So this is what it’s like to raise a dictator, I think to myself. I am homeschooling a hardheaded child. Or is the new lingo “strong-willed?” Well, he is the most strong-willed child ever. He flatly refuses to do any of his school work today, or maybe ever again. Who knows? Oh, and today he says he hates school. No, hardheaded is too gentle a word.
Oh my gosh, I am homeschooling a future dictator! Suddenly, I’m imagining being a part of the worst mom’s group ever…
“Mrs. Castro stop crying. Little Fidel is just expressing his frustration with the playground rules. They’ll see things his way soon enough. He’s a born leader.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hitler. Your son Adolph is too. Just look at him organizing everyone into little groups.”
Okay so maybe that was extreme. But here I stand trying to reason with a wall. It is an adorable wall, of course, with big brown eyes. He is usually loving, adventurous and helpful. Except on the days he decides to suddenly become outraged by homeschooling or anything else I might ask of him.
It’s not like this homeschooling thing is some big surprise I threw at him this morning. We do school every weekday. I write out a calendar on Sundays that lists the weeks lesson plans and our extra activities. I include games, videos, field trips, music and FOOD! What is so terrible today? Why does he seem so mad at me?
He’s killing me. Why won’t he just do his work? He spends more time complaining about doing it than it takes to just do it. Those twenty math problems are just going to take too long, huh? I could have rebuilt Rome by now and you haven’t even started!
This kid hates me.
But ugly thoughts won’t fix the situation.
He never wins. The work will get done. But not before a few hours-long test of wills. It is the battle of the bullheaded. It seems like he wants to fight with me.
But why is he so calm? When did he get the upper hand?
Moments ago, I was in control. He was writhing on the floor because his grammar dictation was four words longer than last week. The horror. Yes, he really counted the words. Last Monday the five-minute math warm-up took him two hours; to start.
He is very smart. And I am willing to adjust things to ease what is frustrating him. Me: The dictation must be done in cursive, but you may print everything else. I don’t care how you solve that math problem if you get the right answer. Want to use the dry-erase board? How about we look up the vocabulary words together?
The reason for his adamant refusal to work changes as often as the Texas weather. I can’t figure out what to wear when the mornings are in the 40s and the afternoons are in the 80s. Likewise, just as soon as I come up with a solution for his current discontent with homeschooling, the perceived problem shifts.
I have to calm down. For my next move, I’ll act like I couldn’t care less. Checkmate!
Ugly mind games are never fun to play.
“You know you can’t play on your computer until you finish your lessons,” I plead.
“I don’t care. I’m not doing school today. I don’t want to play video games anyway,” he calmly states from the floor. I know he’s lying. Oh yes, he wants those video games. But for now he happily continues building a house of flashcards upon the carpet.
And I fight the urge to become momzilla and stomp it down. Deep breaths. I will not yell. I will not yell. I will not yell. I write this upon the dry-erase board in my mind.
Our house rule is that there is to be no TV or computer time until schoolwork is complete. The rule stands. I am not going to yell or punish. If he doesn’t want computer or TV time, then he needs to complete all his work before bedtime.
But I am losing my cool. I step up my game and threaten to ground him for days if he continues to refuse to get started on his lessons immediately. We have a schedule to keep. There are sports practices and music lessons to get to, and I don’t want to still be fighting about school during our family time tonight.
But still, there he sits.
This is the same song and dance we performed last Monday. And the Thursday before that. And the week before that. We have had this squabble more times than I have let my cup of coffee go cold and grow a surface film. And that is saying a lot.
We are at the stage where he is calling my bluff. I just know he can feel me vibrating with anger. And I think he may be enjoying watching me swallow a scream.
“Just get up and do it now! You are wasting our day and making me crazy!” There. Dang it. I broke the seal. Now I’m the ‘no wire hangers mom.’ Face palm.
Bad behavior won’t stop bad behavior.
My granite-headed son does not have any learning disabilities or behavioral disorders. He catches on to things very quickly and prefers to work independently teaching himself; only letting me help when he is really stuck. He can go days or weeks without having a Jekyll to Hyde moment during our homeschool day. Most days he is a joy to teach.
But then suddenly a bad day happens where he decides to buck the routine and spend several hours hiding in his room playing with toys. Sometimes he claims a lesson is frustrating him, but he refuses to let me help. Some days he’s “just too tired.”
Other times… he hates school and he’s never doing it again, and he doesn’t care if he must live under a bridge and eat out of a garbage can.
Yet in each instance, given a few hours, a switch will flip. Of course, this occurs after I have begged, pleaded, threatened, and lost my mind over a bowl of queso and chips. Mental exhaustion sets in and I give up making him do anything. But sure enough, he emerges apologetically and does all his work completely on his own. And most likely he gets every stinking problem or question correct.
Why? He wanted to call the shots, set the terms. He did not want to do it when I wanted him to do it.
It was simply bad timing.
Can you remember the earliest moment you considered your child to be strong willed, hardheaded, or looking for a fight?
When I stop and think back to his earliest years, my little boss man was hard headed from the start. I mean the child was born during a category four hurricane evacuation, for starters. At 18 months old he called everyone and everything in the house “mama” just long enough to worry me into taking him to a speech therapist, where he immediately said a handful of new words and located everything purple in her office while shouting the word “purple.”
By three years old he would go to bed hungry to win an argument over two bites of squash. Even as I waved a banana or peanut butter crackers in surrender, he wouldn’t eat. By golly he wanted dessert.
And he may be the only preschooler in history to be sent to the principal’s office (FYI: there was no principal’s office at the church Mother’s-Day-Out!) for refusing to write more than one capital letter “R”. His reason? He had already written one perfectly.
Tell him he can’t and he will. Tell he must and he won’t.
He’s got grit to grind. And oh, the stories I could tell…
Do you know when a hardheaded child will finally do what you ask without push back?
When they are good and ready. Haha!
Certainly, mom and dad should be in charge. And we are there to set rules and boundaries for our stubborn children to butt with their heads. But there is no magic pill or method of coaxing your child into quiet obedience. We don’t really want that anyway.
What we want is to have calm, fun days where getting through homeschool lessons doesn’t spiral into slamming doors and guilty tears.
My advice for homeschooling a hardheaded child:
- Be sure and have a harder head. Stand your ground where it matters most. Lighten up where you can.
- Meet them head on and stick to your own rules.
- Don’t yell. (Sometimes easier said than done, I know.)
- Explain the consequences of their choices.
- Don’t threaten what you can’t follow through on.
- Give them time and space to cool down and make their decision to comply or not.
- Follow through with discipline. Natural consequences usually work best.
- Wash, rinse, repeat as needed.
My worst days with a stubborn child have been the ones I didn’t remain the adult in the situation. I got mad and yelled and started threatening whatever I could think of to get him as angry and helpless as I was feeling. I had the grown-up equivalent of a tantrum.
What works best for us when he starts to dig his heels in?
Remaining calm and controlled. (It’s not always easy, folks!) I explain what is expected of him and the consequences if he continues to refuse to do his work. Letting him retreat to his room gives him the time he needs to reset. But I know I have to be strong and wait him out.
Waiting him out is the hardest part for me. I’m a git-er-done kind of girl. I have waited him out till dark some days. And I’ve even tagged his dad into the ring when he gets home from work. We are both on board with as long as it takes.
He knows what must be done. He can always go to bed and double the next day’s workload. But if I cave, yell, cavort, and inflict new threats or punishments, then I negate the natural consequences he chooses to bring upon himself. Then I am just the bad guy. This way, he is his own victim.
As painful as it is some days to let him sabotage his own time, it is working. He is getting older and maturity helps. But he has learned that he oversees how his day turns out and how much free time he has after school.
Good solutions are often the simplest.
There is nothing wrong with your hardheaded child. In fact, these have massive potential.
“Strong-willed children become adults who change the world as long as we can hang on for the ride and resist the temptation to ‘tame’ the spirit out of them.”
My child is, was, and always will be strong-willed. It’s one of his worst and best qualities. Tell him he can’t do something and watch him bust a gut trying.
Of course, I don’t want him to bust a gut trying to eat an entire sleeve of Oreos just because I said he couldn’t. However, if someday someone tells him he isn’t law school material, I hope he still has the grit to bust a gut proving them wrong.
While our kids are growing and learning we need to teach them to be determined to reach goals, not bullheaded and stationary. To be adamant about what they know to be true and good, but not stubborn and closed-off. To harness that insatiable need to be in control and use it for greatness in the world, hard head held high.