Homeschooling the Strong Willed Child

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If you are the parent of a strong-willed child, let me first reassure you that strong-willed kids are born that way.  It is NOT your fault that your child sincerely believes that the world revolves around him (or her).

Strong-willed kids are often natural born leaders.  They are wired with an extra dose of confidence and vision.  Unfortunately for parents, these traits, combined with their still underdeveloped frontal lobes, lack of wisdom and experience, can create a kind of perfect storm in the home.

These kids really do believe that they have it all figured out.  When things don’t go their way, they are prone to frustration and outbursts of anger.  As illogical as it may seem to the causal observer, this is how it is.  So how do we teach these kids so they grow into their leadership skills without crushing their spirits (which, at times, is very tempting)?

I wrote previously on parenting strong-willed kids.  There are definitely parenting methods that work better than others.  If you are struggling with a strong-willed child, you will want to read that post.

Parenting is one thing, homeschooling is another.  Schoolwork can be difficult at times.  Motivating the strong-willed student is about balancing letting him lead with developing the character, mainly patience, to persevere through hardships with grace.  <Ahem>

How to Homeschool the Strong-Willed Child

Let them choose

The leader within these kids is chomping at the bit to get out there and lead.  When possible, let them.  This looks different at different ages.  You are the best judge of which areas your kids can handle making choices in and which ones they cannot.

My 6-year old son is dyslexic.  Learning to read is hard.  (To experience what dyslexia is like for yourself, you have to read this post.)   Besides his tutoring twice a week, I am teaching him at home through intensive Orton-Gillingham reading instruction that takes a minimum of 30-40 minutes each day.  If I can let him choose which activity we will do next, he feels like he is running the show.  As we finish each task of his reading program, he checks that activity off of a list so he can see his progress.

My 16-year old son who has completed his core schoolwork for high school will be choosing the majority of his class next year based on what he wants to learn.  There will be a loose framework that he will need to work within but he will choose.  He won’t have complete freedom to choose until he lives on his own but for now we are looking at each area of his life and letting him take control where ever possible.  Give them wings, mama!

Find the ways that they learn best

Most of my kids are not print smart.  Oh, they are quite bright, but they learn better by hearing and doing.  If I sit them down in front of a traditional text book curriculum they are going to be frustrated.  My easier going kids would likely do their best, coming to me to discuss ways to help them find success.  My strong-willed kids would likely melt down on a regular basis.  By understanding learning styles and working to implement study strategies that fit your strong-willed kids’ particular strengths, you are going to necessarily minimizes impatience and frustration.  Ahhhh, music to my ears!

An example of integrating learning styles into our homeschool routine is how I teach my 6-year old.  We complete his daily school work in short, intense sessions throughout the day.  If I try to sit down and finish all of his schooling at once (which suits my learning style best – gotta check off those boxes) he gets agitated.  I also let him sit on tip of a large exercise ball to keep moving while he learns.  Research has shown that movement (especially in the kinesthetic learner) helps with memory.

Set up firm boundaries with known consequences

As a psych major in college and  a social worker by profession (before kids) I learned about the power of behavior modification.  As a Christian, I understand there is no substitute for prayer and a heart submitted to God.  While we strive for a changed heart in our strong-willed kids, we definitely use prayer and consequences when it comes to changing the behavior of our more stubborn kids.

Both rewards and consequences speak loudly to strong-willed kids.  They can earn rewards for persevering through hardship.  For example, our 6-year old can have time on the iPad if he has three or fewer outbursts during reading instruction.  The way that I parent and homeschool my dyslexic kids has been forever changed by this post of dyslexia simulations.  Learning to read as a dyslexic is hard!  A little understanding goes a long way.

On the other hand, if our son is rude or disrespectful, he knows that he will be disciplined.  Even though his school can be hard for him, even overwhelming at times, he simply cannot learn that behaving in a rude or disrespectful manner is ever okay.

As our kids get older they become more attuned to the natural rewards of a job well-done or school work finished early that allows for more of the highly coveted free time.

Use their interests to motivate them

Does your child hate to read but love motorcycles?  Buy him a magazine on motorcycles.  Does your child hate to write but love the computer or iPad?  Find an app to assist them.

There is great freedom in homeschooling to create an environment where learning takes place in a huge variety of different ways.  Take advantage of that, be creative!  Don’t be afraid to think and homeschool outside the box.

Choose your battles

There was a time on our parenting careers where my husband and I set the bar for our kids way. too. high.

Does God require perfection in you, dear mama?  No, He doesn’t.  He doesn’t require first time obedience either.  Although I am sure that it would please Him.  Choose grace (and consequences, if needed) and live with your kids in an understanding way.  Save the battles for the non-negotiables.

Look for the good

Some kids are natural people pleasers.  Strong-willed kids are loving alright, but they are in no way people pleasers.  They tell it like it is and if you don’t like it, you know where you can go!

That is why it is important to look for the good in your strong-willed kids. Let them know that you noticed them being thoughtful or kind or helpful.  If you are constantly correcting and disciplining these kids, that will be their memory of you for time everlasting.

While strong-willed kids definitely require more discipline and correction than others, taking the time to reward the good that they do will help them when it is time again for discipline.

Are you homeschooling a strong-willed child?  Let us know in the comments.



Marianne Sunderland

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  1. Thank you so much for this post! I am homeschooling a strong-willed child and that first paragraph was a long cool drink to my weary soul! Just last night I was telling my husband that I felt like I was completely failing to raise her well. To add to the difficulty, she is an only child, so it quite often does appear that the world revolves around her. I would love to have a large family, but that does not seem to be God’s plan for us. I am currently slogging along and doing all the things you mention, but it’s so nice to be reminded that I am doing the right things some times! Thanks again for sharing your insight and wisdom.

    • Marianne Sunderland says:

      Hi Amanda. I remember feeling like that in the early days. Then I read Dr Dobson’s book on the strong-willed child and realized that he was made that way. People who haven’t had a strong-willed child don’t really understand. We have to stand together!! :) God bless!

  2. Debbie Feely says:

    Marianne, I just keep thinking about this! The child who believes the world revolves around him… uh huh… and what about the mom who thinks that and has the child who thinks that. Been there done that and you have it covered here. Thanks for sharing. Debbie

  3. I can completely relate. I am homeschooling my only child, who is probably the most strong-willed person I have met (as a child, I would have run a close second myself), and my, it is challenging.

    You talked about how your kids aren’t print smart. My daughter is okay with the books, but she is also a very creative, hands on kid. I’m not a hands on kind of person at all. Give me a book and a worksheet and I’m happy. Trying to figure out how to make things more hands on for her is really a tremendous challenge for me … but we’ll keep trying. Thanks for the reminder. Working on this more would probably help to lessen those meltdowns that we spent a lot of time trying to deal with last school year. At least a bit.


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