Helping the Discouraged Learner

by | Jan 22, 2019 | Teaching Tips | 6 comments

How our kids react to learning plays a huge part in how effective our teaching is. When our kids are discouraged learners, our teaching is ineffective and this is one of the biggest reasons we lack confidence as we homeschool our kids with dyslexia.

How our kids react to learning plays a huge part in how effective our teaching is. When our kids are discouraged learners, our teaching is ineffective and this is one of the biggest reasons we lack confidence as we homeschool our kids with dyslexia.

Yesterday we started a short series on how to have more confidence in our homeschools. I’m not going to lie, homeschooling our kids with dyslexia can be difficult. Take some time this week to build in some confidence building strategies. Read the series from the beginning here.

The Discouraged Learner

If your child screams and falls to the ground when it’s time to start school, you’re not going to get much done. Likewise, if your child shuts down when things get difficult (which – dyslexia… hello –  lot’s of things are difficult) again you’re stopped in your tracks.

All homeschool families struggle from one degree to another with their kids behavior and attitudes.

How many of these issues are you facing with your kids?
– A lack of motivation?
– Kids who are easily frustrated?
– Kids who are frequently discouraged?
– Kids who are perfectionists or afraid to try new things?
– Poor attitudes in general?
– Focus, attention, and organizational struggles?

I’ve always said that character training should be considered a school subject. Then at least we could check it off our lists every time our teaching is interrupted by behavior issues!

It’s important to note however, that sometimes these issues we are facing with our kids are not character issues. 

They can also be a result of stress.  Studies have shown the negative impact of stress and anxiety on learning.

All kids experience their struggles differently. Some will be more resilient than others, even within the same family.

We hear a lot about this kind of anxiety and worry from parents whose kids are coming out of the public school where they are chronically behind, struggling, and completely misunderstood.

The truth is that it is easy for us even as homeschoolers to create this same sort of negative atmosphere.

To learn more about the connection of dyslexia and anxiety, read this.

A persistent sense of failure can result it what is often called learned helplessness.

This can cause kids to:

  • Give up easily
  • Lack motivation
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Have depression and anxiety
  • Stop trying when work gets difficult
  • Seem passive about school work
  • Procrastinate
  • Or experience extreme anxiety and frustration

Overcoming Kids’ Negative Attitudes Towards School

If your child is resistant to learning, try one of these strategies for reducing stress.

Options for reducing the load are:

  • use accommodations like narration instead of writing answers
  • use assistive technology to help complete assignments
  • hiring tutors for time-consuming or stress-producing subjects
  • breaking teaching times up into smaller chunks (highly effective for kids with focus or attentions issues)
  • consider using a timer (ie. do handwriting for 10 minutes instead of a complete page)
  • letting your child choose which subject to complete first
  • reduce the amount of writing, math problems, or other work required
  • offer rewards for completed work

Consider a Time of Deschooling

Another way to reduce the pressure in your homeschool is to consider a time of deschooling.

Deschooling is when you take a break from academics for a set time to give kids a chance to decompress and develop better attitudes about learning and relationships. I know what you’re thinking. “Take a break from academics?! We’re behind. I can’t possibly take a break.”

I get it and we’re going to talk about the myth of being behind tomorrow.

For now, here’s how and why to set up a time of deschooling:

Stop and Assess: Which subjects or activities does your child do eagerly or enjoy? Which subjects or activities do they resist? Which classes offer flexibility and which don’t.

Switch Your Focus: The point of deschooling is to replace your current school routine with things like:

  • doing the things they like
  • reading out loud – especially stories of people who overcame obstacles
  • go places that they enjoy – zoos, museums, airports, construction sites – what ever is of genuine interest to them
  • TALK! communicate and enjoy each other’s company

The goal of the break is to:

  • reduce anxiety and habits of resisting school
  • rebuild areas of your relationship that have broken down
  • to reassure them that you see them and care about them
  • spark new feelings of confidence in learning – without reading, writing, and spelling

Oftentimes, after a few weeks off, our school days are much more productive. We’re more relaxed and at peace which makes learning easier. Don’t dismiss the idea of doing a little school in the summer to ‘catch up’ and to keep kids from forgetting what they’ve learned.

Download this deschooling planner to help you plan a short academic break.

Tomorrow I’m going to be writing about the myth of being behind and suggest a more positive way to look at our kids’ academic progress.

How will you work on reducing stress in your child’s day? Share in the comments below!


  1. Stacy

    Hello , thank you for all the helpful information. My son is having great difficulty retaining his spelling words. If he learnt to spell a word today, by next week it has been forgotten inaddition if he remembers a word if he is writing a passage he is so focused on his story he doesnot spell the words correctly. How do I rectify that?

    • Marianne

      Spelling is really hard for people with dyslexia. It is often very late to develop. Keep doing what you are doing and eventually add in a good spell checker.

    • Diane

      In my classroom, kids who had difficulty remembering the spelling of words had a file folder with most commonly used words (that often aren’t easy to “sound out”). They open it on their desk whenever they need to write. Studies show that if kids spell words in many different ways, it’s hard for their mind to ‘know’ which is correct. When they keep referring to it & it’s ALWAYS in the same place in their folder, it subconsciously helps them learn to spell. If kids “need” to do tests, could they be given 2 choices – copy the one that looks right? Much less stress🥰🥰

  2. gina

    I feel like we do take breaks but he NEVER wants to get restarted. He’s so resistant to everything. He’s 10 and CAN read but now its that he’s not fast enough (his words, never mine!) so he doesn’t want to do it. He can’t grasp multiplication. He can’t retain information. I feel like we wake up each morning to a blank slate. His sad face breaks my heart. He said yesterday “I don’t know anything” so we made a list of things he knows so well and that made him smile. I don’t know what else to do. Thank you for this site!

    • Tracy

      My daughter is post concussion syndrome for the last 2 years, in addition to her lifetime of being dyslexic. She’s 15. Any chance your son has had a concussion? My daughters memory has gotten worse since hers. We also see an applied kinesiologist who discovered she has high levels of copper in her system. We are also seeing our third Neuro optomologist who has found out her eyes are locked up close and cannot relax far away. Just got glasses for that. I wonder if your son has something that’s not allowing him his recall. The first 2 didn’t find anything. Talk about frustrating!

      All the best of luck as my heart breaks with you and for you.

      I also made a list of things with my daughter years ago during a cry fest. Also had an index box of unknown words. Whenever she could read a word Id move it out of the box (and into another that I kept to myself). One day when the tears again began to fall, I took the known box out and she was surprised how much she knew. But still the tears fell and continue to this day.

      She’s had success with Spelling Mastery. It explained WHY words LOOK the way they do. And knowing why and how come certain letters went with others helped a great deal. Then we left that school and went back to public school. The end.

  3. Clare Brown

    This is a great article thank you. We have been homeschooling for about 8 months now, and although we both love it we definitely have our moments.

    “breaking teaching times up into smaller chunks (highly effective for kids with focus or attentions issues)”
    This is especially the case, it took a while to realise that he didn’t need to be learning constantly during the school day. As soon as we realised this he came on so much better.


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