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The #1 Most Common Obstacle to Homeschooling

The #1 Most Common Obstacle to Homeschooling


Families grapple with discipline in the home. Ginny Seuffert tackles an aspect of it by making etiquette part of and not an obstacle to homeschooling.

What is the major obstacle to homeschooling?

During the past fifteen years I have probably spoken to thousands of homeschooling parents.   The most common and most serious complaint I hear is that the children are just not obeying.

I hear all the time from parents who would like to homeschool, but hesitate because they are afraid their children will not listen to them.

Some of the saddest conversations are with parents who are sending the children back to institutional schools, not because it is a better educational choice, but because the children refuse to do their schoolwork and the home is in chaos.

The Key to Joyful Family Life

Previous columns have emphasized the need for homeschooling parents to discipline themselves and create orderly, cheerful Christian homes.  No matter how well you hold up your end of the bargain, however, your home will be neither cheerful nor orderly if your children are disrespectful, disobedient and sullen.

Teaching and enforcing the Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” is a not only solemn obligation for parents, but also the key to joyful family life.

Do not believe that by insisting that your children respect and obey you, you are dooming them to a miserable existence.

True, if you have neglected discipline in the home during your children’s early years, you can count on some rough times ahead.  Your children will kick up a fuss because, well, because you have allowed them to kick up a fuss before.  It may take a while to convince them that this time you mean business.

Don’t give up!  Few things you do in life will have such happy results.

Start with Etiquette

A great place to start training your children is in the area of etiquette.  Simply put, your children should be polite and well-spoken.

In the United States, we have made the transition from the stuffy, formalized manners common at the turn of the twentieth century, to a society that revels in 7th grade bathroom humor.

We have turned “casual” into a casualty, and it has affected every home in America.

A cheerful household is rooted in common courtesy.  Courtesy is nothing more than an outward show of respect for other human beings, who have been made in the image and likeness of God.

Recognition of this human dignity demands that we treat each other with kindness and consideration.  The outward sign of this kindness and consideration is what we call courtesy, and Christianity requires it of all of us.


Teach your child to be polite as soon as he is capable of understanding you.  When a toddler points to a cookie, say the words you expect him to say, “Cookie please, Mommy.”

Wait for him to repeat it as far as he is able, and then say, “Thank you, Mommy.”  Let your child understand that he receives nothing without the magic word, “Please.”


Start your family meals with grace, and then insist that family members eat like good Catholics, not like the lions who devoured them in the arena!

Family members should sit and converse quietly, and not a morsel should be consumed until grace is said.  Food is passed and the older children should assist the younger ones without being asked.

Meals are a terrific time for family members to share ideas and stories, but the conversation is naturally not to include any discussion of the horrible diaper you had to change today, or a description of the dead cat by the side of the road.

Children’s negative opinions about the food being served are also not polite table talk.  Praise the food, if possible, but always thank the cook.  When dinner is over, children should be taught to offer to help with the dishes, even if it is not their turn.

Telephone Manners

Parents should review telephone manners with their children.  Many parents teach children to answer, “Jones residence, Mary speaking,” but “Hello,” is fine as long as what follows is courteous.

Children should inquire, “May I please ask who is calling?” before calling another family member to the phone.  Finally, when a child calls a friend’s home, it is not correct to say, “Is Julia there?”

As I have told my children repeatedly, it is none of your business if Julia is at home.  The proper opening is, “This is Laura.  May I please speak to Julia?”


Instruct your child to greet people respectfully, and by name, when she first sees them.  It is especially gracious for a child to stand if an adult enters the room.

As she gets older, teach her to make light conversation with those she has just met, even if she is shy. Grade school children should be past hiding behind Mom’s skirts when they meet a stranger. 

For some, conversing with relative strangers may be painful, but make your expectations clear.  “Next time we see Father O’Brien, Jane, I expect you to say, ‘Good morning, Father,’ answer him if he asks you a question, and say ‘Thank you, Father,’ if he pays you a compliment.”

Make Manners Part of Homeschooling

Many parents feel that home should be a place where members can relax and not have to worry about using the correct fork.  To a certain degree that’s true, which is why using the correct fork should be so second nature that no one has to give the matter a moment’s thought.

I heard Judith Martin, the author of the “Miss Manners” newspaper column give an interview in the 1980’s. She stated that when she first began to write her books and columns, she thought they would appeal to cranky old ladies—like herself!  She was shocked to discover that the greatest demand for her information came from young professionals, whose ignorance of the basic rules of etiquette was holding them back from promotions.

Because courtesy is grounded in Christian love, parents should remember to show respect to each other, as well as to their children.  Good example is always the best teacher.

Make manners a part of your homeschooling by having the children practice little courtesies in the home and learn how to write correct notes, especially thank you notes.  Your children will be admired; your home life will be more pleasant; and you will have a good head start instilling the virtue of obedience in your children.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2004 Issue of Seton Newsletter, Vol 21 #8


About Ginny Seuffert

Ginny Seuffert has been a leading writer and speaker about homeschooling and Catholic family life for more than two decades. She has given hundreds of talks at conferences and written three books. Meet Ginny | Ginny's Books
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