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Help! My Child Loves Structure, but I’m a Free Spirit (and Other Opposite-Personality-Style Clashes)

By Stacey Wolking
HSLDA Early Years Coordinator

I love hearing from parents as they try to create the best learning environment for their children. You all impress me every day with your passionate, innovative, and unique approaches to teaching your children!

But what I love to hear about the most is the self-awareness I see in so many homeschooling parents. Many moms tell me of their struggles with providing enough structure for a type-A child, when they are self-described fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants gals. I hear the frustrated lament of an ultra-organized dad trying to motivate a free-spirited child, or a home-body parent teaching a love-to-get-out-of-the-house social butterfly student.

Whether you are any of these types—or the reverse—don’t despair! Everyone has his or her own unique strengths. I’ve learned that the trick is to use your gifts, while allowing your students the freedom to develop and use theirs.

Here are my favorite tips and ideas for making the most of personality clashes.

Are You OR Your Child Organizationally Challenged?

Establishing a routine can be a good compromise for the organizationally challenged. Most kids thrive with routines, as they love knowing what to expect. Experts tell us that routines help kids to feel safe and secure, and they enable us parents to get more done and establish good habits.

One of the best ways to start a new routine or habit is to attach it to an already existing one—like making the bed before breakfast, putting away toys before watching a favorite show, or reading right after dinner.

For more tips on establishing a routine, check out these articles:

If you’re the organizationally challenged one, be sure to utilize the skills of your organized child. Not only will he accomplish all kinds of things (that you often dream about), but he will also feel great about himself because he is making a practical contribution to the family. Being able to do something better than their parents is a real boost to children’s confidence!

How can your children flex their organizational muscles? Maybe you could have them plan the meals/menus/shopping list, or make a meal by themselves. Another option is to have them plan routines for themselves or for the family. For younger children, you could ask them to organize a closet or drawer or brainstorm an organizational solution to an ongoing messy area.

Learning to Compromise

Balance is another essential when you and your child are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s important to find what works for both you and your child, even if that isn’t exactly what you or he would prefer.

One approach is to try negotiating with your child. In the case of the home-body and the social-butterfly child, begin with both you and your child making a list of all the out-of-the house activities you would each would like to participate in—and then work from there. Strike a balance that you can both live with, or come up with alternate weekly plans that accommodate both of you. Not only are you teaching your kids how to compromise, but you’re also helping them feel heard and understood.

In another example of opposites, maybe you’re like me and feel absolutely void in the imagination department, yet you have a visionary and creative child. It’s important that we find ways to feed their needs. Here are some helpful tips for nurturing a child’s imagination (even if you don’t feel like you have much of one yourself).

Making a Gameplan

Working towards balance means you have to be intentional as you take into account both your needs and your child’s.

One way to do that is to start a daily goals notebook. Jot down just three things you would like to accomplish for the next day. They could be as simple as playing a game with the kids, or clearing the kitchen counter—or they could be more involved, like tackling a big project.

Even though I had very good intentions of stepping out of my comfort zone to accommodate my children’s different needs, I found that unless I made a plan, it would usually never happen. The good news is that by being intentional, finding little ways to accommodate their different styles did get easier for me and began to come more naturally.

Flexing Your Freedom

And lastly, as soon as you can, give your students the freedom to do school their way as long as they complete the work in the allotted time.

For instance, if you give them a week’s worth of assignments, some kids will put their nose to the grindstone and crank it out early in the week in hopes of a free day on Friday. Others might want to complete an entire week’s worth of each subject at a time, and still others will just methodically work through the daily schedule. And yes, there will be some who work best under pressure—they’ll half-heartedly work for the first few days of the week and then get cranking as the week is nearing the end.

Remember that there is no wrong way—what’s important is finding what works best for each child. So let them make it their own.

These are just a few ideas for making the most of personality clashes. Let’s celebrate our differences by encouraging the strengths of our children even when—no, especially when—they are different from our own.

Routines, compromising and negotiating, making a game plan, stepping out of our comfort zone, and giving our kids the freedom to do things their way are all useful tools for meeting our children’s needs which will increase their emotional security and confidence as well as reduce everyone’s stress. So give them a try!

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