If you are a homeschooler, sooner or later you will hear a child proclaim, “This is hard!” As a matter of fact, you may hear those words coming out of your own mouth! Whether your child is gifted and sails easily through their schoolwork or is a struggling learner, sooner or later your child will encounter a task that is highly challenging. In that moment, you also have a decision to make. How should you respond to a child’s lament about hard tasks?
It may be tempting to intervene on your child’s behalf, because you don’t want him to become frustrated and resistant to further schoolwork as a result. When you see your child’s patience waver and sense the tension rising it is only natural to want to prevent further escalation. To be honest, it might be easier to at least temporarily bypass the hard task in favor of something more readily achievable. This is especially true when the child is prone to emotional meltdowns when frustrated.
Some children decide a task is hard, so they anticipate failure and give up without really trying. They have already made up their minds that this particular task is beyond their reach. Sensitive children may feel inferior even though they have not failed at the task that has not yet been attempted. Other children may resent that they have been presented with something they consider hard and therefore feel it is unreasonable for the adult to expect them to complete it. These children who give up easily or don’t even begin a task that they perceive to be challenging require a discerning adult to figure out the reasons they are so resistant to taking on a challenge.
In my case, I was a child who did not want to do anything that I wasn’t good at or could not quickly master. For example, I wanted to be able to play beautiful music on the piano, but after a couple years of lessons I realized I had gotten a much later start than most of the other pupils and I would not become proficient in the time I could allot to practicing the piano. So I quit piano lessons, even though I enjoyed playing the piano, because I wanted to play well or not at all. I felt the same way about most games. I played pinball games a few times and decided it was not for me because it would take a lot of quarters and practice to become adept at it and I didn’t want to expend the time or money to learn the necessary skills.
As I homeschooled my children, I initially would respond to their statement “It’s too hard” with “No, it’s not. You can do this”. This led to the unfruitful exchange of “No, I can’t” and “Yes, you can” which accomplished nothing other than to fuel the frustration for my children and for me. Over time, I learned to recognize when my children were just being lazy and when there was truly a hindrance to learning. Wouldn’t you want to respond to laziness very differently from the way you respond to a child who is genuinely stumped by an assignment? I sure did.
When I thought my children were just trying to get out of work that they found less interesting than their preferred pursuits, I determined that they needed to finish the assignment even if they claimed it was hard. I would discuss with them the reality that they would be called upon to do hard things throughout their lives, and they might as well start learning to discipline themselves to work diligently because they would need to be able to do so for the rest of their lives. Complaining that the work is too hard only makes the task seem more unpleasant as it stretches out for longer periods of time than it would if the children just settled down and got the job done.
During the times when I realized my children had legitimate reasons for feeling that a task was too hard, I responded very differently. First, I pointed out that we all need help with things and that it was fine to ask for assistance. When a child proclaims, “It’s too hard!” he has already given up without even trying. That attitude won’t serve him well in life. A child needs to learn how to persist and work hard. So while it is true that there will be times when a child is asked to do something he is not yet able to do, giving up is not the answer. I told my children that it was fine to ask for help when they needed it, but not acceptable to just decide to give up because something seems like it is too hard. The mindset of “I need some help to be able to do this” is very different from the mindset of “I can’t. This is too hard.” Can you picture teaching your child this lesson? If so, you will not only be helping them succeed with homeschooling, you will be equipping them for life as adults.