Some parents are blessed with children who are very laid back and compliant. Others have children who are stubborn or resistant. And still others, like myself, are parents of strong-willed children. These children like to push boundaries and break limits.
Parenting this type of child can be challenging, and homeschooling them more so. But with hard work and a bit of ingenuity, it can be done well. Here are eleven parenting and homeschooling tricks that I've found effective with my own strong-willed children.
1. Reframe Your Perspective
Most parents of strong-willed children know who they are, but here are some signs:
- low frustration tolerance
- intense and prolonged anger
- a propensity to dawdling and procrastination
- a tendency to question everything and argue about anything
- a knack for seeking ad finding exceptions to the rules
- the habit of ignoring instructions they don’t want to follow
- limited patience
Fortunately, these same traits can serve them well as adults if channeled into leadership and critical thinking. Instead of focusing on the negative, look at the positive traits these characteristics can mature into:
- low tolerance for frustration can propel them activity instead of passively waiting for things to change
- intense and prolonged anger may help them take up a cause and fight for what's right
- dawdling and procrastinating may lead to trimming unnecessary work and repetition
- questioning and arguing means they won’t go along with the status quo but will speak against what they feel is wrong
- looking for the exceptions will help them think outside the box and create better solutions
- ignoring instructions they don’t agree with will help them stand up to peer pressure
- being bossy may help them to become strong leaders
- having little patience may motivate them to work efficiently
While these are all great qualities in an adult, they are not attractive in a child who is standing up to her parents. The rest of the tricks below will help you avoid battles while you hone those stubborn traits into constructive leadership.
2. Build Routine
My strong-willed children do better with a routine to follow. Although we don’t follow a strict schedule, we do have a list of school work and chores I would like to get done each day of homeschooling. Having this daily routine provides clear expectations that my children are more likely to comply with than an ever-changing lifestyle. Although my children don’t always like doing their chores or schoolwork, they know they can't easily argue their way out of them.
3. Share Power
Instead of taking a stance against a problem, present the problem to your child and ask for their input for how to solve it. For example, one of my sons was struggling to complete his work each day. Instead of laying down the law, I asked him what it would take for him to work through his stack of books each day. Working together, we were able to rearrange his daily schedule in a way that suited him. As a result, he began finishing much more quickly than before.
4. Emphasize Teamwork
Allow your strong-willed child to respectfully request an alternative course of action, knowing you have the right to veto it after fully considering it. One of my daughters was having a hard time with her language arts program, and when she asked me nicely to switch programs, I listened intently to her request and probed for more details.
After discussion, I discovered there was a two-fold problem: she was having trouble with the way the instructions and questions were written, and it was asking for more writing than she was willing to do. We switched to a different language arts program that met my requirements but had less writing, and the problems were resolved.
5. Give In
While this may sound odd, allowing your children to “win” on occasion can help them feel heard and validated. One area where I often give in is allowing them to do every other math problem. If they can do half of the problems and get them all correct, they are done. But for each problem they get wrong, I have them correct the problem and do two additional problems besides.
6. Take Turns
Sometimes, fixing a problem can be as simple as taking turns. One method I use quite often with my dyslexic children is to allow them to dictate every other writing assignment. They still get in a lot of writing on the days they do write. And on the days when I serve as their scribe, they still get plenty of practice.
Other families I know take turns reading with a struggling reader (the parent and child read alternating lines, pages, or chapters). Other parents do chores alongside their children, sharing the task.
7. Offer Praise
A few words of praise go a long way. Try catching your child performing behaviors you’d like to see more of, and compliment them on their good attitude. Compliments I enjoy giving out include:
- Great job waiting patiently until I was done! What did you need?
- I saw how hard you worked on this page. And no tears! I’m very proud of you.
- Thank you for asking so nicely. It sounded beautiful to my ears.
- It was so lovely to see you sharing all on your own. I think that was a wonderful thing you did.
- You made my day easier by doing your work quickly today. I really appreciate it.
We all like to hear words of praise, and children typically try harder when they know adults notice their good job.
8. Keep Them Busy
Children who are busy have less time to devote to arguments, debates, and finding fault. Bored children are often unhappy children. While it’s not up to you to fill every minute of the day with activity, if you watch their behavior you will notice that their obstinate side emerges when they have too much free time. If you can distract your strong-willed children with chores, exercise, assignments, or games, you might be able to prevent arguments and struggles based on boredom rather than true problems.
9. Alternate Task Types
You may want to lump similar activities together in chunks of time. For example, you may want to do all the seatwork at once, then move to Read-Alouds, and finally do the more hands-on science and music. While that plan may be efficient in theory, I’ve found alternating task types works better, especially for my strong-willed children.
For example, if I put language arts and math back to back, my children have to do a lot of writing, and their muscles get fatigued. They begin to complain about the assignments, using any and every excuse—except for a tired hand—to get out of the work. Or if I schedule History and Read-Alouds too close together, a child may start tuning out after 30 minutes. Their ability to listen was simply tapped out past the half-hour mark.
By alternating activity types, and giving portions of the brain and body a rest in between, I can minimize the strong-willed battles without saying a word. So perhaps we do a bit of handwriting to warm up hand muscles, then a bit of history to sharpen listening skills, and then back to language arts for more writing.
10. Offer Choices
It’s harder for a child to argue with a choice they made than one you made for them. For example, compare these two options:
- “It’s time for math.”
- “Would you rather do math or language arts first?”
The latter question gives your strong-willed child the power to decide but within the parameters you provide.
11. Disguise Correction
Some children hate being told they are wrong and having their mistakes pointed out to them. Sometimes simply rewording what you are correcting can help the child fix mistakes without the drama.
One example I use frequently is to blame the work, not the child. For example, if my child was sweeping the floor and missed a spot, I could say, “You missed a spot.” At least two of my children would take this as an invitation to argue, saying “No, I didn’t. I just haven’t gotten there yet.” But if I say, “Oops, looks like that crumb just jumped on to the floor when you weren’t looking," they’re more likely to laugh and sweep it up without argument.
If I say, “This letter is backward,” that might send my 5-year-old perfectionist into tears. If I say, “Wow, it looks like this letter is playing tricks on us by turning around when you weren’t looking. Let’s catch him and turn him around the right way and make him behave,” I’m more likely to get giggles and have her point out other letters that are misbehaving.
Strong-willed children are simply young leaders who haven’t yet fully developed their unique skill set for constructive purposes. As homeschool parents, we have the opportunity to work on attitude and behaviors in a holistic way that a classroom teacher could never afford to. We can guide them in a way that helps them both hone character and bolster academics all at once.