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Why is My Child a Resistant Learner?

“I have a resistant learner.”  I hear this type of description often from new members regarding their children on my Homeschooling Creatively group, a yahoo list created in 2006 to support homeschooling parents of right-brained, creative learners.  (I now have a more active Facebook group as well.) In answer to this idea, I have heard many explain it as the natural consequence created by children who are being forced into doing things they do not want to do.  However, in raising my seven unique children, each has taught me the various ways resistance translates into a diverse communication tool.

For some children, resistance means, “You are not teaching me in the way that I understand.”  A funny thing happened to how I helped my daughter with math.  I have a houseful of right-brained learners, but my only daughter appears more whole-brained because of the gender factor, which means she chooses right-brained strategies for some activities and her female strengths allow her to choose left-brained strategies for others.  In math, she likes to learn in more of a left-brained fashion, with an additional need to write information down to process it.  I am left-brained as well and this processing style is how I naturally do any math needed.  However, because my other children taught me how to help them differently than my own style, I began to choose the alternative method first!  So, I would continually start to explain fractions, for example, to my daughter with, “Pretend we have a pie . . .”  Inevitably, she ran for the hills, and jokes with me to this day about that mismatched teaching method.  In her case, she simply went to her father, who gave it to her like she wanted it; straight up.  She wasn’t being resistant because she was unteachable.  She was resistant to my mismatched explanations.

Admire what they ARE doing, like building a phone.

Admire what they ARE doing, like building a phone.

In the same vein, resistance can mean, “You are not teaching me at my optimal learning time line.”  My builder son, a right-brained learner, was a prime example of this.  Most right-brained children begin to learn to read between the ages of 8-10 years old.  I have found builders tend to gravitate to the latter end of the timeframe; my builder son was no different.  However, at age 8, I tried 100 EZ Lessons with him.  In a few lessons, it was evident he just didn’t “get it.”  Along with that,  he showed some early signs of frustration which was my sign it wasn’t the right resource or time.  If I had continued, I would have earned resistance.  At age 9, I tried another strategy to introduce reading.  The same thing occurred as before.  At age 10, I offered Bob Books to him with a brief explanation as to how it was arranged, and he was interested in exploring it on his own.  Voila!  No resistance and eventual reading.  Right resource; right timing.

For some children, resistance can mean, “I’m not comfortable with this new experience you are offering me.”  When my oldest artist son was around 10 years old, I found out about an art camp being held in our city for the summer that focused on areas of art of high interest to him.  As I researched the opportunity, I discovered the format might be right up his alley.  However, because of his personality that was prone to rejecting new experiences, I was not surprised to receive resistance from him.  However, I was prepared to facilitate through the resistance in order that he might make a more informed decision.  But, it began with me.  I was always cognizant to make sure that my own motives were pure.  Did I really think my artist son would enjoy this, or did I have ulterior motives for encouraging his participation?  Once I was consciously assured there was no societal conditioning involved on my part, I could support my son through the process of his resistant tool.  I let him know that he could try it for a half hour and I would stay around while he decided if it was worth staying.  If he still didn’t like it, we could leave.  Well, before that half hour was over, he was already waving me out of the building.  The result was a child who wished it had lasted all summer.

For some children, resistance can mean, “I don’t have the skills necessary to accomplish the thing you are asking of me.”  My oldest son is a strong right-brained learner, and as such, he has the classic example of a messy, seemingly disorganized room.  When he was younger, we had worked together to come up with a plan to tidy up bedrooms on a weekly basis.  However, I met with resistance consistently.  As “intelligent” as he was, I couldn’t understand why he would be so “defiant.”  Well, intelligence has nothing to do with organization!  He truly didn’t have the skills necessary to clean his room in a way that made sense to him.  Once I offered him suggestions of various ways to clean a room, he chose one that sparked his desire and found that it worked fairly well for him.  Over time, he added another element or two that added to his ability to organize and clean his room.

Have them visualize their room into sections and clean each zone one at a time. At least some of the room will get cleaned before discovering something they had lost that inspires them to begin a new project.

Have them visualize their room into sections and clean each zone one at a time. At least some of the room will get cleaned before discovering something they had lost that inspires them to begin a new project.

Again, along the same lines, resistance can mean, “I don’t have the communication skills necessary to let you know what I need to make this work for me.”  During the 11-13 year old stage, I noticed my children were transitioning toward more formal schoolwork and goals.  Because I start slowly with supports in place, applying the good information I had gleaned from their previous stages on how they learn, the first part goes fairly smoothly.  However, when it is time to transition to a system that works for them to encourage more independence from my direct supports, I find that resistance can occur as they let me know that something isn’t working for them, and they don’t know how to adjust it to make it work.  I found my children were still not versed at verbalizing how to brainstorm or troubleshoot areas that were not working for them.  They needed a mentor to come in and recognize the need or the lack of workability in a system and put words to their resistant tool being used.  My fifth child has recently navigated this stage and I remember suggesting a system that might work for him.  A week or so into it, he lamented, “I just can’t DO this!”  I recognized the resistant tool being used and asked, “You were doing it well during this timeframe.  What has changed?”  “I don’t know!”  “Is it too much at one time?  Is it too spread out?  Do you still need help?”  We started to nail it down and discovered he DID need less at once, and he needed it condensed into one area, and he even didn’t know he could ask someone for help still by seeking out people!

For some children, resistance can mean, “I’m afraid to fail.”  I explain to parents of perfectionistic children that they have to become good “mistake buildmistakescoaches.”  These children tend to hold all or nothing types of viewpoints.  I’ve actually just come to realize another strategy to share with these children is that there is nothing (which gets you nothing), and there’s trying (which is the path to something and everything), and there’s all (which is what you hope to gain).  Trying is where most people have to start to get where they want to go.  Practice is another hopeful word for a perfectionist.  If it’s just “practice,” then perfect isn’t expected.  It’s kind of a form of trying.  I also taught my perfectionistic children to recognize emotions correctly, such as frustration, tired, hungry, angry, or disappointed that can interfere with joyful progress.  Another strategy as a mistake coach was to link back to past successes and hook into the attributes that helped him succeed previously.

Resistance is an underlying representation of what is not working for a person.  I listed just some of the ways the resistant tool has manifested itself through my children.  It is not a negative attribute if a parent can recognize it as the communication tool it is from unskilled and less experienced little people.  Our children need a facilitator that knows when to adjust resources or timeframes.  Our children need a mentor who can put a voice to what they are feeling or experiencing.  Our children need a wise counselor to share personal stories that show they understand fear and trepidation toward our hopes and dreams.  Many people use resistance to some level.  Hopefully, resistance recognized and addressed by an attentive facilitator and mentor while young eventually leads to a more effective communication tool used later as maturity and supported practice prevail.

Originally published by me in the Life without Schooling group blog on October 13, 2008.

What are more ways you have experienced where resistance was communicating something to you?

2 responses to “Why is My Child a Resistant Learner?

  1. When I became an adult, I had no idea that I had an option to resist anything. Over about ten years, I was faced with many situations where I had a strong feeling of resistance, but I simply would push that feeling down and do whatever I thought was right. It literally took a mental breakdown for me to realize that I needed to listen to myself! Now, when I feel a strong resistance to a situation or decision, I’m learning to stop everything and see what’s up!

    I think another word for this kind of resistance is INTUITION. Historically, children are not allowed to have intuition…although I believe their intuition is naturally higher because it hasn’t been muddled up yet by societal expectations, rules, standards, etc.

    I now admire my children’s resistance/intuition. I am glad that they have a voice and are not afraid to use it. Thanks for confirming what experience has taught me!

    • I think you are absolutely right, Beth! It is their way of telling you something doesn’t feel right and they are only doing what they know how to do to get that point across. You have given me yet another example of opportunities I took to model emotional intelligence with my children. By listening to their “voice,” even when it isn’t verbal, but non-verbal, I’m helping them understand themselves. I’m helping them sift out why they are responding the way they are and putting words to it for them. This, in turn, helps them trust themselves (their own intuition) and learn to eventually self-advocate. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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