Turning Oh-No! Days Into Ah-Yes!

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As a homeschool parent, teacher, and human being, I’ve experienced my share of oh-no! days. I imagine you have, too. In fact, yesterday was nearly an oh-no! day, but writing this blog turned it into an ah-yes! day.

These all-too-familiar hallmarks point to that oh-no! day:

  • Arguing
  • Glaring, staring, yelling
  • Silence, drooped heads
  • Shut downs, sobs, tears
  • Throwing, pushing, slamming
  • Picking on others, deflecting focus
  • Broken pencils, ripped and wadded paper
  • Banging fists, slumping in chairs, bolting from rooms

We all experience an occasional oh-no! day. No matter how perfect, capable, talented, gifted, or typical our children may be, they can have their “day.” My most even-tempered, compliant child once pitched an epic falling-on-the-floor fit when I asked him to do one more thing. It pushed him over his limits. (Never did that again!)

Oh-no! days happen more frequently to children with noticeable or documented learning differences or disabilities. However, oh-no! days can be limited.

Here are three surefire ways to make every day an ah-yes! day.

First, parents must know and abide by their child’s intellectual, attentional, and emotional limits. Period. Important for all parents; vital for parents whose child wears a label—dyslexia, autism, ADHD, LD, or any of the multitude of descriptors that identifies a child as “non-typical.”

Second, parents must be patient with their children and with themselves.

Third, parents must adhere to Colossians 3:21, the biblical admonition not to provoke your children.

Accurately knowing your child’s intellectual, attentional, and emotional capacities establishes appropriate academic and behavioral boundaries. Observing these limitations avoids high stress that shuts down learning and relationships.

For example, instruction above or below a child’s ability sets up stress and triggers unwanted emotional and academic behaviors. Ignoring suppressed processing abilities or disregarding a limited memory are also stress culprits. If these are continually unrecognized or unacknowledged, the child develops low tolerance for his own shortcomings. Not understanding instructions or content and making “careless” mistakes are perfect recipes for oh-no! days.

The most trustworthy, data-driven way to pinpoint your child’s intellectual, attentional, and emotional boundaries is psycho-educational assessments. A complete battery of academic, cognitive, attention, development, and memory tests reveal how your child sees and interprets the world and learns best. A skilled educational psychologist can help you understand the nuances of the results and how to apply them. This is the absolute key to individualized, customized, home-based learning.

Test results identify proper academic placement and underlying causes of your child’s behavior. So, if your child fails to answer a question or complete a worksheet and then explodes, you will understand and factor in the true cause before you act. You will realize it is best to wait as he thinks through his answer or gently guide him to and through the learning objective. The tests provide reasons for your child being stubborn and defiant. You’ll know if it’s a by-product of an identifiable issue or not. This invaluable knowledge allows you to be patient.

Patience is not optional. It’s required, a must to avoid oh-no! days. Patience with your child and yourself.

No one gets it right all the time. It’s not easy. Bad days happen. You snap at your child who’s wrestling to remember math facts or understand the water cycle. So, what happens then?

Tell the truth. Admit your failings and shortcomings. Share the things you didn’t know how to do and those that still pose struggles. Maybe it’s a life-long math inadequacy (join the club!) or spelling. Your child probably struggles with many of the same things. Work together and solve them, listening intently to her suggestions and trying them.

Patience is also an opportunity to model Biblical character. For me, awareness of a lack of patience on my part—in other words when I blow it—paves the way to repentance. I believe children then experience deep emotional healing, especially children with learning difficulties. Asking forgiveness for committing a wrong (yep, we all do that, too!) opens the road to reconciliation, deepens mutual respect, and develops greater trust and communications. Biblically-based repentance and reconciliation exemplify loving parenting the way the Lord displays His love toward us.

The reality is scripture warns us how to avoid oh-no outcomes.

Do not provoke your children. We are forewarned. Colossians 3:21 clearly states that when parents provoke (alternately translated irritate, fret, harass, vex, nag, embitter, exasperate them; are too hard on them) their children, children become discouraged (alternate translations: disheartened, will stop trying, crushed spirits).

When a child—or anyone —is provoked, a not-so-good outcome is probable. The provocateur bears primary responsibility for unfortunate, unexpected, unwanted events. For example, it’s hard to stop emotions when words fail as they often do for children burdened with processing issues. It’s gonna come out one way or another. Ultimately, the solution won’t be pretty. When anyone, child or adult, is backed into a corner with no way to escape, primal self-preservation sets in: shut down or fight or flight.

Provocation comes in many forms:

  • Accusatory words: why don’t you try harder?
  • Facial expressions: rolling eyes.
  • Body language: hands on hips, legs spread apart, arms crossed; hands thrown up; shaking your head.                                                                                          
  • Sounds: sighs.

None of these help; they make matters worse. Frequently, the inability to execute tasks and follow instructions is the result of processing and memory issues. Even mild issues with hearing and seeing cause people to misinterpret signals and information. For example, in my high school driver’s education final road test, I turned left when the instructor said turn right. The situation triggered an underlying, stress-induced processing problem. I still battle it when I’m tired. Today’s mail returned a letter because I reversed two numbers when I addressed the envelope at the end of a stressful day.

Nothing escalates stress into oh-no! days like school. If a subject or particular curriculum sets up a battlefield in your homeschool, stop. Immediately. Whatever academic value it might hold is lost in the stress-filled situation.

Most Colossians 3:21 translations address “fathers.” Traditionally, they are the disciplinarians, erecting vital guardrails for behavior and actions that lead to fulfilling lives. Sometimes, there’s a fine line between discipline and provocation.

My husband disciplined our five sons well, requiring much of them but not more than they could bear. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Provocation, demanding more than a child is capable of, sets up disastrous results. This is especially true in teaching and learning. A completed workbook or simple task is not the full measure of a developing young man or woman. Not worth oh-no! days.

Speaking of oh-no! days, why was yesterday not one for me? Well, it wasn’t with my children but my husband.

He struggles with Parkinson’s Disease. Simple tasks are hard and frustrating for him, like reading or writing for some children. My attitude wasn’t helping us get ready for an appointment. Quite the contrary. Then, I remembered the three things I’ve shared with you: Get knowledge, be patient, don’t provoke. The result?

I took a deep breath, remembered his challenges, waited, and didn’t vex him with words or actions.

He noticed the difference and smiled the smile I love. Ah-yes! What a wonderful day!


Dr. Brenda Murphy is an Educational psychologist who lives out her mission to Serve All In Love by sharing her deep knowledge of the art and science of teaching through professional development, personal consultation, and mentorship. She encourages all teachers, parents, and students to experience new possibilities through her belief that they each possess undiscovered gifts and talents. Find out more about Dr. Brenda and how she helps parents like you at


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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).