in your communication. Get help with or without your spouse.

Second, deal with your own mental health. An anxious or depressed parent can prompt anxiety or hopelessness for their kids. Once again, what’s most important is to be honest about what’s happening. Don’t deny it and tell your kids what you’re doing about it. Get professional help if self-help approaches haven’t worked.

Third, be open to feedback about your parenting from others. Ask another homeschool mom or another trusted friend or family member who loves you what they notice about your parenting and your kids. This is incredibly challenging to do, but it may be the most valuable thing you can do if you’re struggling. If you’re brave enough to do it and what they say hits hard, take time to pray about it before deciding if it’s legitimate or not. If you don’t want to do this, consider parents you know who are struggling and what you see as the obvious problem and solution. They don’t ask you and you don’t tell them, or you dance around the issue. Alternatively, see a professional for family therapy.

Fourth, consider a professional evaluation for your child. Undiagnosed physical or learning challenges can contribute to behavior problems. Children often choose to seem defiant rather than unintelligent. Getting a diagnosis may seem limiting for your child, but it can actually be liberating. You’ll then have tools and support to help your kids maximize their potential.

Even without a professional’s help, you can seek to understand your child’s beliefs. We all act in accordance with our beliefs. For example, if your child believes that an older sibling is the smart one and there is no point in trying to achieve, you can address that. If your child believes a sibling prefers playing with another sibling over her, she will cause conflict in the relationship. The kinds of discussions that can uncover these limiting beliefs require time and patience and prayer, but you can build a healing bond with your child in the process.

Conclusion

I hope this Q&A has been helpful to you. If it has, I’d love to have you share it with a homeschooling friend. I have great confidence in you to overcome any challenges in your parenting with God’s help. I still rely on His help as I seek to coach six young adult kids.

Have a happy homeschool week!

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