11 Tips for working with strong-willed children

11 Strategies to Use with Strong-Willed Children

Heather Thomas School Counseling 8 Comments

I’m super excited to have Colleen, from the One Stop Counseling Shop, stopping by The Helpful Counselor to share strategies to use when working with a strong-willed (or defiant) child.

Welcome! Tell us a bit about yourself:

My name is Colleen and I’m a school social worker in a small rural district in Illinois. My caseload consists of general education and special education students who need help with social skills, conflict resolution skills, problem-solving skills, and general help getting through the day.
This year, I work with grades 2-6, but have worked with all grades K-12 in past years! I’m passionate about helping teachers work with students with behavior difficulties such as ADHD, ODD, or Bipolar Disorder and love seeing students who never thought they could do well in school “get it!”

What tip(s) would you like to share with us today?

Strong-willed children can be a challenge in the classroom. Below are several tips to help teach students with challenging behavior. You can explore these tips for supporting strong-willed children in this post on my blog.

Provide thorough explanations for rules or expectations.

Knowing what to expect is critical for help strong-willed kids feel secure.

Establish a contract for behavior and agree upon the rules and consequences.

Outlining each party’s “role” can help students feel like their opinion matters and that they have some control over the classroom environment.

Let students choose how to demonstrate knowledge (groups, presentations, worksheets, posters, teaching others, etc.)

Head-strong kids are often the ones the “traditional school model” doesn’t work well for. They’re often creative, inventive, and problem-solving kids who like to make their own rules and have their own thoughts about what is right and wrong. After all, they try to find their way around our rules all the time. Why not let them have a little choice every now and then?!

Be specific with rules and expectations!

Try to write expectations such as, “Keep hands and feet to yourself” rather than the overly general “Be Respectful.”

Be consistent in your rules and expectations.

Nothing more irritating to a headstrong kid than not being able to predict how an adult is going to react to a situation! Try to discipline consistently, calmly, and predictably.

Pick your battles.

No one likes a nit-picker. Imagine if your boss picked out every single thing you did wrong every day!

Stop Talking!

Be brief and to the point when needing to correct or redirect behavior. Long, drawn out explanations only make the embarrassment of being disciplined last forever and generally lead to resentment, not respect!

Give students ways to “save face.”

Discipline in private! Your attitude toward students will be mirrored by other students in your class! I hate seeing kids ostracized in 2nd grade because every adult in the building treats them like a criminal.

Use humor.

It’s a lot harder for kids to stay mad if you make a heavy situation light by using humor. Just make sure you’re not laughing at the child. For example, instead of, “How many times have I told you to stop running,” try “Hey bud! The floors are wet and I don’t want to have to pick up squished pieces of you off the floor. It’d be messy!”

Apologize if you need to.

Not only does this teach children that everyone (even adults) makes mistakes, but it shows them that you have respect for their dignity as a person as well.

Be on their team.

So with everything you do, think about you and I working together against the world. It’s amazing how much a mind shift can change your own feelings about and actions toward a difficult student!
One last point (from the headstrong adult): Defiant kids or those with ODD are not “destined” to be criminals as adults. We can’t know which of our students are going to succeed.

Defiant people have fought revolutions, marched for civil rights, started businesses, and molded the world we live in. If those before us simply accepted everything as it was, many of the rights and privileges we enjoy today would not be available to us. Be thankful for the defiant people in your life and don’t write off your difficult kids; just figure out ways to harness their “power” for good!

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