This post was originally published on Homeschoolers Anonymous. It is a list of 40 suggestions offered by members of the Homeschoolers Anonymous community in response to this question:
If you grew up in a bad or less-than-ideal family and/or homeschooling environment, what are things that people around you (other family, friends, community members, etc.) could have done to help you and make your life better, more tolerable, etc.?
As you read this list, think about ways you can help encourage and support homeschooled children in bad or less-than-ideal situations in your own homeschooling community. As you consider these suggestions, please also make sure to always report suspicions of abuse and neglect.
1. Compliment the child to the parents in front of the child.
Even if the parents shoot down the compliment, it might be one of the kindest things the child has heard about themselves in years.
2. Let them overhear you offer to include them in your own family events/outings.
Even if the parents refuse, it might offer the child hope for the future and give them a self-esteem boost.
3. Give them opportunities, however small, to express their own feelings or thoughts.
Tell them it’s ok to have feelings and thoughts, especially if they’re super repressed. Ask them if they have dreams, and if they don’t know how to dream, try to show them what it means to think about a future. Tell them about cool occupations, about sports, about music, about dance. That might seem like torture, if it’s something their parents won’t allow them, but maybe it will give them something to hang onto and look for in the future. Find ways to rekindle their inner fire.
4. Believe women who say they’re being abused.
Believe women who say they’re being abused, and support them in leaving their husbands. Don’t tell them to pray more, submit more, anything more. Help them get out, and help them and their kids through the transition.
5. Call children’s services if you suspect abuse or neglect.
Always call; what you see is only the tip of the iceberg.
6. If they come over to your house for some reason, a meal for example, don’t let them/ask them to help with dishes.
Don’t let them/ask them to help with anything, including table washing or sweeping — or anything housework related. Chances are they have a ton of that at home, and they think it’s their duty in life. Give them ice cream or start them a movie, or talk to them happily as you wash their dish for them. It might be really confusing for them. But it will be good.
7. Encourage them to dream of careers.
Encourage them to dream of careers beyond gender role ideals by remarking on what they’re good at. They’ll remember it for years and years..
8. Encourage them to dream big.
My “adopted grandpa” was convinced that I would be chief justice of the supreme court one day. Now, since I didn’t go an ivy school that’s highly unlikely, but that was one of the few voices I heard other than my parents who actually took my goals seriously. In the broader homeschool community there was usually a, “That’s nice, she thinks she’s going to be something more than a stay at home mom,” subtext.
9. If you want to risk being entirely cut out of the child’s life, offer to lend parent-unapproved books and movies for cultural education.
Maybe give the cover reason of helping them understand more about the culture for witnessing to the “lost”. Then be careful not to shock them too much with your choice of material if they are not ready for it.
10. Attribute their successes and their great personality traits to them, and them alone.
None of this “your parents must have raised you right!” or “you must have great parents” or “[parents] did a good job on this one!” Let the kids know they deserve praise for their own accomplishments. They are not their parents’ puppets or pet dogs.
11. If a parent tells you they’re being harsh or strict with their children, don’t praise them for doing so.
Don’t praise them for doing so or encourage them to be even harsher or stricter. You don’t necessarily need to assume they’re wrong — not every parent is narcissistic like mine — but you should always keep in mind that the parent you’re talking to is a potential abuser.
12. Tell them that fun doesn’t have to be edifying.
Happiness is enough for its own sake. Harry Potter is awesome and will not lead you on the path to hell. Most people are pretty decent, even if they swear, do drugs, or talk about sex. You can befriend people who aren’t perfect. It’s okay not to be perfect — just being yourself is a form of perfection. Being human is the greatest gift we have. Kindness is the best guide for morality I’ve found. Watch Star Wars.
13. If there’s a way to communicate to home schooled kids that the outside world isn’t this awful place on the brink of collapse, do it!
Help them realize there is more than one way to live a happy, fulfilling life.
14. If you notice they don’t have a lot of friends, for the love of Pete, be a friend and help them make some!
Suggest music similar to what they already like/listen to so they can listen to it at work or in their car and give it back to you without being in trouble. Offer books they can read while they are on their lunch or smoke breaks, or in Sunday school.
15. If they are stressed out about family, do your psychoanalyzing silently.
It is very likely they’re being gaslighted at home and otherwise mentally/emotionally abused. Process in your own head. If you suspect something, ask around how to appropriately intervene. Don’t embarrass yourself or them.
16. Let them know it’s never wrong to question.
Truth will stand up under scrutiny. Question down to the foundations, and when you get to a wall of assumptions or tenets or axioms you can’t get past, ask yourself why. Question your beliefs and question the reasons for your beliefs. Question authority. That’s not a statement of rebellion, it’s a search for truth. Truth will always prevail, and if/when your beliefs come out whole on the other side, you’ll be that much stronger in holding them, because the hard questions are behind you.
17. If you have your own kids, invite just the kids over.
Befriend the parents if you can and then invite the kids over often. When they are with you, don’t ask them to do any work, let them sit at the table while you talk about parenting gently, being happy your kids are growing and making their own decisions, how to write a transcript, when to apply to college. Tall about anything the kid needs to get to college and anything to crack the ideas about harsh parenting and gender roles and submission.
18. Tell the kids about other school experiences.
Even just seeing public schooled kids’ textbooks and homework in their car or laying around the house caused the beginnings of doubt for me. The program my mom used liked to say that homeschooled kids averaged 3 grade levels ahead of public school peers. Seeing homework revealed that wasn’t true. For me at least. Especially in math and sciences.
18. Check in on them regularly, personally or through your church.
We lived in three places where the churches we attended never checked on us. Like, we had one car and my dad had it all the time and no one once asked if we need help going to the doctor, grocery shopping, or if we wanted to have a play date or anything like that. A simple “Hey, do ya’ll have enough food to go on the table?” or “Would your kids like to come over and play?” would have been very nice.
19. Accept them.
Even if they are different, even if they seem a bit odd, shower them with acceptance. They need acceptance, not judgement.
20. Love them.
Listen to them like they matter because they might not get much of that. Simple little gestures like telling them it’s okay to be sad or saying ‘you can do it!’ ‘I believe in you’ or ‘I am proud of you’ can stick in their mind for years.
21. Remember to distinguish between the children and their parents.
If you homeschool for non-religious reasons, strive to distinguish between religious homeschooling parents and religiously homeschooled kids, rather than negatively lumping them all together as “religious homeschoolers.” With your own kids, try not to model contempt for those religious homeschoolers, especially not the kids, even if they proselytize or repeat views with which you strongly disagree.
22. Create opportunities for the children and their families to broaden their horizons.
Keep your own children safe and socialized with diverse peers, but when possible, consider organizing pluralist homeschool events at which religious homeschooling families will feel welcome. These can broaden the horizons of all kids involved and help break down the “us-and-them” of religious vs. secular homeschooling.
23. Challenge them.
Disagree with them in a kind way. Most these kids are parroting the same rhetoric they’ve heard for years. Say it’s not a sin to be gay, that atheists have the same capacity for morality, that liberal Christianity has a solid theological basis, that you don’t believe in a young earth and don’t think it’s necessary to maintaining faith. They’ll probably disagree with you, but it opens you up as someone who they might be able to ask questions they don’t already know the right answers for. It gives them permission to consider alternative view points, just knowing that someone they respect can have good reasons to think in a different way than the conservative noise machine. Speak Christianeese if you can, but let them know that you can have conversations where the bible is not the only authority. Tell them about the way other countries work ± it challenges our extremist rhetoric when other places make things like healthcare work.
24. If they have mental health struggles, encourage them to get help.
Let them know anxiety and depression have real causes, they are not sent by god or caused by the devil. If they struggle with those things, let them know they can ask for help from someone who won’t try to exorcise them.
25. Encourage them, period. Let them know it gets better.
I wish someone had told me that I would be able to make it on my own both mentally and physically because I was strong and capable. Give them hope that there is life beyond the prison they are in and that with enough determination and planning you are fully capable of escaping. Let them know that the life they have outside of their parents’ home is so much more beautiful and amazing than they can imagine and that although the road is hard it is worth every effort it takes to get there so don’t stop trying.
26. When appropriate and welcomed, show them safe physical affection.
If they aren’t uncomfortable with it (always ask first) give them hugs and pats on the back and warmth. My family was not a touchy family, more about rules and basic provision than affection or pleasure. I hug my mother perhaps three times a year, tops, and this has been the case since late elementary school when she stopped forcing me. I probably have an inclination to physical affection naturally, but this affection desert I grew up in definitely starved me painfully. It was awkward at first when I got to the age where friends started hugging me (when I got out of the conservative circle the first few times) but as soon as I acclimated my heart started opening up a bit, because of the affection suddenly available to me.
27. Encourage them to accept and love their bodies.
Everyone here has such amazing, positive suggestions and mine is going to sound really lame but here it is: Tell her she’s pretty and give her a reason that’s nothing to do with her home schooled outfit. When I was in the hospital having my appendix out at age 11, right before I went under, the doctor said “You have such gorgeous brown eyes. You’re going to drive the boys wild one day.” Throughout my years of homeschool depression, house church, frumpiness, everything, I clung to that doctor’s words like a teeny-tiny lifeline.
28. Teach them about consent.
It would be really helpful if you discussed things like consent and that it really is ok if you say no… and also how to contact a domestic violence center.
29. Only teach them about consent (and other such things) when they’re comfortable with it.
If they’re getting married or in a relationship, it’s ok to discuss sex/relationship related things. But if they’re creeped out or obviously feeling like you shared too much information, please stop for the time being.
30. Help them realize public school isn’t the Anti-Christ.
As a public school teacher, I try to talk to some of the folks about the cool, fun, educational, and wholesome projects and activities my students are doing at school or how advanced their learning is. I also try to give examples of how Christian kids in my public school are able to share their faith.
31. Counter-act the demands of exceptionalism.
Let them know it’s okay not to focus on “being a leader” or “changing the world” or “being a light.” You can just be you, have fun, play or read or watch TV all day, and you haven’t wasted one second.
32. Teach how to establish boundaries.
Encourage them to be careful of mentors who try to treat you like their child. We have broken relationships with our parents, so we crave these bonds, but it’s often the first red flag for someone who will try to control and spiritually abuse you. Get comfortable with being treated like an equal, it’s something you need to expect in relationships or you will get walked all over. You’re not better than anyone else, but neither is anyone else better than you.
33. Respect their boundaries.
If a child (teen, young adult) who is still living at home after their homeschooling career tells you “I really can’t talk about that” or “I am uncomfortable discussing that”, please for the love of all that is holy, drop it. Bring it up sometime later, but not the same day/week/month. There is a reason they asked you not to discuss it.
34. If they’re high schoolers, give them information about what they will need to finish.
If they’re high schoolers, give them information (or just implied indicators phrased as questions like “so have your parents written up your transcript yet?” if you’re being subtle) about what they will need to finish, have documented, etc. to go on to college or a particular career. Their parents might not know or care about this, or they might be actively obstructing it. There’s no way for the teen to know this if their social / internet / library access is censored. But they’re still the ones who will pay the consequences later in life.
35. Help them with resources to succeed.
Help or show them how to find the right resources and make good choices in housing, employment, and whatever else might be necessary to get out.
36. Help them prepare for the work place.
If you have a lucrative skill/trade, or one that looks great on resumes, offer to tutor them in it. (Example: Any computer skills, handcrafting items, foreign languages, etc.) Things like that will help them get out living on their own and buy them (literally) time to catch up on school if they need to, or earn money, before pursuing higher education on their own. Pitch it to the parents as extracurricular, and better yet as free. Lesson time would also give you time to connect with them, invest in them, and encourage them emotionally.
Also, teach them about finances: I wish someone had taught me how to work and save, instead of isolating me from money so that I didn’t learn to manage it.
37. Help them get breaks from their family.
If you have offered for them to stay over, find a reason like dog/cat/baby/house sitting. Let them know they can use your internet, cable and peruse your books. Offer food they can eat (if there are dietary restrictions, be mindful of those) and understand if their parents freak out and don’t let them do it. Start challenging those parents but maintain your relationship with the (teen/adult) child. Odds are, they’re stuck at home “care-giving” and have no outlet, especially if they are not working, but also if they are.
38. Stand up for them against their family.
One thing I wish someone had done was stand up for me. My dad used to grab me and spank me — hard — as a joke for “things he didn’t catch me at.” He still did this when I was a fairly old teenager. He sometimes did it in front of friends of his for a laugh and not once did anyone not laugh. Not once did anyone stand up for me. I wish they had. I regard those people as unsafe people now.
39. If you’re going to help them in a drastic way, actually be prepared.
If you offer a way out, be sure you have all the ducks in a row, because they likely have very little resources at their fingertips and cannot truly function as an adult “outside”. Think of them as being raised in “The Village” and finally being outside for the first time. They are going to need a safety net.
40. Don’t give up on them.
Stick around. If you sense that anything might be wrong, stick around and find out what it is and what you can do. Even if the family situation makes you uncomfortable, even if the parents hate you and creep you out.
Stay in the child’s life.
It will take a long time for them to come to trust you, but once they do you can be an invaluable lifeline. Let them know that they can always come to you. If anything really concerning comes to light, call CPS. If nothing happens, call CPS again. I had someone in my life who was an “outsider” and for the most part a stranger, but she instantly grasped that our family was messed up and could see how unhappy I was. The four most important things she did for me were: 1.) Offer me a free place to live (I was 18 so that was an option). 2.) Convince my mom that I needed to see a therapist. 3.) Tell me over and over and over again that I was pretty and talented and could do anything I wanted. 4.) Listen.
As I grew to trust her I poured out my whole story for the first time, and she listened and offered genuine sympathy. She also let me know that yes, my mom really was abusive and that my situation was not normal. She affirmed and validated all my feelings.
Don’t give up.