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Homeschool Discipline: Fundamental Help

Discipline issues in the home can disrupt, and even destroy, a homeschool. Here are some basic tips that address discipline problems to help your homeschool thrive.

We all want to be successful in our teaching. We want to provide our children with the best possible education and we want it to be enjoyable. We do our research, plan our year, and buy our curriculum materials. We work, we pray, we launch our homeschool and then… our kids kids start acting up! They bicker, pout, stubbornly refuse to do their work, and seem constantly distracted.

Struggles with discipline can put a damper on even the best organized homeschools. They can make us feel like a failure and lead us question our decision to homeschool.

Fortunately, discipline problems are not insurmountable. They can be overcome with foresight and strategy. In this article we will look at two fundamental strategies for overcoming discipline problems. These strategies are foundational. They are points to consider at the outset as soon as you notice persistent discipline problems.

The Power of Routine

One of the most powerful tools in education is routine. Human beings flourish in routine. Our brains like to recognize and establish patterns. They help us feel secure and give us a sense of control over our surroundings. One of the most important aspects of good education is providing children with a stable routine within which they can learn.

If you are having persistent discipline problems, the first thing I would look at is the routine. An educational routine is a predictable pattern of how your homeschool day unfolds. It includes the day’s itinerary (e.g., what time children wake up, in what sequence their classes are held throughout the day, how and when chores are integrated, when they have free time, etc.). It also includes the physical setting of your homeschool—we do class in this room, or at this table, with these resources, etc. A routine will also include expectations for how courses are to be completed (e.g., homework needs to be completed by such-and-such a time, handed in to me in such-and-such a manner, etc.)

Discipline problems with children in education often happen because routines are ill-defined. When a child doesn’t know what they are expected to do or how to do it, and so they begin fidgeting or acting out. If your child is acting up in your homeschool, begin by reviewing your routine. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Does my child wake up at a dedicated time, or do they just roll out of bed whenever?
  • Is there a specific time the school day begins and ends?
  • Does my child know what he is expected to be doing at any given time?
  • Do I have a quiet spot set aside for my child to work?
  • Does my child understand how and when assignments are due?
  • Is my child getting enough one-on-one time with me to explain instructions and help?
  • Does my child have everything she needs on hand to do her coursework? Or, are we always scrambling because we are missing something we need?

These are not questions that have any one right way to resolve. They are merely prompts to get you thinking about your routine. There is also no one correct routine. For example, an unschooling family is going to have a vastly different routine from a family doing a classical liberal arts curriculum. This is not about imposing a specific routine, but rather about ensuring that your children know what is expected of them. This makes a huge difference when it comes to maintaining discipline in your homeschool.

Start Strict, Lighten Up Later

From a perspective of maintaining discipline, it is important to begin your year on the stricter end of the spectrum. This takes deliberate effort, as it is sometimes counterintuitive. When beginning a new year, there is a temptation to start off light and easy so your child will get excited about it. This can come back to bite you, however, because eventually you’re going to have to buckle down and dig into real coursework, to plough through the meat of the content.

If you’ve already established expectations that schoolwork is “easy,” you’re going to have to readjust expectations when things get more demanding. That can be a challenge; people naturally resist efforts to tighten the reins once they’ve been accustomed to ease. Children often fight such attempts to clamp down, which can lead to dejection, behavior problems, and an overall sense of chaos—that you are losing control of your class.

Remember, the way a thing begins determines the way it will grow. Rather than starting light and attempting to buckle down later, start strict and lighten up as you go. It is substantially easier to lighten a load over time that to add to it. Instead of fighting with your child about getting them to do more, start them off doing more from day one, then gradually scale down as needed. By starting the year “strict”; whatever your routine is, insist on its punctual observance. Get your children adopt the appropriate routine from the get go. Once they have this routine internalized, it’s simply a matter of adjusting it as the year progresses. You will get better results and your children will be happier as well.

Of course, how strict you are is relative to your own family and your own routine, so there is a lot of wiggle room here. Just always remember, it’s easier to let the horses out of the stable than to put them back in. Starting easy and attempting to ratchet down later is like trying to put the horses back in the stable. Instead, start with all your horses inside the stable and let them out one by one over the course of the semester.

Take an Incremental Approach

Homeschooling is a long term game. We homeschool because, ultimately, we want our children to become motivated learners. This depends upon developing sound educational habits. And developing a habit is a process; it takes time. It is a goal we need to work towards. It takes time.

Discipline problems can suck our minds out of the long term perspective. It forces us to think about what is going on right this minute, and we start to feel like simply getting through the day is what’s most important.

In these moments, try to focus on the long-term goal. Building a disciplined homeschool may take time. You may still have problems, despite your adjustments. But that’s okay; you are taking an incremental approach. The goal is to make steady improvements over time, to get yourself on the right trajectory. Instead of focusing on eliminating the discipline problems immediately, think about reducing their incidence or severity over time. Remember that homeschooling is something that pays off in the long haul.


You might also want to look at our article, “When a Child Resists Homeschooling” for more ideas on the subject of building a cooperative environment with your child. We will return to this subject with more specified advice in the future.

If you feel you need professional help overcoming persistent discipline problems, Homeschool Connections can refer you to personalized homeschooling coaching and mentoring services.

Lastly, if you’d like to explore this topic more in depth, we would love for you to join us in our Catholic Homeschool Connections Community to get a conversation going with other homeschooling parents.

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Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

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Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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