What I Wish Teachers Knew About My Strong Willed Child
I was a teacher and I left school feeling well trained. I knew how to confidently deal with all kinds of behaviors and teach all sorts of kids and learning styles. I did so for many years before my twins were born.
I was not ready for my strong willed child.
This is to say that I understand why solving the mystery of my little girl might be complicated. It took me 3 years of full time life with her to figure it out and there are still days I get frustrated. There are some things I wish I had known and that I think would be helpful for teachers to know for the next time they encounter such a child.
No child wants to be bad. I truly believe this. Young children want to be "good." They want to please the grown ups in their life and get along with the people around them. Please stop calling my child bad. Even if they are driving you and everyone around them crazy, this word will not help.
Opinionated? Focused? Strong? Spirited? Confident? Passionate? Curious? Definitely. Not bad.
As I write this, we are over 5 months into the school year. I can count on one hand the number of "thumbs up days" my daughter has had.
Clearly the stoplight method, the sticker and sucker bribing method, and the daily end of the day labeling and shaming method are not working.
Think about it this way, what if you are trying to lose weight and you take up yoga. You practice it faithfully for 2 months, but you're not losing weight, you try something else right? You take up running or you diet or you take a spin class. You don't just keep doing yoga do you?
That stoplight is yoga and it's not working on this kiddo.
Try something else.
This is the one I had the hardest time learning.
When you box in a child like this and tell them that the only option is to do what you say, they will find another option. There is always another choice.
It might be ugly, harmful, painful or unpleasant but there is another option and they will choose it just to prove that they can. They will choose this inspite of whatever unpleasantness comes their way as a result.
This means punishments and rewards will not work. They can't be bribed. They can't be scared.
Giving kids like this options and a some sense of control is the only option.
*Ask questions more than you give orders.
*Get their input on problems.
*Choose your battles.
*Focus on the point (more about that in a minute) and be flexible about how you get there
*Add a little humor
I would personally argue that all children would prefer if you operated more this way in general.
I believe I speak for all parents here when I say we want to help.
I want my children to be successful in school. I want them to be happy and understood and gaining knowledge.
Parents want to help, but we have to feel like our opinion and ideas are welcome because we don't want to step on your toes.
Our child is in your class. You are the teacher and we respect you and your expertise.
However, we are generally the experts on our child. What works at home might not work at school, but perhaps another perspective or method may help you better understand what our kid needs.
Please ask. And if you do, please listen and be open to different ideas.
What is the bottom line? What do you want them to do? What is the end result you're shooting for?
As a teacher, You know what you need them to learn or how you need kids in the class to behavior in order to accomplish all that learning you're required to get done, right? Strong willed kids need to know that point to.
Why do they have to sit in their chair?
Why do they have to be quiet during journaling time?
Why do they have to sit in the same space every day?
Why do they have to write with a pencil?
What's the point. What do you need them to do/learn/produce?
Believe me, I know, it's exhausting.
However, if you're willing to think about the actual goal of what you're asking, explain it, and be willing to think flexibly about how those goals can be met you're a long way towards getting along.
Strong willed kids (and I would argue all kids) will do their best to stay on your good side if they have a positive relationship with you.
More than other kids, these children don't like rules. Therefore the general theory is, if you're always yelling at them anyways why would they bother following your rules?
My kid needs to know that you are a safe person they can go to when they are having a hard time. They need to trust, respect and like you. Without that, it is unlikely that they will follow your rules.
One last thing, thank you.
I know some kids are harder than others, but I love my strong willed kid just like every other parent loves their little one. She's part of my heart and I'm grateful for every moment you spend trying to understand and teach her. I know how hard your job is and I appreciate you showing up every day and working hard to improve our future.
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