How DO You Teach the Strong-Willed Child???

how do you teach the strong-willed child?

I’m going to put something out there that I may regret saying later.

Sometimes I think something is seriously wrong with this child.

I’ve researched autism (not it), and Sensory Processing Disorder (very possibly playing into the hardness)…..and a host of other things.  We limit sugar, and I try to avoid red & yellow dyes.

Because there has to be *SOME* explanation as to why raising this kid is so hard, right?  RIGHT??!

Today started out with good intentions.

I had a Five In A Row (FIAR) lesson planned out.  I chose the book, and had a host of ways to expound upon it ready to go.

We read the first page – THE FIRST PAGE – before things went downhill.

The FIAR lesson suggested asking the child to determine which shore the main character (Miss Rumphius) lived on.  You’re supposed to determine that she lives on the NorthEast coast by the snow in the picture.

Simple enough, right?

I asked him what he thought.  (because that’s what you’re *supposed*to do.)   I guided him from the living room into the dining room where our wall map of the world is hanging to give him a visual image of what I was asking him.  Somehow, he got it stuck in his mind that he needed a compass to determine where she was.  (Really?  A COMPASS?).  I was (calmly) explaining to him that he didn’t need a compass, just the map, and asked my question again with the visuals.

Oh my goodness, the meltdown that ensued.

I gave up.  Lesson time over.  Done for now.

Please hear me: this is not beyond his abilities.  No, he can absolutely answer my question.  It was the fact that HE thought he needed his compass (which, only God knows where it is right now….!), and that I had my own agenda that did not include said compass.

Have you been there before?  Please, if you have…..tell me what you do in situations like this.  This is one of those days where I was blindsided by the sheer hardness.  It doesn’t always happen, and this one came seemingly out of nowhere.

(and yes, he has eaten, so it wasn’t a low-blood-sugar meltdown…we have those plenty often too).

I welcome suggestions from parents of strong-willed children.  (I do write for all parents, but unless you deal regularly with a strong-willed child, the methods used don’t often apply here.  I have one that is not-so-strong-willed and it is VERY different parenting her!)



  1. I understand the issues you are having. I have three children who all seem to have inherited strong will (I am also a strong willed child). We (strong willed people) relish control and respect and will not be agreeable without it. I am actually trying to plan a blog series on teaching the strong willed child (which is how I can upon your post). We are just getting started in our homeschool, so I know I don’t have all the answers. A book that really helped me (yes, the strong willed child can’t even figure out her own at times). Is You Can’t make Me, but I can be persuaded by Cythia Tobias. It was also written by a strong willed child who was able to really identify the struggles that exist with our personalities. Wow, this got a little long, but I hope you have found something that works well for your son, and if you ever want another brain to think of a solution let me know.
    Ashley recently posted..Homemade Compass for Katy and the Big Snow

  2. MOMKABOODLE do you have a Facebook? I homeschool my strong will child also and have the same issues….

  3. If it's a bright, gifted learner that you have… well – the good thing is he will practically learn from osmosis right? lol But seriously – I'd say give him a little more control. If he's passionate about something in particular that week – give him some freedom to explore it and research it or do a lap book on that subject. My son can become quite obsessive about a topic and there is no getting his mind off it. We just got done doing a Legos lap book and next we're doing Chocolate. Oh, don't get me wrong – it's not all rosy and bright – there are still many stressful days and a lot of defiance here and there but it's better. And with maturity it gets a little better. And with support it can get better! It's an awesome thing that you're doing – pat yourself on the back every day! I hope this helped! If not, at the very least you know you’re not alone. Best wishes to you and your family. : )

  4. Worksheets and repetitive things would make his skin crawl. He is more engaged and stimulated by electronics. It's hard and I know I don't want all his school work done on the computer but I mix it up a lot and assign computer work a couple times a day. We like Brain Pop and I have several apps for writing and spelling etc.

  5. The ADHD brain likes to be busy, busy, busy, so crunching on a carrot stick, bouncing on a seat cushion and trying to do a math problem at the same time can be magical!! Also, we allow fidget toys during school work. Find some that don't make noise! And last but not least, we found a peppermint inhaler that he keeps at his desk and he uses it whenever he wants. It's only a brief moment of alertness but he feels in control that he is actively doing something about it. Fresh peeled oranges or lemons can be very helpful too!!! There is a natural citrus air freshener that is amazing.
    If it's more aspergerish- children seem to have a strong interested in one thing (For my son is and has always been snakes) and several aversions to other things. (For my son it is farm animals -especially pigs and certain smells (meat cooking) and certain faces like in printed pictures in books etc. – they appear scary too him ??? I know it all sounds crazy. But once I figured all those little quirky things out, life got easier.

  6. If I could give just one suggestion it would be: You can be firm but always remember to be FLEXIBLE. REALLY choose your battles. You may never know what exactly you are dealing with. Just have several tricks up your sleeve for each of the different scenarios! Try to figure out what his triggers are for behavioral stuff and try to figure out what works to keep him interested and engaged for the learning stuff! If you think it's ADHD and you choose not to medicate (we have not yet) you may need to find ways to help keep his brain alert. We take several "Brain Breaks" a day. Sometimes we schedule it so he is reassured it's coming but sometimes I can tell I'm losing him and I shout BRAIN BREAK!!!!! And we laugh about it and run to the back patio to have a 5 minute jump on the trampoline. He comes back to finish whatever it was we were working on feeling a little more alert. Crunching on crispy veggies or apples helps keep him alert as well.

  7. I see both Asperger’s and ADHD at different times and sometimes I see neither and wonder if it is just giftedness with oppositional defiance disorder, anxiety and sensory processing disorder and ….. lol – it's crazy isn't it? I don't even like labels. I just want to know how to deal with him properly and how to educate other people to handle him appropriately. It is constantly changing. As you know, it is the most complicated thing to understand and get diagnosed. We were hoping there would be more acceptance from the school when he would act out and more understanding of his needs once we gave the official diagnosis of Asperger’s but one day after recess when it was time to line up (transition) a new lunch aide (aka prison guard) blew her whistle near his ear (major sensory) and he flipped out and she felt the need to throw him to the ground, push his face in the gravel and pin his arms behind his back and call 3 other teachers over to assist. Yes, she did! It was a father/parent volunteer who witnessed it (also an ex Vietnam marine). He was SHOCKED so I knew there was no exaggeration. It was that moment we pulled my son out to homeschool.

  8. First grade was falling upon us – some of his symptoms had diminished, some new ones arouse….but it was still very evident he was still a square peg and he still struggled with what was expected of him. Defiant yes but in a way that seemed uncontrollable by him. Oh and transitions were still hard for him. We had two private evaluations done by a psychologist over the course of a year. One said absolutely ADHD, the other with seemingly more experience said Asperger’s. Asperger’s can present itself very differently among different kids. Sort of like a thumb print. My son does have eye contact. My son desires to be social (though he's not very good at it) He does not line things up in a row. He is not classic. He is not Rain Man. We knew it was more than ADHD and more than SPD.

  9. Once we moved to CA I was eager to get started, have him assessed and figure this out before he would need to start Kindergarten. I had one year – no problem, right? Pfffff. What a nightmare. I didn't know where to start. We had the school district do the first assessment not knowing any better. They came up with only a high IQ and anxiety. For the rest of that year I attended mommy and me preschool with him. He was definitely and obviously a square peg trying to be forced in a round hole. He insisted on doing everything his own way, a different way, a different color… you name it. A teachers worst nightmare. And then there was the sound sensitivities. We would always do the work that was expected of us… but I became quite skilled at thinking of new creative ways to motivate him and get him to comply. A lot of psychology. A lot!

  10. Eventually we placed him in Montessori and met a wonderful teacher who always took the time to talk with me about my concerns. We were there almost a full year before we had to move out of state but she felt he had sensory processing disorder and urged me to have him assessed once we moved. I should add that there were so many little incidents during his time there that he probably would have been kicked out if it weren't for my constant crying on the teachers shoulders. I couldn't understand how my sensitive, quiet boy was turning into this monster while in school or social environments. He often had tantrums in the class or any place with more than 5 kids (like McDonald playland or birthday parties) He had great difficulty with any transitions (for example drop offs and pick-ups – ending one project to start another – for a while even when it snowed in the morning but had melted by afternoon!) and some social problems on the playground. Sometimes he would get aggressive or hurt other children but even the teacher would say it was never in a mean way – it was like he just didn't understand what was expected.

  11. I didn't think this women would have a problem with this… I just needed to explain . . . . WRONG! She refused to bend the rules, she said he would have to. Long story short – They had power struggles every day. I felt that if the objective was for him to wash his hands – then he is doing that. If the objective was for him to learn the ABC's then maybe she could think of a different way. Kids learn at different paces – and hindsight – he is a perfectionist. If he didn't know all of his ABC's at that time, then he was not wanting to say just some of them!! And then there was of course the sound sensitivity…. well I felt she was too strict and she felt I was probably a bad parent or something. We moved on realizing it just wasn't a good fit.

  12. You have gotten some really great responses here! Sorry this will be long. I feel the need to reach out to you and it's hard to sum up everything in one neat paragraph! My son is 8yrs old now but we started noticing problems at age 2.5 when I had to place him in daycare. It was a home based daycare, only consisted of 6 children and it was run by a homeschool mom. She ran her daycare like a well-oiled clock and it was very educational etc. She was nice but very strict (in my opinion) for example she insisted the children wash their hands before they enter the " daycare " area (which was great! I loved that she kept the germs to a minimum!) but she insisted they sing the whole ABC song – out loud while washing their hands. From day one my little one refused! Time went on, it wasn't going well. He didn't have an issue with washing his hands – but being told HOW to wash his hands and being forced to sing.

  13. I can only speak to my own strong willed child. I struggled with him from the time he was a baby. I wondered what was wrong with him, what was wrong with me. It was suggested that we have him tested. We then learned he has a very high IQ. As I researched and learned more about children like him, everything fell into place and made sense. Since then, I've learned how to deal with his personality. I too try to limit food dyes and watch for low blood sugar. And I pray, pray, pray:) I appreciate your honesty and sharing how hard it is, because it is hard. May God lead you to the answers you need.

  14. Maybe you could try to get inside his head a little more. Most of the problems with my oldest and toughest kid cleared up once he knew I was interested in his opinion. There are times when his opinion is absolutely irrelevant, of course, but if I give him his voice in those little things, when the time comes for me to put my foot down, it's a lot less of a fight. At times like this example of yours, I would give way and say "Why do you need the compass? Let's go find it and see if that helps you find a place on the map." Chances are, it won't, but he'll see it for himself and he'll respect your wishes more the next time. It might also help you get an idea of how his mind is working. I've had this happen several times with my biggest kid, and he just needs to see things for himself sometimes. Of course, when he behaves badly, you should make sure there are consequences and teach him how to say with words what he means. But you can still go get the compass after that. 😉

  15. Sweet friend- I totally get it – I have one who has been diagnosed with "Oppositional Defiance Disorder" – he can also be the most charming child you've ever met – there aren't any particular triggers – it seems to come and go at will. Praying my way through it is the only way I manage. We do lots of love and have strict boundaries put in place by working with a professional counselor. I see progress – sometimes a lot of it – then we will go through another season when I don't know how we'll make it out – people who don't live with it cannot possibly understand. All in all – God has it – He places our families together in just the right way – we can do this to His honor and glory sista- hang in there! hugs- and if you ever need to talk – I'll be happy to support- support is what you need the most – God will show you the rest.

  16. Steph, my son has defiant disorder – he doesn't show this to most people – mind you- just special – your re-telling of this story is like what I go through most every day – sometimes from sun up to sun down. He can also be THE most charming child in the room. It's hard to deal with but we are managing with God's help- I stop and pray my way through – sometimes right out loud. Dealing now with some anger in the other boys because their (most) EVERY single day is disrupted by this behavior It's disheartening to say the least but Jesus is leading us through. He is healing our boy one day at a time and he is working in the hearts of all our boys (and mom) Keep looking at Jesus and you will find your way one step at a time. Don't let anyone make you feel badly for their perceptions of what you should or should not be doing as long as you know you are following God's lead and working hard to do what it right for your lil guy! hugs!

  17. Castrodaryl says:

    What is wrong with finding compass with him & allowing him to use it with your map? =) easy for me to ask the question but believe me I find myself in same situation with my eldest son. I have planned activity but he wants to do it differently thus messing up either time or tasks involved. Hearing it from you, I just realized is it worth the struggle for not letting his idea be part of whole activity plan? Hmmm…honestly for the most part, my answer would be “no” =) most especially if it comes from sincere excitement to be part of it versus just plain disobedience. How to know which is which? I would say pray & in faith take action. Thank you for your story.

    • MOMKABOODLE says:

      Castrodaryl – Looking back, I can't say that I disagree with you. At that time, we had no idea where the darn thing was, and I think that may have overwhelmed me a bit. I just wanted to push through the lesson, dang it!
      Would letting him look for the compass have avoided a meltdown? Potentially. (Assuming he was able to find it). It's just so frustrating sometimes that the smallest thing can throw the whole darn lesson off track. I think the point that you may be trying to get across (or perhaps I'm reading into it, but either way – ) is that it *ISN'T* about me. If he thought that would enhance the lesson, I probably should have just let him run with it.
      Thanks for your input. Hindsight is 20/20, of course…..but perhaps I'll remember to draw on it in the future. =)

  18. I feel your pain. My kiddo is a strong willed child, which is one reason I decided not to homeschool her. When those times happen I sometimes say "mommy needs a break"… maybe he could have looked for the compass you could have calmed down and then set a time to come back together ~ maybe saying… you can look for the compass for 5 minutes and whether we find it or not we're going to do the rest after that. It seems that sometimes if she has the chance to follow her thought path then she can come back and do what I had planned…. sometimes. 🙂