“What do I have to lose?” she asked herself as she handed her son a pen and paper.
After months of butting heads, months of frustration, months of battling the strong will of her resistant learner, my friend was exhausted. As a homeschool mom, she wanted nothing more than to teach her son and ignite a passion for learning within him. But, no matter how “perfect” she planned each day, her enthusiasm was met with his folded arms and set jaw. He was determined to object to every assignment…to every lesson. And as the oldest of a handful of other learners, he was setting a very menacing precedence.
“What can I do to reach him?” was her constant inner turmoil. He was a bright boy with wonderful leadership skills. He was hardworking and passionate about faith and family. But, when it came to homeschooling, his passion morphed into antipathy…opposition…RESISTANCE.
One day, in a moment of desperation, an idea sparked!
Since he stubbornly challenged how SHE chose to direct his school day…what if HE was given opportunity to direct it? Not to say that she intended to give up her authority as his mom and teacher, but that she would welcome his input. It was, after all, HIS education.
She set aside the books for the afternoon and replaced them with a pen and paper. She invited him to write a list of 5-10 changes he would like to make to their normal school-day routine. She cautioned him to give REALISTIC suggestions…”play video games all day, everyday” would likely be dismissed by her power of VETO.
“I will do my best to honor your requests…IF you do your best to do your school work WITHOUT COMPLAINT.” she said.
In true first-born style, he accepted the challenge with resolve. He was being entrusted with the opportunity to “have a say.” His eyes lit as he squared his shoulders. He felt the pride of a MAN…a man in control.
For a moment, she wanted to reclaim the paper. What if his “suggestions” were unattainable? What if he wanted to skip school and just play all day?
Within moments, his list was complete. He thrust it towards her with conviction.
To her surprise, his list was more than manageable…it was actually quite SIMPLE. Eight small desires from a boy who just wanted to have a small SAY in the order of his day.
And what was on his uncomplicated plan?
- I want a short break between each subject. That is certainly do-able…It will give me a chance to work with your younger brother.
- I want to go fishing with Dad after school. Well, it’s probably not possible to go EVERY day. But, I’ll see if he can take you out once or twice a week when the weather’s nice.
- I want to pick out 5 or 6 math problems that you will do WITH me, so I don’t have to do it all by myself. As long as you do the rest without complaint. I’d be happy to!
- I don’t want to do the spelling program that you’ve purchased. I just want a list of words to memorize each week. That’s just fine. But, I get to pick the words.
- I never like the suggested writing topics in my language book. I want to be able to pick the topic myself. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter WHAT you write about. You just need to write…and do it correctly. So sure! You can pick the topics.
- I want you to grade my language and math pages. I want a SCORE! I suppose it is nice to see your success in black-and-white. While I may not have time to grade EVERY page, I will do my best to grade a few each week.
- I want a written “to do” list that I can “check off” each day. Done!
- I want to be able to illustrate my Latin and Greek word cards. If that will help you learn them, then go right ahead.
She smiled, sent him off to enjoy his first “break” of the day, and breathed a sigh of relief. With a knowing grin, she marveled at how his list of “demands” reflected his TYPE A personality.
She looked over his list one more time. By no means did she want to reward bad behavior, but if there were a few tweaks that could be made to the day to make it run more smoothly FOR EVERYONE, why shouldn’t she try? Everything on his list was completely do-able and certainly showed that he had taken her challenge seriously and had sincerely wanted just a few simple changes.
It had never occurred to her to put a grade on his paper. But she could see now how a tangible number, would give him a sense of security in his ability. It would provide a goal for a very goal-oriented boy. And allowing him to choose the topic for his language reports? What would it hurt? In fact, he’d probably write much better if he were able to write about something that he was passionate about.
For months, he had met her with opposition. Little did she know, all he wanted was to be able to feel like a little bit of his day was within his own control.
I applaud my dear friend who saw this NEED in her son. A NEED to be heard. She could have easily met his resistance with equal resolve. She could have dug her heals in the sand and matched will for will. But, by lending a listening ear, she was rewarded with a more compliant learner who was willing to yield to her plans knowing that she cared enough to include HIM in them.
Are you faced with a resistant learner? Could it be that resistance is really just a desperate plea to have input? To be heard? Obviously, sometimes a poor attitude is just THAT…a poor attitude, which needs to be dealt with accordingly. But, what if the poor attitude is merely a result of a child being “provoked to wrath” by never being able to contribute to his/her education? I can’t guarantee that all your struggles will fade if you relinquish some of the control, but in the words of my friend, “What do you have to lose?”