Scenario #1: Imagine standing in front of someone, with a smile on your face, extending your right hand to shake that person’s hand, and after 10 seconds or after 10 minutes or after 10 crickets died, that person does not extend his/her hand to meet your hand mid-air to shake it, and just gives you a blank stare or a weird smile. Cringe!
Imagine if that person is your child…at his or her current age…or 20 years in the future. Often times homeschooled kids have been labeled as socially awkward or simply weirdos in the eyes of “normal kids.” At least, that’s the stereotype. That’s also often the main question that we, as parents who choose to homeschool, receive — “What about socialization? Don’t you worry your kids will have trouble dealing with other kids or peers?”
I grew up attending public school K-8, an Adventist boarding school for academy, and then an Adventist college for undergrad. My wife went to public schools K-12, and then attended a small Christian college. We definitely do not know what it’s like to grow up homeschooled. We have, however, had the privilege of working with and caring for hundreds of homeschooled children in our clinic in central Kentucky; and, for the past several years, we also have been homeschooling our two children, ages eight and four.
It is interesting to observe in our clinic that there is a clear distinction between homeschooled children and public-schooled children in regards to behavior, and the homeschooled children, bar none, are always the best behaved children we daily observed in our clinic. Ironically, families with four or 10 (yes, 10!) homeschooled children often sit and communicate in their best manners to our staff and doctors, while public-schooled children, very often, though not always, are some of the rowdiest kids, lacking in manners and discipline, according to our staff.
I also enjoy carrying on a conversation with most of these homeschooled children. Most are able to display critical social skills that many public-schooled kids rarely display these days: being actively engaging in two-way communication with involved responses, being able to maintain full eye contact, being able to shake hands and smile, having self-awareness, having empathy, being able to manage emotions, etc. This is obviously a generalization, very subjective, and mostly from my own personal observation, my clinic team’s observation, and our team’s coping strategies while working with these children.
My staff often have trouble getting sufficient information from public-schooled children (and their parents) during consult, evaluation, or treatments, as most of them would typically reply with short answers like, “Yes,” “No,” “Kinda,” “I don’t know,” or in many cases silence or blank stares. There is a good chance that many were on behavior-modifying prescription drugs.
The New York Times best-selling author and internationally known psychologist whose books were translated into 40 different languages, Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., made popular the term emotional intelligence (EI): “the capacity of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”
Another psychologist, Dr. John Mayer, developed the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), and found that high-EI people have better social relations; are perceived more positively by their peers; have better family and intimate relationships, better academic achievements, better work performance and negotiation skills; and have higher life satisfaction and self-esteem.
So, how does having better EI relate to homeschooling and the Great Commission, which is to “go and make followers of all people in the world,” Matthew 28:19? This is the question that repeatedly stops me in my tracks many mornings when I spend those precious times homeschooling our kiddos. How shall I, as a parent and as a teacher, shape the minds of my children to be stewards of Christ in reaching out to the world?
Scenario #2: Imagine attending a church service at a location you’ve never been to before — perhaps one you found on a phone book or your phone’s Google map during your road trip. You notice that even though everyone is smiling, chatting with each other, dressed up nice and fancy, with cool music playing, none of these people actually come to you, shake your hand, ask how you are doing, ask your name and where you are from, or pretend to show some interests.
Has this happened to you? Here’s a sad fact. This has happened to us quite a few times. Strangely, we felt so embarrassed for the church. Did we show up like beggars? No, we were dressed up nice and appropriately. Did we smile at all? Yes, we did. Did we try to greet people? Yes, we did, but there was no further communication than a brief smile, a brief handshake, and a “Hi.” Thankfully, there were many more churches and members in other places who went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. Not surprisingly, almost always they are the ones who attract new members and grow as a church in quality and in quantity.
Have you experienced this personally when you travel? What would you do differently? What would you tell your children? If you were the pastor of the church, president of the conference, president of the General Conference, what would you do? Since we are already identify with the church, it is easier to dismiss the fact that as visitors we were being ignored. But what about real visitors, non-members? Visitors will be more likely to attend a church when they make connections with members within the first few visits. How can the church reach the outsiders, the neighbors, the world, if the church does not have the proper communication skills?
Churches who are too busy with itself and not reaching out to the community around them on a regular basis are dying churches. Families who are too isolated and not spending time interacting with other families and community around them are also unhealthy families. How can we promise Christ that we will help the Great Commission if we refuse to deal with strangers, if we refuse to go outside of our comfort zone, if we refuse to interact with the world, if we refuse to let God’s light shine through us in this dark world?
I strongly believe that the communication skills and social skills begin at home. Obviously, there are growing numbers of children with autism or genetic or developmental issues that must be handled differently with specialists who are trained to assist them. But, in general, children copy what they see, not what they hear. If their parents are lacking in social skills, they will more than likely end up with similar social skills, and end up socializing with friends or people who are also deficient in social skills.
Many children and even teenagers are not familiar with standard communication manners, which obviously differ from one culture to the next. But, these nonverbal communication manners are critical in determining one’s progress in society. We have interviewed countless of people who have applied for work at our clinic, and often times people, young and old, “shoot themselves in the foot” within the first 60 seconds of interview because they were never taught or never developed and practiced critical communication manners such as proper eye contact, handshake, and posture, as well as managing anxiety, etc.
With these two scenarios in mind, I thought it would be useful to share some EI-specific exercises that will help parents in developing their children’s social and communication skills:
1. Intentional Communication
a. When was the last time you actually sat down one-on-one with each of your children to talk heart to heart about various issues? Do you set aside time to do this on a regular basis? Does your family do a weekly team huddle to review the previous week’s and upcoming week’s agendas, challenges, and things to improve?
b. Take time to explain and show your children, even as young as age two, how to properly greet people, maintain eye contact, and give a proper handshake. You can practice this at church or when meeting strangers. If you realize your own social skills are lacking, do not hesitate asking other parents with great social skills for help.
c. Explain and show your children (typically age four and up) the importance of proper body language during communication, and how certain body language or posture can lead people to think of you differently (i.e. “Which person looks like they are interested, and which one looks like they are not interested or not happy?” Person A: sitting with crossed arms and crossed legs. Person B: sitting straight, leaning slightly forward, hands on thighs, legs relaxed.)
2. Self Awareness: Ask your child to evaluate or label his/her current state of emotion throughout the day, while you mirror their facial expression or the state of emotion to convey the true meaning of certain emotion words that may be new to your kids. This will help increase their emotional vocabulary and help them understand the full range of emotions they experience throughout the day. This will also help your kids to express intimate, loving emotions which are essential to maintaining close personal relationships. Ask questions like these:
- How are you doing, Shawn?
- What are you thinking about, Sarah?
- Are you mad, Jack? (stiff lip, bulging eyes)
- Are you excited, Lisa? (raised eyebrows, big smile, high tone of voice)
- Why are you sad, John? (sad face, mirroring kid’s face)
- Is she sad or happy?
- What should you do to help you be happy again?
- You can choose to spend the rest of the day whining and crying in a foul mood, or you can choose to forgive her and choose to be happy for the rest of the day. Which one?
- Is he being nice or naughty?
- Did Joseph feel like this when his brothers were mean to him?
- Was Jesus happy after he shared bread and fish with all those people? How do you feel after sharing your things/food with your friend?
3. Managing Emotions: Emotional maturity, in biblical context, is about being in control of our emotions so that the fruits of our thoughts are in line with the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22,23…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But, to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy.”
It is ridiculous to observe online drama on Facebook posts, or bloody digital wars among keyboard warriors, let alone in real life. People get upset over silly little things and crave for drama, for gossip, for attention. The bottom line question to always remember is, “Does this attitude, behavior, response, action, bring me and others closer to my God-given purpose or not?”
Check out these ideas:
- Use the Unfollow button or even Unfriend button, on Facebook friends whenever they post things that are not in line with the fruits of the Spirit. (This one is for yourself, but it sets a good example of personal boundaries.)
- Hold your child or sit next to him/her during a tantrum or a stressful situation in silence. “I know you are upset. I will sit here with you until you are done crying. But, you can’t yell, hit, talk, or do anything mean. We will sit here until you are done crying and until you are ready to be nice again.”
- Walk outside and get some fresh air or do 10 burpees with your child. If your child is depressed or fearful, his cortisol level is typically up and the oxygen level in blood is low. To counter this, do some aerobic movements such as burpees or jumping jacks or simply dance. Many times when my daughter was upset about something, I would just pick her up and dance with her, or we would do burpees together, and most of the time she would crack up or giggle and feel better, and we would be able to continue our day in a better mood.
These ideas will teach your children the concept of managing their own emotions and not doing or saying something they would regret later.
Dr. Mary Kay Clark wrote, “Homeschooled children benefit the community because they are not shaped by peers but by parents.”
American talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger observed, “…homeschooled students are able to successfully adapt emotionally, interpersonally, and academically to their first, and most challenging, semester in college. That is probably because, having had the consistent teaching and support of a family and a community, they have developed strengths and convictions that provide a bridge over the troubled waters of a multitude of challenges and temptations.”
E.G. White wrote in That I May Know Him, p. 39., “How interestedly the Lord Jesus knocks at the door of families where there are little children to be educated and trained! How gently he watches over the mothers’ interest, and how sad He feels to see children neglected…. In the home characters are formed; human beings are molded and fashioned to be either a blessing or a curse.”
A blessing or a curse!
This is where homeschooling shines! This is why we chose to homeschool. We want our children to have our values and beliefs, not their peers or teachers’ values and beliefs. We must ask ourselves these questions daily:
- Am I intentionally equipping my children with tools for His services?
- Am I managing my own emotions well? What are my excuses?
- How many times a day do I spend time on my knees with my children?
- Am I reading them stories from the Bible that they may understand how different people deal with different situations, and how they allow God to mold their characters?
- In front of my children’s eyes, do I interact with my family, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers, showing fruits of the Spirit?
- Do I post inappropriate un-Christian things on Facebook that I wouldn’t want my pastor or children to see or read?
- Are the words that come out of my mouth and my spouse’s mouth full of blessings or full of curses? Do they build my children up or tear them down?
- Am I preparing my children to be able to socialize with confidence, or am I shaping them to avoid strangers, to be remote, and to ignore the Great Commission?
May we all continue to communicate better and be a blessing to others.