Homeschooling When Your Child is Uncooperative

Both of my children are what you would consider “spirited”. Other terms for their personality include “strong-willed”, “persistent”, and “determined”. These are traits that will serve them well in the future–working diligently towards their chosen professions, confidence in relationships, and staying true to their values despite peer pressure.

However, right now these “positive traits” come across as stubborn, hard-headed, and uncooperative. And, for a homeschooling family, teaching one (or more) of these children can be downright exhausting. Everything becomes a battle and an argument, and one page of reading turns into a hour, as the spirited child simply won’t do something they don’t want to do. How do you keep homeschooling a smooth and enjoyable experience when your child is constantly disagreeable?

Four things have been helpful for my family: Respect, Options, Motivate, Engage. (ROME)

1. Respect Your Child’s Opinions, But Never Tolerate Disrespect
A child should be able to share their opinions and give their feedback about the school day, but it should always be done in a respectful way. If respect becomes optional, your child will likely take advantage of your authority, and there’s no easy solution there.

I show my daughter respect by taking her opinions about our curriculum into account and compromising with her when it’s appropriate. However, she also knows that I have the final word. When she feels like her opinion actually matters, she doesn’t fight my authority as much.

2. Give Your Child Choices
When we first started homeschooling, I would say “It’s time for school”, which was immediately followed by “Awwwwww. No!!!” Every. Single. Day. So exhausting. So, I started giving Stinker some control over her school day. Here are some of the things she gets to choose:

  • In which order she wants to do the subjects (provided each subject is there)
  • Where she wants to sit (at the school desk, at the dining room table, outside, etc)
  • What kind of writing utensil she wants to use (you laugh, but sometimes letting her write with a rainbow pen or a purple scented marker puts her in a more agreeable mood.)
  • When she wants snack and break time (sometimes she gets uncooperative because she’s hungry or has too much energy. Five minutes of running around outside, or eating a healthy snack can help her come back in and focus.)

3. Find Your Child’s Motivation
Different kids respond to different forms of motivation. Note this isn’t bribery–it’s simply a way to connect with your child to help them do their best. Here are some ideas for motivating your kids:

  • Verbal Recognition (such as “Great job! You’ve been working so hard. I’m really proud of you!)
  • Earning Rewards (a star chart is a good idea for this. For each subject completed or each day done without complaint, a child receives a star. A certain number of stars gets him or her a small prize or a privilege.)
  • Independence (as noted above, many children want to feel like they’re in charge of their schedule. If independence motivates your child, give her one subject per day to teach you. She gets to be the teacher and feels like she’s in charge, but she’s also showing you her mastery of the subject if she can adequately explain it, and that’s the point of all your curriculum anyway.)

4. Use the Flexibility of Homeschooling 
One of the best parts of homeschooling is having flexibility–both in schedule and in curriculum. Now, I lean towards Classical curriculum–we learn Latin and do geography and memorize math facts and learn all sorts of stuff that many would consider “boring”. But, I also know that my kids are kinesthetic learners–they learn by doing. So, we do a lot of hands-on projects, that keep my daughter interested and engaged.

  • We’re not bound to do pages 141-143 in our science workbook when we can go outside and do an actual experiment that explains the scientific concept. 
  • We don’t have to sit and learn Latin by reading a list of words when we can do a play about being Ancient Romans speaking their native tongue. 
  • Go on field trips–keep a Field Trip Journal and have your child write entries in it–this counts as handwriting and grammar.
  • Do math problems outside with sidewalk chalk–then use the answers for a scavenger hunt.
  • Make geography more relevant by writing to friends and family who live in other states–ask them to send photos, post cards, and brochures. 

Schoolwork isn’t always going to be “fun”. It shouldn’t be. There are often things in life we have to do that aren’t fun, but they’re necessary, and teaching a child a strong work ethic will prepare him for real life. But, there are also times that we need to remind kids that homeschooling is a privilege, and there are benefits to having the flexibility they wouldn’t have in a traditional school setting.

By using the ROME tips (Respect, Options, Motivation, Engage), I hope you can bring some peace into your homeschool, even when your kids would rather work against you than with you.

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