40 Ways to Help Homeschool Kids in Bad Situations, Part One

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HA note: For this two-part post, we asked members of the Homeschoolers Anonymous community the following question: If you grew up in a bad or less-than-ideal family and/or homeschooling environment, what are things that people around you (other family, friends, community members, etc.) could have done to help you and make your life better, more tolerable, etc.? We edited and compiled everyone’s answers into a list of 40 suggestions and will present those suggestions in 2 sets of 20. Each set is a group post compiled from various people’s answers.

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1. Compliment the child to the parents in front of the child.

Even if the parents shoot down the compliment, it might be one of the kindest things the child has heard about themselves in years.

2. Let them overhear you offer to include them in your own family events/outings.

Even if the parents refuse, it might offer the child hope for the future and give them a self-esteem boost.

3. Give them opportunities, however small, to express their own feelings or thoughts.

Tell them it’s ok to have feelings and thoughts, especially if they’re super repressed. Ask them if they have dreams, and if they don’t know how to dream, try to show them what it means to think about a future. Tell them about cool occupations, about sports, about music, about dance. That might seem like torture, if it’s something their parents won’t allow them, but maybe it will give them something to hang onto and look for in the future. Find ways to rekindle their inner fire.

4. Believe women who say they’re being abused.

Believe women who say they’re being abused, and support them in leaving their husbands. Don’t tell them to pray more, submit more, anything more. Help them get out, and help them and their kids through the transition.

5. Call children’s services if you suspect abuse or neglect.

Always call; what you see is only the tip of the iceberg.

6. If they come over to your house for some reason, a meal for example, don’t let them/ask them to help with dishes.

Don’t let them/ask them to help with anything, including table washing or sweeping — or anything housework related. Chances are they have a ton of that at home, and they think it’s their duty in life. Give them ice cream or start them a movie, or talk to them happily as you wash their dish for them. It might be really confusing for them. But it will be good.

7. Encourage them to dream of careers.

Encourage them to dream of careers beyond gender role ideals by remarking on what they’re good at. They’ll remember it for years and years..

8. Encourage them to dream big.

My “adopted grandpa” was convinced that I would be chief justice of the supreme court one day. Now, since I didn’t go an ivy school that’s highly unlikely, but that was one of the few voices I heard other than my parents who actually took my goals seriously. In the broader homeschool community there was usually a, “That’s nice, she thinks she’s going to be something more than a stay at home mom,” subtext.

9. If you want to risk being entirely cut out of the child’s life, offer to lend parent-unapproved books and movies for cultural education.

Maybe give the cover reason of helping them understand more about the culture for witnessing to the “lost”. Then be careful not to shock them too much with your choice of material if they are not ready for it.

10. Attribute their successes and their great personality traits to them, and them alone.

None of this “your parents must have raised you right!” or “you must have great parents” or “[parents] did a good job on this one!” Let the kids know they deserve praise for their own accomplishments. They are not their parents’ puppets or pet dogs.

11. If a parent tells you they’re being harsh or strict with their children, don’t praise them for doing so.

Don’t praise them for doing so or encourage them to be even harsher or stricter. You don’t necessarily need to assume they’re wrong — not every parent is narcissistic like mine — but you should always keep in mind that the parent you’re talking to is a potential abuser.

12. Tell them that fun doesn’t have to be edifying.

Happiness is enough for its own sake. Harry Potter is awesome and will not lead you on the path to hell. Most people are pretty decent, even if they swear, do drugs, or talk about sex. You can befriend people who aren’t perfect. It’s okay not to be perfect — just being yourself is a form of perfection. Being human is the greatest gift we have. Kindness is the best guide for morality I’ve found. Watch Star Wars.

13. If there’s a way to communicate to home schooled kids that the outside world isn’t this awful place on the brink of collapse, do it!

Help them realize there is more than one way to live a happy, fulfilling life.

14. If you notice they don’t have a lot of friends, for the love of Pete, be a friend and help them make some! 

Suggest music similar to what they already like/listen to so they can listen to it at work or in their car and give it back to you without being in trouble. Offer books they can read while they are on their lunch or smoke breaks, or in Sunday school.

15. If they are stressed out about family, do your psychoanalyzing silently.

It is very likely they’re being gaslighted at home and otherwise mentally/emotionally abused. Process in your own head. If you suspect something, ask around how to appropriately intervene. Don’t embarrass yourself or them.

16. Let them know it’s never wrong to question.

Truth will stand up under scrutiny. Question down to the foundations, and when you get to a wall of assumptions or tenets or axioms you can’t get past, ask yourself why. Question your beliefs and question the reasons for your beliefs. Question authority. That’s not a statement of rebellion, it’s a search for truth. Truth will always prevail, and if/when your beliefs come out whole on the other side, you’ll be that much stronger in holding them, because the hard questions are behind you.

17. If you have your own kids, invite just the kids over.

Befriend the parents if you can and then invite the kids over often. When they are with you, don’t ask them to do any work, let them sit at the table while you talk about parenting gently, being happy your kids are growing and making their own decisions, how to write a transcript, when to apply to college. Tall about anything the kid needs to get to college and anything to crack the ideas about harsh parenting and gender roles and submission.

18. Tell the kids about other school experiences.

Even just seeing public schooled kids’ textbooks and homework in their car or laying around the house caused the beginnings of doubt for me. The program my mom used liked to say that homeschooled kids averaged 3 grade levels ahead of public school peers. Seeing homework revealed that wasn’t true. For me at least. Especially in math and sciences.

18. Check in on them regularly, personally or through your church.

We lived in three places where the churches we attended never checked on us. Like, we had one car and my dad had it all the time and no one once asked if we need help going to the doctor, grocery shopping, or if we wanted to have a play date or anything like that. A simple “Hey, do ya’ll have enough food to go on the table?” or “Would your kids like to come over and play?” would have been very nice.

19. Accept them.

Even if they are different, even if they seem a bit odd, shower them with acceptance. They need acceptance, not judgement.

20. Love them.

Listen to them like they matter because they might not get much of that. Simple little gestures like telling them it’s okay to be sad or saying ‘you can do it!’ ‘I believe in you’ or ‘I am proud of you’ can stick in their mind for years.

Part Two >

17 comments

  • When I was about 15 I was at the birthday party of a girl I babysat, and there was another girl there about my age who I hadn’t met before. We were chatting with the mom about some concert or another with 2 million people in the audience, and about how a couple girls had reported being raped. The other girl my age said, “With the way girls dress these days they’re kind of asking for it,”, and the mom responded, in a very stern voice, “NO ONE deserves to be raped. No one.” I was a little shocked at first thinking that she was being harsh, but I kept thinking about what she said and realized she was right. The way I grew up, at least partial blame was put on the girl in almost any sexual assault cases (the only exception would be random, violent, stranger rape). It was girls’ job to keep men around them from assaulting them. That mom’s words have stuck with me to this day because I had never heard anything like it before.

    • I heard the rape blame thing soooo much. I hate that belief with a passion. I’m glad someone spoke up against it. I didn’t hear anything to contradict that from anyone other than my mom, who quietly told me when we were alone that she didn’t believe any woman deserved that just because of how they dressed.

  • Outstanding article.

  • I agree. It’s an outstanding article, for sure. I especially appreciated that over the years, some of our neighbors have opened their homes to my kids to come and hang out for a few hours when things got a little too stressed here. So good for them to see life outside our home school bubble.

  • I saw a father harshly rebuking his (about) seven year old daughter while I was enjoying a smoke in a parking lot of a restaurant. When he was finally done humiliating her, and as they walked by, I complimented the girl on her dress, stating that yellow is my favorite color (which is true). She smiled broadly, away from her dad’s view of her face. I am so glad she heard one positive thing that afternoon.

  • I still remember people who did 1, 2, 3, and 10. They probably never realized the difference that they made. My parents were loving and not abusive by intent, just the religious environment and isolationism and other things got out of control. As a girl in that environment, I had little to no hope for a future or belief in myself.

  • When I was a kid I was petrified of going on a ‘play date’ to anotherkid’s house. I was (and still am) an introvert, which I suppose is part of the reason. But I suppose the biggest reason was that girls’ games seemed silly and boring compared to what I got up to with my brothers. Girls just didn’t have any fun.

  • I’d offer one caution to some of these ideas (e.g., 3 and 17). Talking to homeschooled kids is a great idea and something they desperately need. Do so away from the parents’ earshot and you will be amazed how quickly many of them will open up and let their true personality emerge. HOWEVER, be careful having these conversations with groups of homeschooled siblings. Many homeschooled families only allow their children to be away from parental supervision in groups. The children are often expected or even required to report on what the other children did and said when mommy and daddy weren’t looking/listening. This can create undue stress on the children and exacerbate tension between siblings who already have a pressure cooker relationship. I think it’s useful to keep this dynamic in mind when trying to “draw out” a homeschooled child.

    • …No. The vast majority of this is really terrible advice. Go right ahead and call Child Protective Services if the situation is bad.

      • (I’m sorry. I didn’t mean this to be a reply to a specific comment. My computer decided to act bizarre.)

  • Concerning how your average homeschool kid might think housework is their duty in life:

    We DID think that. Friends would come over and we kids (well, us older girls) would be the silent servants. The parental relationship suddenly became that of a master to a servant. You know the puppet? The well-trained dog? That was us. Completely servile, UTTERLY taken for granted.

    If you were the guest at one of these homes.. just realize that those kids could probably use a genuine friend. To this day I remember one kind thing one guest said to me (my mother was not around.) And it helped me. With all of the damnable lies I’d imbibed from that world, I held on to believing that one good thing about myself.

    • I actually disassociated in my older years to the extent that (in order to control my emotions and my actions) I would mentally tell myself over and over again that I was a live-in maid and NOT part of the family.

      That is how much I felt like my opinions and feelings mattered to my parents. That is how cared-for I felt. In order to cope I saw myself as the maid. I just never got paid!!

  • Currently doing this and more with my younger siblings. While the physical abuse appears to be significantly less now, I desperately wish someone were around to do/say such things for me in years past.

    Rape: no one is “asking” to be raped. Really?? There are several reasons (and maturity levels) at which a girl dresses a certain way. Not all the reasons are acceptable in a conservative evangelical church environment, but I promise none of them are wishes for sexual violence. Not that I’m doing the feminist-fail “man up, you douche bags!” meme, but I promise if you model strong, secure, and sweet-hearted masculinity to your daughter, you will help a lot.

    Beatings: ritualized physical abuse is the worst. You can’t do it. If you do it to babies, I will physically restrain you in a way that will leave memories, and I will call the police. You will be permanently Google-able. Jesus will not come down to inform the police of the sanctimony of your viciously selfish method of taking out your frustrations in life on a doofy child.

    I did not call the police because I thought foster care would be even worse. I kept an “escape bag” as a little kid in case I had to get away. Even today, my wife marvels as my resourcefulness—and feels sad.

  • This post is about one homeschool possibility with overly protected, religiously extremely conservative families. I know that there are other kids like mine who go to overnight, non-religious, multi-day camps, have play dates with other kids with no parent present other than in the same general vicinity, join the public school soccer team, basketball team and Girl Scout group (instead of the homeschooling only groups of these), and have friends from the ages of 2.5 through more than 70. I am always horrified to hear about these different groups that either treat their children in the ways mentioned in the post or who keep their kids from everything. There are actually some of us who homeschool because we are lucky enough to be able to afford to do so, dedicated enough to give up large amounts of personal time for our children, and smart enough to know that we are in a school system that simply does not offer an adequate level of education (and, I would presume, that the nearest decent private school is too far away or in a place that is too difficult to drive to in inclement weather).

  • I might add that my own kids do not even clean their own room, little alone do other housework, despite being 6 and 8. I cleaned my whole house with my sister starting when I was 6. I was publicly schooled. Homeschooling, in and of itself, has nothing to do with parents who make kids into cleaning “servants.”

    • It’s true, there are lots of neglectful and abusive parents out there. These particular parents have a support network through homeschooling that actively encourages them to treat their children as possessions or servants, whose purpose is to fulfill the parent’s needs. I think this website exists to challenge the people and organizations who encourage child abuse and neglect within homeschooling.

  • I was homeschooled all the way through high school, and it is absolutely uncanny how on-the-mark this article is. Totally brought tears to my eyes.

    I wish I knew someone like this when I went through what were the worst years of my life.

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