When Too Much Determination Comes to School: Dealing with strong-willed parent child combinations.

A while back I received a great piece of advice from a penny pinching co-worker. She said the only time I should spend money on purchasing a book is if I’ve already borrowed it at least twice from the library. The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias was one of those books for me.

Tobias’s book wasn’t just an amazing resource to help me understand the different ways we process new information. It also helped me understand how my way of learning and processing information may pair with my child’s way of learning and processing information. This is vital information folks. Tobias offers several self-assessment quizzes which I completed. It was confirmed: there was an over abundance of determination in our home. Willful, determined, stubborn, head-strong, bull headed-call it what you like but clearly the combination of our strong-willed personalities was not going to be easily brushed under the doormat of our at-home schoolhouse. Of course, I had already suspected that to be the case. The big plus to getting my hands on Tobias’s book was  gaining tips and tricks to manage this type of parent child combination as foresight, not hindsight.

So how do we live, educate and still love with so much determination in our home? Here are a few of the lessons I’ve gained from our experience so far.

Avoid making grand announcements about your school day. The orderly side of me wants clearly defined school hours on planned-in-advanced days of the week. But making grand announcements such as, “it’s time to do school” does not always elicit the response I would like from my young learner. In fact, it can be a great way to set the stage for a battle of wills. The longer we homeschool the less ridgid we’ve become with when school happens. If we’re awake, there is a chance education is somehow happening. I’ve learned to have activities placed throughout our home so that school happens without “ringing a bell”. The goal here is making a smooth transition from play to school. After all, life is learning. Building enthusiasm for the day also contributes to smoother transitions (i.e. “would you please look for the bag of marshmallows in the pantry – we’ll need them for school today”). Find ways which work for you to guide their present activity into a school activity without a sudden interruption (i.e. “you’re playing kitchen right now – great,  I was just planning to make_______ in our real kitchen and figured you were just the person to help me”).

Do not up the ante when your emotions are running high. Dealing with a head-strong child is all about picking your battles wisely. Determination can be their greatest asset if they are shown how to use it responsibly, tactfully, respectfully and with some discretion. That takes time; a lot of time. Of course, there is plenty of room for discipline along the way. When heels are dug in and no one is willing to budge it is easy to use your power as the bigger person – the equally stubborn parent – to up the ante of expectations or consequences. STOP YOURSELF. Do not make the situation bigger then it needs to be. Very quickly who wins can become more important then the initial issue. This is simply the nature of strong-willed people. Clearly define boundaries for yourself in advance so that doing school work, not doing school work or withholding education related activities does not risk becoming a negative consequence for your child’s inappropriate behavior.

Give your strong-willed child a graceful way to step down from confrontation. What is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong. Holding your ground with a strong-will child takes a certain amount of grit and determination, not to mention the patience of a saint. A strong-willed child can hold out for a really ….really…..really ………….. really… long time. Send them for a time out and they may set twice as long as required so that they could get back up when they were ready. It can be to everyone’s  relief to offer the child a way to bow out of the situation – especially as they may not be sure how to gracefully accept defeat on their own yet. This may mean saying a math worksheet or reading assignment may be completed  later in the day – however, it still must be completed by a particular time or before screen time or free time begins. This gives everyone a chance to step away from the conflict while still maintaining the idea that school is not negotiable.

Make your child’s input a valuable part of their education. I am a strong-willed determined adult who was once a strong-will determined child. I can easily relate to what motivates or hinders kids like this. So when school began feeling more like a grueling chore then a fulfilling experience I paused to evaluate situation from my kiddo’s perspective. Then I did what other blogging homeschool parents have suggested: I asked my child what we could do differently. She wanted to change the way we navigated through our school work each day. I listened to her simple reasoning and made adjustments where it seemed most appropriate. Despite her age I made her a valuable part of the solution.  It was a simple way to help our child feel like she had a little bit of control in her education – a big bonus for a kid with a strong-willed nature.

Balancing discipline with determination is no easy task. I look emphatically at the emotional experiences my child has as she learns to navigate her own strong personality. Hopefully it is to her benefit that I have three decades of experience in that department to reference. My job now is to keep my own determination and stubbornness in check while keeping school positive. This means be flexible and be patient. In doing so I know I can help facilitate many of the  experiences she needs to make sure her head-strong nature is one of her strongest, not weakness,  assets. Not everyday is a gold star day on the home front. But positive and informative resources from both professional educators and homeschool parents have helped me be more mindful of this specific challenge we face.

Please share your insights below!

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