8 Ways Homeschoolers Build a Happy Childhood

revised from a Medium post on Oct 22, 2018

I am the master of my fate: 
 I am the captain of my soul.

-William Ernest Henley, “Invictus

Have you ever talked to a homeschooler? They are well-adjusted, happy, and engaged. She asks questions, looks you in the eye, and is interested in you. Compare this to slouching teens who don’t make eye contact, wear earphones, grunt or shrug when spoken to, and spend hours on their smartphones or game consoles. The suicide and depression numbers in the U.S. are alarming – 45,000 successful suicides out of four times that number attempted in 2016. What can parents do to help their kids be happier? Homeschoolers have some ideas.

1. No Smartphones

back view of long, wavy, sun-bleached blond-haired girl sitting in orange hammock in front of waterfall with trickling flow, green moss all over the mountain in front of her, vibrant ti leaf plants and ferns all around, she is making a shaka sign with her left hand, multiple bracelets on both wrists
Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

There is no reason kids need full access to the internet, social media, or all the popular apps. “But everyone else is doing it” has never been an acceptable reason for kids doing dumb things. If 6-9 hours daily on screens is decreasing their happiness, it’s time to stop. They won’t like it, but those are your rules. Real friends, people who really like your kid, will have real conversations on the phone just like old times.

Once the kid’s face is out of his phone, he’ll have to engage in the real world. And so will you. You’ll be able to talk, disagree, argue the merits of his favorite band, and why that Netflix series is so popular. Few homeschool kids have phones before high school, then often just a dumb phone. Without smartphones or social media, homeschoolers call or write letters to keep in touch.

2. Be Present, Be There

Long ponytail female climbing an inclined indoor climbing wall
Photo by Wendi Lau

Our devices make life easier. I can call people without knowing their numbers, order pizza, track expenses, and check email on my phone. Devices don’t make life better. Remembering this distinction will help you choose to put the phone away and watch your kid work on a rock-climbing route. Think about how she feels when Mom sees her reach the end of the route she’s been working on all month. I was so proud at the grit my young daughter showed learning to ice skate by herself. For hours she kept falling down and getting back up with a determined look and a big smile. If I hadn’t sat there, bundled up, knitting, I would have missed her fortitude.

A good life is one in which we strive to be better, more. Don’t you want to be there for it?

Homeschoolers  are with their kids almost ALL the time. It’s the hardest and best thing about homeschooling. When we’re not trying to hold it together or multitask, like everyone else, we are so thankful for the opportunity to be there.

3. Believe

Encourage your kids to speak for themselves in various situations to become confident communicators. They can check themselves in at the dentist office, ask for assistance at a store, and learn the bus route to get to the library. When you encourage independence, you convey your belief in them.

“I know it’s not easy. I didn’t say it would be. But I believe in you and you can do this thing.”

Say it enough, mean it, and they will internalize it hearing your words every time they doubt themselves. You are building a titanium backbone and a will to succeed.

4. Encourage Passion

Brown-haired girl in diaphanous white dress using real camera to photograph something near the ground, standing in a field of dry grass.
Photo by Monica Gozalo on Unsplash

Many homeschoolers pursue passion projects – something they love, want to improve in, and learn more about. Surfing, rock-climbing, making dolls that friends take on their travels, programming, baking, and horse jumping are a few examples. A passion project and finding out what you like on your own makes a person interesting and builds confidence. Confidence born out of self-direction and accomplishment acts as an emotional shield against bullying and peer pressure.

5. Give Time not Things

Dad stand-up paddle-boarding with 4  smiling kids
Photo by Filios Sazeides on Unsplash

What do you remember from your childhood? I bet it’s not all the stuff you got for Christmas and birthdays. Kids remember experiences: running a monthly 5K with mom, building a birdcage and putting up Christmas lights with Grandma, rock-climbing with friends. Don’t worry so much about buying them things. They’ll forget they pined over a video game or brand-name clothes. They’ll remember being cuddled during nightly storytime and telling you about their day as fast as they can get the words out.

Homeschoolers often rely on one income in order to homeschool so we value books, games, and puzzles over toys – things the family can enjoy together. Simple games like Uno and checkers or complex strategy games like Small World and Ticket to Ride are fun, social, and memorable.

We also loved our weekly library trips. Storytime, large stuffed animals, and SO MANY books! It’s still one of my favorite places.

6. Champion Childhood

back view of blond toddler splashing water out of a tin cup and sitting in a blue bucket

Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

Homeschooling is about parenting and preserving childhood. This is why we delay giving them smartphones, spend lots of time with them, and encourage play. Our parenting job is to shield them from inappropriate stuff not the consequences of their actions. Be on guard for anything that tries to separate them from your family, causes self-doubt, or exposes them to mature ideas before you think they are ready. That may include unsupervised internet use, social media, bullies, “friends” who don’t act like friends, and tv shows with sex or sexual innuendo or situations that make you uncomfortable.

7. Encourage Destiny

Without constant peer pressure over petty things, homeschoolers can develop a healthy, happy self-image based on character and awareness of their abilities.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology asserts the biggest contributor to happiness is autonomy — believing that you determine your own destiny.

You don’t have to homeschool for your kid to be the captain of his fate.

  • Encourage kids to do their best so they can be proud of their efforts; emphasize the journey over the destination. Ex: If her team loses, it’s still a win if they learn something, improved, and tried hard.
  • Help kids discover their passions.
  • Cultivate a healthy self-image by focusing on things they can improve: e.g., be kind, work hard, be active, eat well, smile, be interesting and interested in others; instead of fixating on clothes, social media, and selfies.
  • Make in-person connections, usually through church, activities, and sports.
  • Encourage kids to take up an outside physical activity.
  • Practice being thankful every day.
  • Identify a need or problem in the community or household, then develop and carry out a solution.

8. Connect

Black and white picture of toddler girl with hair tied back writing with right hand and sitting at a round table opposite t-shirt wearing dad holding pen in right hand
Photo by Daniella Dimitrova on Pixabay

“Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.”

 — Dale Carnegie

If you cannot homeschool, find a way to connect with your kids every day.

  • Walk them to school
  • Read to them every night
  • Ask how their day was while they eat an after-school snack
  • Put smartphones away in the car to give you another chance to communicate
  • Set a device-free hour after they enter the home, even if it takes weeks to develop easy communication

Parenting is nothing special. It is hard work we do EVERY DAY. You can build your child’s happiness foundation, brick by brick. Take every opportunity to connect and don’t give up; your kid is worth the effort.

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