Many parents can’t even imagine how they will navigate life this school year if their children spend all, or even some of their academic days at home, instead of at school.
When online education started happening in the U.S. last March, we thought it would just last a few weeks. As those weeks turned into months, May was a finish-line close enough to lean toward. Families and educators made the best of a bad situation.
But with a new school year approaching and the pandemic getting worse instead of better in many states, parents already know the struggles that come with trying to do school at home.
If there was any bit of bliss that came from ignorance a few months ago, real-life experience has erased bliss as an elective from the fall school schedule.
When children are young, the challenges that come with having school at home are unique. This mom describes the struggle very clearly:
This fall I will have a 2-year-old, Kinder, and 2nd grader. None of them are able to do their work autonomously. The 2-year-old needs constant attention and redirection while the other two need help getting started and often throughout their assignments.
The 2-year-old ends up on TV or the tablet to keep him occupied. I haven’t figured out any good plan that works. We have been unable to find a rhythm, and I am feeling frustrated and defeated.
The struggle is real. Everyone needs help--and often at the same time.
Let's start with some good news.
You're not doing anything wrong. Neither are your children.
Education is exhausting because it is about helping children grow up. By nature, children are immature and weak. Education is exhausting by nature, not mistake. (Education by Design, Not Default by Janet Newberry)
Resist the urge to react to this real struggle by punishing or shaming yourself or your children. Parenting is exhausting, even when you're doing things right.
Parenting during a pandemic is not something we've trained for. And, our children are learning how to navigate this crisis by watching us.
Much of what we'd grown to know as normal is lost. While it's important to grieve the loss, it's vital to help our children struggle well through this ordeal.
The magnitude of this situation is unique to our time in history, and I believe our response should be as unique. Can I suggest a unique game plan?
Imagine school at home without fear.
Imagine no fear of getting behind, or of your children not doing everything exactly right. No fear of you getting everything right, either. Imagine no fear of trying to be three people in three places at one time.
You may be a bit confused about this seemingly crazy game plan. The world is full of fear right now. Our thoughts about school are full of fear, too. We're afraid of everything our kids are missing out on, and our fears are real. We've got too much on our plate.
But, here's a vital truth: Fear is healthy when it gives us the energy to fight a bear or run away from danger. Fear is toxic when we live with it every day.
Fear literally makes learning difficult. Fear makes is almost impossible to pay attention. It damages our most intimate relationships. Fear causes chaos to our immune systems and can even delay personal development and emotional maturity.
Allowing fear to be a part of our children's school year is a recipe for disaster. Without an intentional rallying cry and real practical solutions, our children will suffer from more than missed recess with their friends and in-person instruction.
When our children's emotions are in chaos, our job is to bring them peace in a way that settles their souls. When our children are afraid, we get to be the ones who love them well.
That's it. Our unique rallying cry for this school year is:
Love one another.
Why LOVE ONE ANOTHER, you ask? Because love is the only antidote to fear.
We can't fight fear by trying harder. Fear won't budge with determination. Gritting our teeth doesn't move fear one inch. Neither does pretending that fear isn't a bully, or by trying to ignore it.
Fear doesn't go away even when everything's perfect. We can't work around it.
We must deal with our fear and help our children deal with fear, too. We can protect our kids with a non-toxic, all-natural vaccine against fear.
Love is the only weapon effective against fear, and it works every time.
Cortisol is the fear hormone and oxytocin is the love hormone. It's scientifically proven that the two cannot be present at the same time. When love is trusted, fear has to leave.
So, what does "love one another" look like during a school day?
Because no one wants to read a blog post that's too long, this post will answer this "what does love look like" question for parents of young children--like the parent who wrote the question above.
Look for my next blog post to offer ideas for families with older children, too. I'll put a link here when it is written and published. The third post in this series will address our real concerns about loneliness and our children's loss of playtime.
For children of all ages, we can organize our thoughts around a school year without fear in three categories. It's as simple as A, B, C.
A = Aim at a new target.
B = Talk with your children about beliefs more than behaviors.
C = Focus together on building a culture of love instead of perfect circumstances.
Let's begin at the beginning.
A = Aim at a new target.
Traditionally, school is about meeting standards. Every day we ask our children to measure up in spelling, math, and many other subjects. We require they measure up in the ways of behavior, too. We make charts and give grades to show them how well or how poorly they are measuring up.
This school year is anything but traditional. Standards are important but we can't prioritize both "measuring up" and "growing up" at the same time. One or the other will be our goal and will affect our parenting strategies.
The good news is that "growing up" is what happens when we love one another. Love (oxytocin) is the fuel of maturity. Yes? Really!
Love is a process of meeting needs. When we trust and bond and reach out to others, our bodies release a flood of oxytocin. Love is like high-octane performance fuel for our brains. It helps us build new connections.
Meeting needs is the step before meeting standards. If we skip love, our children will struggle to measure up and grow up. Love helps us do both.
Here's the summary of my experience in more than 30 years in education:
When we aim at the target of performance, relationships struggle, and maturity gets stunted. But when we aim at building relationships of trust and intentionally supporting maturity, performance never fails to go off the charts. (Education by Design, Not Default by Janet Newberry)
Just because we don't prioritize "measuring up" doesn't mean our children won't. Aiming at the target of "growing up" reminds us to respond to our children's needs with love instead of fear.
Some of the responses fear has taught us include manipulation, punishment, entertainment, and control. Fear tempts us to bribe and reward our children with things that aren't even good for them.
Love teaches us to respond with appropriate attention, personal proximity, affirmation, redirection, and healthy touch. Love reminds us to feed our children real food and great books and offer them inspiration as well as information.
Love reminds us to intentionally offer activities for our children that support their maturity.
Plan your environment so that it overflows with all things good, true, and beautiful; these are the things that love offers because they're good for us!
Use clay pots and woven baskets for pencils, crayons, and paintbrushes. Organize "living books" in fabric bins. When the atmosphere vibrates with the frequency of love, our children find more energy than in a place filled with plastic.
Love builds trust in our relationships and capacity in our souls. Living in a culture of love is like growing up in a well-watered garden. Our children thrive and we get good fruit!
Does it take time and energy? Yes. So do all the ways we respond in fear.
School at home is going to be exhausting, no matter how you look at it. We're going to be overwhelmed by fear or love.
If we choose to be overwhelmed by love, our children will grow up in healthy relationships with us and their siblings, and their maturity will soar--despite the pandemic. And, because they are strong, they will also be successful. I predict they'll be more successful than if they lived this school year in a culture of fear.
Love also suggests that we talk about beliefs more than behaviors.
B = Beliefs and behaviors.
Imagine you're helping your six-year-old with his math when the baby starts to cry. You say, "I'll be right back" and your son throws his pencil across the room in anger.
Math is hard for him. He can't do it by himself, yet. He doesn't feel safe when you walk away. And, your baby needs you, too.
In a "measuring up" world, your son has just screwed up. He deserves to be punished. Throwing pencils is not o.k. He knows the baby needs you, too. He knows you'll be right back.
He knows better!
In a "growing up" world, you go get the crying baby and work to settle everyone down. It takes time. It's not easy. Lots of needs require lots of love.
When your six-year-old is finished with his temper-tantrum, you calmly say, "I noticed you were really upset when I left you to go get the baby. What story were you telling yourself when you were feeling angry?"
Not the first time, but with practice, we can teach our children to answer this "What story are you telling yourself right now?" question something like this:
I was telling myself that you love the baby more than me, or
I was telling myself that I was stupid because I can't do my math by myself, or
I was telling myself that I hate doing school at home.
Now, we can have a real conversation about the stories we tell ourselves that is true and how they're different from the ones we tell ourselves that are lies.
We can teach our children that fear is a liar. We can invite them to trade the lies for the truth and remind them that this is how we trust love to cast out fear.
We can also talk about, "Throwing pencils is not o.k." Discipline is more effective than punishment.
Punishment happens when we try to control our kid's behavior with fear. It's about the behavior that happened in the past. We think our kids will learn if they get what they deserve.
Discipline happens when we understand that behavior is the echo of belief. It's about the child--and helping them move into the future believing truth, instead of lies.
Love reminds us that our children will learn when they get what they need, not what they deserve.
Yes, discipline sometimes includes consequences. But, real consequences are different than fear-based punishment. Punishment teaches us to measure up or be afraid when we don't.
Loving consequences teach us the truth about how the world works. Sometimes the consequence is simply persevering through a loving conversation that helps us untangle the stories we're telling ourselves that are not true.
Love invites us to ask ourselves the same question, mommas: "What story are you telling yourself? And, is it true?"
In a "measure up" world, you've screwed up when you can't be everything to everyone all the time. But that's the voice of shame, not the voice of truth.
One beautiful gift of building a culture of love, instead of a culture of fear, is that YOU get all the benefits of love, too. Parents, we all still have a bit of growing up to do ourselves. Fear will keep us immature. Love is the fuel of maturity. There is great hope!
Let's talk about focusing on building a culture of love, instead of simply focusing on our circumstances.
C = A Culture of Love
For months now, our circumstances have been more than challenging. Fear wants us to focus on what's wrong and how miserable we are.
These are desperate times. Even if your family hasn't been physically sick, our emotions and stress-response cycles need some intensive care.
Love invites us to grieve and care for ourselves and others. Love offers to lift our chin and point us in the direction of building something beautiful instead of continually bemoaning what's not fun.
Fear has taken the upper hand long enough that perhaps we've forgotten what it's like to live in a culture of love. Can I remind you?
The choices we make in a culture of love are different than the ones we make in a culture of fear. We can make these choices every day, in every conversation, and in response to every challenge.
Choose to work together instead of manipulating.
Choose to celebrate instead of bribing.
Choose to encourage, not humiliate.
Choose to influence instead of threatening.
Choose to listen, not yell.
Choose to affirm instead of shaming.
Choose to reconnect, not disconnect.
Choose to be present instead of ignoring.
Choose to be generous instead of keeping score.
Choose to be dependable instead of simply independent.
Love gives us the help we need and teaches us to help each other, too. Young children can make these choices when we model them and prioritize these ways of relating in our families.
I remember when I taught Kindergarten at a school where the children enjoyed a culture of love, instead of fear. We were engaged in a handwriting lesson one day, and every child was giving focused attention on making just four perfect letters on each line.
Sometimes a child would sigh. Penmanship is hard work when you're five. Often, a classmate would lean over with some encouragement. I'd hear them say something like,
"I know you're tired. But, look what a beautiful job you're doing. You can persevere. Keep going. You just have a few more to do."
They had learned the language of love, abiding in a culture of love. Love lends strength. Love builds capacity. Love invites us into a deeply satisfying life where we are more than successful. We care.
We're created to enjoy impact and influence in each other's lives--for good. The culture in our homes will either teach our children to be self-focused or loving.
The opposite of maturity is selfishness. Love is our great hope for growing up.
Do you need more practical steps?
I hope right now you're beginning to feel a shift in the momentum for the upcoming school year--from dread to hope. Is it going to be hard? YES!
We can respond to what we do not want or enjoy with complaints, attempts to control, blaming, shaming, and manipulating. These fear injections will have long-lasting effects on us and our children.
Or, we can respond to what we do not want or enjoy with love. We can accept the invitation to learn the power of working with our children rather than simply expecting young ones to do what they're told by themselves.
We can forget about trying to be perfect and embrace reality with grace. Grace changes everything.
Love is safe and never soft. Love doesn't pretend that wrong is right. "It doesn't matter," is never spoken in love.
Love sits beside us and teaches us to find our place beside others. One day, we realize that we're the ones lifting little chins and pointing others in the direction of building something beautiful instead of continually bemoaning what's not fun.
If you'd like more support building a culture of love in your home during this pandemic, I have lots of resources for you. Visit my blog for other posts about homeschooling and parenting in love.
Check out our LOVE IS FEARLESS podcast. We have almost 100 episodes that offer practical steps for choosing love over fear.
My book is easy to read and offers chapters full of practical ideas. There's one chapter devoted to "Where Do We Start With Young Children?" You can purchase a paperback copy on Amazon, or read it on Kindle. Education by Design, Not Default--How Brave Love Creates Fearless Learning
I recorded a video for Learning Success about the power of expectations. Follow this link to watch it now. https://www.learningsuccesssystem.com/tips/expectations/janetnewberry
John 15 Academy is our 501(c)3 created to help strengthen families and repurpose education. You can watch a FREE webinar that teaches you how to help your child struggle well and find out more about this online community.
I'd love to hear from you. Send me an email to share your thoughts and questions. firstname.lastname@example.org
Together, there is great hope.