Strong Willed or Age Appropriate?

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Hopefully you can help me in this situation. I am a mother of two wonderful boys ages 6 1/2 and 4. They are both very head strong and stubborn, not a bad quality for when they get older. My older son is in 1st grade and he is doing well, he knows the work. We had a tutor in the summer to reinforce kindergarten and prepare him for 1st, a teacher from the school. I was told he did not need a tutor but decided 1 day a week was good for him. I believe boys you can not let them lay stagnant all summer. The tutor advised that he was more then ready to move to 1st. But she was strict with him when he didn't feel like doing the work (that's where the strong willed comes in) like we are at home. Problem is he is in first grade does the work but not when the teacher tells him to. I find that the teachers who have children of their own understand. This teacher is a wonderful teacher, but very soft spoken. She has told me that my son loves the one on one attention, but there are 24 children in his class. I guess because I give him the one on one at home. She has told my husband and I that he is a good child—respectful, kind, very well mannered. But how do I get him to listen and do what is asked of him not when he feels like it, without changing his personality. I was wandering if a male teacher would work best? There are a few that teach 2nd grade. My 4 yr old is stubborn also. These children are well mannered respectful children. I believe a lot of it is maturity. I spoke to my pediatrician and was advised that there is no medical problem it is just sheer strong will. I would appreciate any help you can give me, I am Mom who loves her children and just wants to handle this the right way.

Sincerely, Gina


Dear Gina,

Your love for your children is so obvious, as is your desire to do the "right" thing. I'm not sure what the right thing is, but I would like to explore a few possibilities.

One of the many things I have learned is that labels are not very helpful or encouraging. I don't like to think of children as "strong willed". When we think about it, what does this really mean? Would we rather have a "weak willed" children? Would we rather have children who do not have a clue about their own will because they have been taught to be blind followers of the will of others?

Let's talk about other things that could be going on. Could it be that we expect too much of children academically before they are ready? Perhaps they resist because they feel overwhelmed and discouraged. When I taught Child Development at a community college in California I was impressed with a research project where they gave one group of children lots of math beginning in the first grade. The other group of children were not exposed to math until the third grade. Within three months the children who waited until the third grade to do math had surpassed the math skills of the group who had been struggling with math for two years before them. 

What the researches found is that the first group of children were very discouraged about their math abilities. Because they had been exposed to math before they were developmentally ready, many of them had "decided" they weren't good at math. (They didn't have the wisdom to know that it didn't have anything to do with them personally – just with the fact that they weren't yet developmentally ready.) Many had lost their confidence about their learning abilities. Some had become behavior problems.

The second group could hardly wait to get math problems. By the second grade they started to feel "deprived" because they knew kids in the other group were getting math. When they finally started learning math they were developmentally ready – and they didn't have the burden of discouragement and lack of confidence. They learned quickly and felt capable.

Many parents "push" their children in the name of love. They really want what is best for them. They don't understand how to see if from the child's point of view. And that children are making decisions about themselves based on their experiences: "Am I good or bad? Am I capable or incapable?" Most parents (and many teachers) don't know enough about child development to know what is age appropriate. Some know, but are pressured by the system to do things they know are not good.

You too are stuck with the dilemma of how do help your children do well in a system, even if it required more that what is developmentally appropriate. 
I hope you find this helpful – and I wish you the very best.

Jane Nelsen

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