A lot is going on. I’ll cut right to the chase and share a few things about homeschooling a child with strong will. This is only my experience. May the force be with you as we unexpectedly home school for the next 2-6 weeks.
For context, my child is a newly 8 year old. He’s in second grade. He does not have any learning disabilities and is at grade level for his academics. No IEP or 504. He thinks everything is boring. 🙂
Be ready for the emotions. Lots of them. This is weird. They know it’s weird. Find your own emotional center before you even greet them for the day. The strong emotions of a strong willed child will knock you off your feet if you’re not ready.
If emotions are happening, attend to those. Every time you try to interrupt or dismiss or swat an emotion away like a fly, it will deter you from your goal to get things done and create more peace.
The tunnel may be long. Math isn’t going to happen for a kid who has a long, robust emotional tunnel…until it does. Try to validate when you can. Nod. Do fun things whenever you have the bandwidth and capacity.
Rigid flexibility (a saying my friend John uses almost daily). Strong willed children need different things on different days. If you expect a cuddle bug, but are met by Mr. I Hate You, you might be knocked off your feet. If the cuddle bug shows up, you may be reduced to tears because it’s like a breath of fresh air. But don’t sink into that too deeply, because Mr. I Hate You may be lurking just around the next limit you need to set and enforce. (Insert your own pronouns here, in place of Mr.)
We have to maintain contact with our emotional center throughout the day.
Look at who you’ve got today, then meet them there. On any given day I may be greeted by:
- Captain Pajamas, Professor of Entymology
- Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes
- A Dying Worm writhing on the floor
- Jackson Pollock (minus the alcoholism and domestic violence; RIP to this troubled artist)
- Mr. FIFA World Cup
- Untrained MMA fighter, Joe McGillicuddy
- A Lego Engineer
- Captain Pajamas, Crafter of Mines
(I am not making light of my child’s whims here, this is an important point. He embodies his play themes thoroughly. If I miss that, our day tanks pretty fast…because most of these guys don’t give a shit about math curriculum, assigned novels written in the 1950’s, and/or the proper placement of a comma and whether it’s an Oxford comma or not.)
“Meeting them there” means don’t try to rip the kiddo out of their place and into yours. Instead, watch for natural transitions and use them when you can. It’s easier to talk my son into doing a bit of language arts when he’s become bored with his FIFA World Cup game…over a snack.
Go outside. Stay inside. I say, stay out of it. If I ask him to go outside, he’ll stay inside. If I ask him to stay inside, he’ll go outside. If I follow him outside, once he’s out there, we will have fun. If I want to go outside and he wants to stay inside, I put a blanket on the grass and take my book out and the dog and I are soon joined by my son, possibly in character as Calvin. If I want to go for a hike and he’s the Crafter of Mines, my mission is already a fail. If I watch for him to shift naturally, I may have a chance. I may.
Sameness versus routine. Kids thrive on predictability and routine, right? But sameness is not that. Sameness is torture for my kiddo. He will not do it. The first few days he will deep dive into a thing. Then he’s done. I have to be resourceful in following his lead without letting him lead us off the cliff. I can try things. I can’t expect them to work.
I have to let go of some things and insist on others–a very few others.
Routine looks very different for Left brain dominant people versus Right brain dominant people. My Left brain dominance had to yield to my Right brain dominant child. I now understand both styles hold eloquence and pitfalls of their own and I can float in both worlds.
“Morning line” vs “Morning dot.” We do best when we do a little moment of connection in the morning. Since there are two of us, we can’t do a morning circle. He decided, “Mom, ours is a morning line.” It’s different every day, because sameness is torture to my child. (So, that’s an example of routine that’s flexible–We have morning line or dot, but it’s new and fresh each time.) We do some element of stretching, I might have him lie on the floor with his legs up on the chair. We might read a SHORT mindfulness quote or exercise.
There are a million or more of these online. We have a couple card decks with exercises on them. If he’s not feeling it, the magic words are, “Will you lead our morning line today?” If he’s A Dying Worm, I use less words. Instead, I might say, “It’s ok, you don’t have to come to morning line, I will just do a morning dot.” He has consistently joined me every time.
Use stealthy transitions. This one could also be called, Food is Magic. Also, refer to the sneaky tips above, under “Go outside/Stay inside.” If you sense a rupture coming, you can throw a curveball. It might sound like, “Hey, you want to have lunch early today?” Who cares if it’s 9:45? You can always say, “Hey, I’m hungry, do you want to have a snack?” at 12:30.
Food is magic and the use of “lunch” at an asynchronous time is just quirky enough that they’ll bite. Or it will turn into a stealth Time and Clocks and History lesson, which sounds like, “Who says lunch has to happen at 12?” Then we’re googling.
Trust. their development. If your child is strong willed, he, she or they must establish an unquestionable sense of self agency. If that is what they are working on, then that is what we must support.
We can and do waste adrenaline, cortisol, and days of our lives interfering with this developmental task; catastrophizing, forcing outcomes, and enforcing for the sake of enforcement. There is a difference between being forceful and holding accountability. That’s complicated and nuanced.
In all areas of life, self agency for a strong willed person is like oxygen. And as it pertains to academics, it’s possible they are going to be more satisfying (if that is even a thing for your child) when a child doesn’t feel they are chasing them or being chased by them.
Negative attention seeking. Strong willed kids are pros. My son might “HATE ME!!!!” but he needs me attuned and present. He knows when I’ve gone on autopilot and the truth is, it’s scary to be a person who resists all efforts at external control. Maybe not consciously, and maybe not when they’re “in character,” but on a deeply intuitive level, it’s scary to drive these complex nervous systems.
I can’t multitask on a homeschool day. If I need to get work done, or obsessively text adult friends so I don’t lose my mind, or my voyeurism needs to crawl into facebook or instagram (I have no shame, I won’t even pretend)…we curb academics. I say, I’m going to work/dopamine stim, “would you like to take a break and play/read/etc?”
Sitting down to pay bills is an immediate precursor to “This is tooooooo haaaaaaaardddddd.” Cue writhing…A Dying Worm. It took me a lot of damn-its and a few late night break downs to figure this one out. Some days I can get stuff done. It won’t always be this way.
Screen time. After the essentials are done (hygiene, assignments, chores if you have them). If I wake up and find a kid on a screen…perhaps Captain Pajamas, Crafter of Mines, I don’t try to rip him off of it. I wait until he has baked his brain and writhes off the pad and onto the floor, stretching and moaning himself back into his body. Then I discretely secure it in a place where early morning device snatching is not possible.
When the stretching is done, I might say, ok, time to start our day. I remind him of the expectation. I wait. Calmly, stubbornly, quietly, I wait. Some days that’s our whole day, I’ll be honest. I’ve spent entire days sitting and drinking tea while Captain Pajamas loses his shit. Sometimes I’ve lost my shit. Reality. Those don’t happen as much any more.
Sometimes they just go away for a while. (The screens, not the kids!!!) It can be too intense. And that’s ok. Our kids know about the neurobiological pros and cons. We have mixed feelings about it in our house. We talk a lot about programming for good and what that would look like.
I try so hard not to demonize. On the hardest days I tell him, “I want you to have this activity, it’s so fun. I’m sorry you’re not able to get there today.” Once; I say it once, even though I may want to throw the electronics into our fish pond and scream. For the record, he told me today, “You can make me do these things, but you can’t take my dignity.” Strong willed kids are hilarious.
Sharpie tattoos. I am a strong willed mom. So…sometimes I strike like a steelhead at a fly, and then it’s on. I have to make sharpie tattoos each morning. I write them somewhere like the back of my wrist. I do. It might be something that makes me laugh. Or it might be any of these three I’m rocking right now.
- When you are ready.
- Shh mama.
- It’s not personal.
I have them on a white board in plain sight, too. What’s good for me is good for them. They are learning: I will wait. And I am prepared to wait all day if necessary. I will fight for it. Quietly on my best days. Less skillfully on my vulnerable days.
The developmental quest for self agency is not personal. It’s developmental. It’s like any other thing–learning to walk, learning to swim. They have to feel it, we can’t rush it, and then one day they’re swimming.