Question: How do I teach a difficult, strong-willed child?
Answer: I've learned many lessons the hard way. Some days I buckled down and played "tough guy". "You will do this, whether you like it or not!" Some days I was exhausted from fighting the good fight for the zillionth time, and decided to sit this one out. Whatever the case, I have two teens that can read, write, and do math, and far more than that. I'm quite proud of the people they are becoming. I have a 6yo coming along; though we have some of the same bumps in the road. Here's what I've learned:
Lessen the Lesson
Some things are really hard and not fun at all! Sounding out eh-ver-eee s-t-ing-ken sound borders on traumatic for a child learning to read. Can you imagine if you had to sound out every word you came across? If something is downright hard for a child, their focus is only going to last so long. I learned from my strong willed oldest that shortening the phonics lesson is better than hitting us with longer lessons. It'll come when it comes. Make it easier. Focus on one small thing that it is important for the day, and then call it a success! Rome wasn't built in a day.
Recognize learning bursts
When my youngest was counting anything and everything she could find, her phonics skills were lagging. She sure could count, though! Now that she's trying to read random words throughout the day, her addition skills are in no-man's land. I don't stress: once her reading excitement has run it's course, she'll be back into numbers again. It comes in fits and stages. Growth happens in bursts, with a long stretch of dryspells in between. There's a whole lot of developmental stuff going on in that brain of hers, and its miraculous - I'm just not always able to see it. So I give it time and trust that it'll show up eventually.
See the *real* lesson and focus on that
Sometimes I might call an unhappy, unfocused, undisciplined child back to the table to finish one more thing, and sometimes I might let her off the hook. What gives? Sometimes I know the real lesson is getting her back on the bike one more time after she's fallen down. Sometimes I know she's overwhelmed and frustrated, and needs to cool off, a bit. Sometimes the lesson is dedication and stick-to-it-tiveness; other times it's taking a time out. Sometimes the lesson is about getting that last math problem done and celebrating together, and sometimes it's about cuddling and reassurance.
Model, model, model
Just when I think things are going swimmingly, we hit a brick wall, and a child will not do the required lesson - no sir! If I know they are capable, I know it is a reasonable request, and I know that they are putting up their own brick wall, I will model. And, when in doubt, I model. I sit down and study the same thing alongside them. Or, if they leave the table in a huff, I might sit down all by myself and tackle the lesson on notebook paper. Last year, my daughter was supposed to copy English Grammar charts for her CC class, but I couldn't seem to inspire her or require her to do it. So, I sat at the table one morning and copied a chart. My plan was to proudly announce - "see? I spent 5 minutes and I have a chart". But it didn't actually work like that. Instead, I trudged through copying a chart in 20 minutes, and my hand muscles were burning at the end of it. I still required charts after that, but I recognized that it took more than 5 minutes, and that what she was suffering was real. Whenever a child is not doing the workload that I expect, I first try modeling the behavior myself. Eventually (give it some time!) my child will pick up the slack and start working again.
Teach from a state of rest
There are some excellent resources using this phrase: "teaching from rest". Go look it up for inspiration! In a nutshell, know that this is something God has called you to do and rest in that. It isn't easy - but there is peace in knowing that you are doing God's work in the lives of your children. Love them and be Christ to them. Sometimes the lesson isn't math, afterall, and it's about showing kindness to each other, or not kicking your sister, or having patience. Rest in knowing that this work is good and you have been called to it! Focus on wherever God has called you that day, or in that moment. Every moment is a teachable moment. Model Christ's example to his disciples.
There is so much more going on behind the scenes when our children are acting disobedient, lazy, willful, or unfocused. Our job isn't necessarily to make learning fun (...I've tried that, and it didn't go so well!). We can't force our children to learn (have you ever heard the expression, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink?) But we can walk alongside our children, and give them this rich opportunity. And someday, they might even thank us for it;)
**Sidenote: use your Mommy intuition. If you suspect a learning disability is causing the behavior, or if a delay is significant enough to cause you concern, by all means, pursue it! Get an evaluation or seek answers.