Match the cure to the ailment

Don't cryImage from Boston Public Library

Remember when you had a colicky baby and nothing worked to calm her? You rocked her, nursed her again for the 15th time only to have her spit it all up, you held her football style, you took her for a drive in the car, you gave her yet another dose of baby Tylenol. Still screaming and arching her back, wriggling and twisting in your arms.

Later that day, a friend mentioned the odious possibility of “pinworms.” Pinworms! Pinworms cause babies and toddlers to squirm and cry—nothing soothes them, apart from ejecting the tiny thread-like residents. Drinking a single dose of chalky medicine does the trick. It’s over-the-counter, inexpensive, and painless. Like a miracle, that baby sleeps again…like a baby.

In our attempts to help our kids perform better in our homeschools, sometimes we miss the real source of listlessness, fatigue, apparent boredom, or lack of effort. It’s important to broaden the search beyond character flaws and poorly constructed curriculum. No withholding of video games or the tossing of one workbook system for another will cure a child’s ennui if the source is hunger—a lack of protein that morning, and a hang over from chocolate Sundaes the night before.

Sometimes fatigue (not enough sleep) is the real issue. A nap or earlier bedtime creates an entirely different child the next day.

Perhaps pencil fatigue has overtaken the otherwise kind 7 year old. You forgot that math required pencil-work, and so did the “Illustrations of Birds” book he happily colored half the morning while you washed laundry and checked email. No wonder he isn’t ready to do copywork, right when you are ready to work. His hand is “all-written-out.”

Stress from an argument with a parent or sibling can undermine paying attention during read aloud time.

A cluttered table is a disaster for a neat-nick kid who prefers an open, clear space for concentration. But maybe you don’t know that or haven’t discerned it yet. Perhaps your child can’t tell you. Test it. See if it matters.

Extroverts may want companionship and feedback while they work. Isolation makes them cranky. They want you to sit by, or copy your own passage or freewrite with them or watch them do each and every math problem.

Introverts may want space and quiet—the freedom to fail beyond your prying eyes. They may need to know that they can do all the problems alone, without you correcting any, for a whole week while they figure out how the system works. Then they can present something to you to look at that they are proud of, or at minimum, more comfortable sharing.

The resistance you see isn’t always about the program or the style of education. It isn’t always about the power struggle between a parent and a child.

Quite frequently (more often than not), the culprit in the “poor behavior” category is quite unrelated to education or interpersonal dynamics.

Stop what you’re doing. Consider the following.



Ask yourself if any of these may apply. So many of the issues we face can be solved with a peanut butter or turkey sandwich (even for breakfast!).

Mirroring back to an angry child the source of the anger and offering empathy (not even fixing it) can free up space to learn.

Self-teaching programs can feel like a sentence—a prison of loneliness. Kids like learning with partners and fans. You can’t do it all with every child all the time, but if you have been handing off too much lately, you’ll know it by the cranky resistance you get to what used to be easy and happily completed.

Lastly, we cannot underestimate the power of fatigue to crush the life out of even the strongest of us! Sleep is a cure-all. Take a nap, swing in a hammock, snooze.

Going to bed at a reasonable hour? Well, our family never managed to do that even one night, I think. But we slept in. We took naps. I was not above crashing to the sofa mid-read-aloud to catch 40 winks. I was not above enforcing a quiet hour after lunch for everyone—headphones to corral the perky, restless toddlers, shared beds with babies, and quiet time in their bedrooms for the older kids.

Match the cure to the ailment. Look beyond teaching strategies and eat something. Quick!

Cross-posted on facebook.

3 Responses to “Match the cure to the ailment”

  1. Joyfulmomof6 says:

    What a great pneumonic! I think it especially applies to Moms, too….sometimes I am experiencing those things so I am less able to tune into what my children need at the moment, so I have less patience to figure it out….what I will often do is get everyone outside to walk to the park or just stop doing school for awhile and do something else, then we ALL get refreshed….

  2. Joyfulmomof6 says:

    just realized it’s “mnemonic” not the way I spelled it with a “p”. DUH!!! 🙂

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    Match the cure to the ailment « A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief