How to have a “together-style homeschool” if your kids bicker



The following entry is a response to an email asking about how to help siblings get along in the “together-time” of homeschool. My replies are interspersed with her situations.

Below are ideas for some common issues.

Caveat: It’s much much easier to give guidance now that my children are mostly out of the house! My memories are telescoped and not as present-to-me as your current very-alive-to-you frustrations. Just know this: some days just suck. Sometimes everything you try doesn’t work. Sometimes you need breaks from each other, from homeschool, from your house.

Sometimes you try all the “right approaches” and they feel like stiff shoes – not natural to you or how you are as a group. You know your family! The “together-style” homeschool is an option, not a requirement.

With that said, here are some things that worked for us when we faced some of these challenges:

My turn/no your turn: Two options—1) Have more “whatever” available so no turns need to be taken; 2) Don’t use this item/process/book during family homeschool time.

Examples—If your kids are fighting over Legos, you need more Legos. If they are wanting to look at the same book, you may need a second copy or you need another book of comparable interest. This option often requires extra cash and effort. If you don’t have either, go on to suggestion two.

If there is no way to expand the number of items (2-3 sets of binoculars, knitting needles for all, several cameras, a variety of writing implements, many clipboards, several iPads or Tablets, more than one computer), then save the individual item task for NOT family time. That’s not a time to do the activity as a group. Save it for independent time. If you have lots of kids, create a sign up sheet with time slots so that the kids can have a neutral third party hold them accountable—the sheet of paper.

Our biggest fights were over TV and computer time. We could not afford to have more computers or TVs. That meant we had to have “turns.” I refused to police these turns or even solve the “…but you started at 12:02 so that means…” arguments. For a long time, we had a sign up sheet and we agreed on a specific clock. Eventually, they were done with the sheet and used “time slots.” That didn’t eliminate all of the fighting, but by and large it did afford uninterrupted play time. We did discover after several months that 30 minutes was “too short” a turn. We changed it to 2 hour time slots so that it was possible to get immersed in a game.

Another predicament: 9-year-old gets annoyed with youngers who don’t know what he knows ( working on patience with him).

This one will be frustrating while it lasts but it will change. Maybe rather than annoyance you can feature his growth to him. You might acknowledge his diligence to learn or ask him to teach one of the younger ones. Find out if he’s needing a playmate who is of comparable skill (find one – if none are available then you are that playmate) or if he is frustrated because their lack of knowledge is thwarting his progress in some way. Fix THAT and his impatience will dissipate (usually).

Next: littlest interrupts which frustrates other two, everyone talks at once then gets upset.

Interruptions are frustrating to everyone! Hold a family meeting to discuss how interruptions may take place and how to all talk at once. Start with, “Have you ever noticed how when we all talk at once, we all get frustrated?” or “Have you ever noticed that when two kids are playing and a third joins, the first two get mad?” Then ask, “What can we do about that?” or “If it were up to you, how would you solve that problem?”

Get them involved in the process. They may have a good idea—like talking only when you have the stuffed bear in your hand and if you want to talk, picking it up first. Or maybe if the older two are busy and the younger one wants to interrupt, help the older two to know how to talk to an interrupter. Can they hold up a hand like a “stop” sign for a moment, and then turn and make eye contact and say, “What did you want?”

Sometimes a hand sign is much better than escalating voices.

Here’s the thing: these issues you are talking about? They are actually the most important lessons you can teach. Ignoring the tension or expecting a cure all–both unrealistic. It takes years of negotiating for peace before your kids learn to be peaceful with each other. You facilitate peace by hearing the real feelings of each participant and solving for a meaningful solution for each person. It takes time and work—and is worth skipping all home education for the day or week to get it right.

I hope that helps! Please “push back” if you have follow ups about how none of this has worked for you. We can keep solving here, too.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image © Lavigna |

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