The Resistant Child

Angela’s Story:

“Ten year old Joshua is a very difficult boy to homeschool.    I try and I try, but homeschooling Joshua is nothing like working with his brother Wayne.  Eleven year old Wayne likes to learn and he is motivated inside somehow.  I think this is partly because Wayne doesn’t like to have school work piling up.  In the morning he asks what we have to do today, and then right after breakfast he starts his math, all by himself!  Josh is a whole different story.  When it is time to study, I have to hunt him down and sit beside him every minute.  He opens his reading book and immediately starts to rub his eyes.  He hates to read aloud and misreads every other word.  After I have corrected him for the fifth time he slams the book shut and angrily shoves it off the table. ‘I hate this!’  he growls.  ‘Why do we have to read this stupid book?  It’s boring.   Everything you give me is hard and boring..  I hate homeschool!’

“I am ashamed to say that I have often compared my boys to each other.  When it comes to homeschooling, Wayne is a dream student and Josh is a nightmare.”  I have often threatened Josh.  I’ve threatened to send him to school and I’ve threatened to tell his father on him.  I’ve threatened to send him to his room for the whole day with all his work to do alone.  Yes, I am continually frustrated.  You can’t imagine how much time I spend thinking about this and looking for material that he will like.  This is not how I imagined it would be and I’m really not sure that it is worth all the struggle.”

Angela’s story illustrates how difficult it is to work with a resistant child. You may have a boy or girl who has difficulty learning even the basic skills of Reading and Handwriting.  Or it may be that Creative Writing or Math is his weak area.  He may also be resistant to doing what he is told whether or not it has anything to do with academic pursuits.

It is difficult to know how to handle this child.  Well meaning friends might have said that you are merely not disciplining your son properly.  “More spankings will resolve all his problems,” they advise.  You have tried this and noticed that you are just magnifying the situation even more. Now, he is both the one who is not succeeding in homeschool as well as the one who is getting all the spankings.

A child may be hard to teach for a variety of reasons.   He may be rigid in his thought patterns and resistant to change.  He may find it difficult to change from one thought or activity to another.  Learning may not come easily because he has weak visual, auditory, perceptual, or memory skills, etc.

If you have a child like this you might want to try this teaching tip:

First, create a balance with his school work.  He should have

(a)  some work to do with you.
(b)  other work that is well within his ability that he can do entirely on his own.
(c)  a large portion of time for self directed learning and exploration.

This teaching tip focuses on the work in (a) above.

Rethink his course of study to make sure it is appropriate.  Are your materials well written, do they move along in a logical and easy to understand format?  Are they at his academic level?  Not too easy or too difficult?  Think about whether or not you should use specially written materials to help his weak areas. This basic reading, writing and arithmetic skill work will lay the foundation for his success in learning to learn.

Now prepare 3×5 cards with three Bible verses that are clearly at a child’s level.  Choose one that admonishes him not to do wrong, and one that admonishes him to do right.  Then choose one that is an encouragement for learning and studying.

Next write out a 3×5 card with three short-term concrete goals to accomplish together.  One might be to work hard without stopping or complaining for one hour.  Another might be to complete a short workbook.  The third goal could be to learn to spell the first fifty words on the Dolch list. Be reasonable in your goals.  Even if you want him to make up two years worth of Math, he certainly will not be able to do this in two months.   This is just too overwhelming to be a good short-term goal.   Be wise. Decide on the goals without the input of your child.   He is already resistant to learning new things.  Do not give him more opportunities to be negative.

Now that you know what you what to accomplish, set aside a specific time everyday, for a specific number of days every week.  Change your entire life so that nothing will interfere with your set times together.  Guard this time together ferociously.  This type of child desperately needs the structure that allows him to project ahead and know what he will be doing.  He will be less resistant to learning if your time together never changes.  Remember he probably is resistant to change. Besides, we’re not talking about a lot of time, on average one and a half hours – four days a week.  Is this problem with your child important enough? Will you strive to keep your Monday through Thursday,  9:00-10:30 learning session with your child?   Your level of commitment to this will directly affect your child’s level of commitment. And a few years from now you will be very glad that you made the sacrifice.

Next, plan a private conversation with your child.  The conversation should be with only one parent.  Two big parents talking to one little boy can be so over-whelming that he may have a difficult time keeping his perspective. It would be good for each parent to have a separate, gentle, private, encouraging, conversation with him. Pick a good time to talk, a time when he is well rested, calm and collected.  Your conversation should not be during school time. And do not plan to start working right after you talk, give him at least a day to think about what you have said.  Remember he is probably resistant to change and needs some time to assimilate your conversation.

Without comparing him to any other person, tell him that you are concerned about the situation and that you are resolved to making the necessary changes..  Talk about God and how as a parent, he gave you a job to do.  Your job is to love him, take care of him and to teach him.  Talk about God.  When God made you the parent, he gave you a certain job to do.  That job is to love him, take care of him and teach him.  A child’s job is to obey his parents and study to learn to read and write and learn about the world.  Tell him that every time you do not accomplish the work that is to be done, both you and he are falling short of what God has given you to do.  Point out that every time he draws you into a battle he is making you a party to sin and every time you do not require him to behave, you are making him a party to sin, too.  Tell him that together you either serve God as you grow or you don’t.  Talk about how your actions are intertwined and you are in this together.  What you do affects him and what he does affects you.

Tell him the work will be reasonable and can be accomplished every day together.  Tell him there will be real consequences if he is completely uncooperative.  Here is my suggestion for possible consequences.  If he is completely uncooperative, get up from the table and take him to another room.  Then give him three very hard whacks on the bottom with a paddle.  Sit down together afterwards and review the Bible verses and the goals.  Remind him that one person’s actions affects another’s and that you are both in this together.  Doing your separate parts, but working to obey God together.  Pray together and then ask if he is ready to cooperate.  Begin again if he is and if he is not, tell him that learning is a privilege and that your time together for today is over.  Be firm, but do not recriminate.  Merely put the books away.  Be firm, but don’t reward him or recriminate. Do not spank a child for occasional complaining that some schoolwork is difficult, but admonish him to do all things without murmuring and complaining.  If it becomes a habit, then spank for complaining. Again, this is my suggestion for this particular situation.  Look to the Bible to design your own consequences.  Be sure the consequences are reasonable and consistent. Do not use manipulative or escalating consequences that grow as you become more frustrated.

The next day when you sit down to your school work, again show him the 3×5 Bible verse cards and goal card and talk about them together.  Next show him numbered lesson plan of everything you will be doing.  It could be laminated so that he can use a wipe off marker to check it off every day.  Keep that lesson plan list in front of him every day so that he always knows how much longer there is in the study time.  While you study together say encouraging things like, “We’ve finished number two, good! Now let’s move on to number three. We only have to work to number ten.  Keep going – you are doing a good job.”  Do this same routine every day, day in and day out.  Yes, day after day, even though you did it yesterday.  Don’t forget to do it today.  Review the verses, review the goals, and use the lesson plan sheet.  Do the lesson plan in the same order. Beginning to end.

When you reach a goal, make special note of it and celebrate.  Don’t give him presents but be very generous with praise and recognition.  Remind him that learning has its own rewards.  Renew your goals card and move ahead.

You may think this is very rigid.  It is.  It is exactly what this type of child needs.  It helps him to know where he is and where he is going.  It helps him to quantify his time and to be realistic.  It guarantees you will spend the time together that will ensure progress.  It reduces his resistance because he always knows what to expect and he knows that you will follow through.  He is not anticipating that the material will change or that the study time will change and he also learns not to challenge it.  This frees him up to concentrate on learning and success.

I hope this teaching strategy helps you.  I have used it successfully with many children.  All it takes is commitment on your part.  You may have to change your life a little.  You may lose a little of your flexibility, but you will be greatly rewarded and it will not last forever.  Once a resistant child develops the basic learning tools, he will often blossom before your eyes into the most remarkable and dedicated learner that you will ever know.

Randi St. Denis is an educator, popular homeschool speaker, and a seasoned homeschooling mom. Randi works as a consultant to public, private, and homeschool families; providing teaching expertise and assistance for all types of children. You can visit her website at

avatar Randi St.Denis (15 Posts)

Randi St. Denis, Director of Home Educators Encouragement Alliance (HEEA), is an educator, popular homeschool speaker, and a seasoned homeschooling mom. Using her degree in Educational Psychology, Randi works as a consultant to public, private, and homeschool families; providing teaching expertise and assistance for all types of children. She is recognized as an expert in the technical aspects of learning that allow every type of child, from special needs to gifted, the opportunity to learn well. Randi and her husband have homeschooled their seven children for the past 22 years; six of whom have gone on to college. The youngest is currently homeschooling.

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