Raising a Strong Willed Child: We Get It Series

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I am the first admit that my 5 year old child is a strong willed little girl.  From early on in her toddler years we noticed she would have temper tantrums over simple things if there weren’t just so.  Bedtime has been a challenge over the years.  So has getting ready school with hair done and the right clothes.  Getting her to eat her food can be challenging too.  Sometimes a trip to the store can become a power struggle over a toy we didn’t need. 
  
Does this sound at all like your child? 
On brighter side of things I’ve also watch her create amazing designs and stories with great determination.  Learn to read at a very early age all by herself.  Solve puzzles and learn games easily.  Become an amazing big sister and little sister by helping and loving her sister and brother.  I’ve observed her expressing herself and her wants and needs to our family and to her friends.  Having a child with a strong voice is a good thing.  Having a child who feels deeply about things lets you know they are connected.  I think she is one of most special people I've ever met and love her to the moon and back and can't wait to see her as she grows and matures!  I hope that one day she will use these skills in some type of leadership role. 
Tips for Avoiding Power Struggles with Kids
What gifts do you see in your child?
However with all that being said, we still need her to follow our rules and maintain self-control in our home and when we’re out and about.  We’ve come up with 8 simple things that are working to give her the environment she needs to make her feel that she has a choice and does have power in her daily life.  Most power struggles begin from a child feeling that they are not in control which is something they seek very early on as a form of independence. 

Ask yourself...What are some ways to help your child feel like they are “in control” and have “a voice” even though you as the parent are in control of the environment and rules?  Here are some answers I've come up over the years with my own three children and hundreds of children in my classrooms.   

Strategies for Raising a Strong Willed Child

1. Keep your Calm Voice

First of all keep your cool when you sense that Strong Willed Child expressing those needs and wants in an uncontrolled way.  When children sense you’re being affected by their behavior they will continue because that means it’s working and they just might get their way, whether it’s good or bad behavior, if it’s working they’ll keep doing it.   You can also vocalize what you see their body language doing so that they become conscious of it too. 

2. Create Positive Choices using Consistent Rules

Create an environment of positive choices.  If you want them to pick up the toys and they are refusing, give them a choice that still ends in the result you want.  You might say “You can pick up the dolls or the princess stuff first?” or “It’s time to clean up.  You can pick up the red ones or the yellow ones” Either choice makes them have to clean up but you are giving her a choice which feels like power.  Be clear about your expectations and rules by talking about them when your child is listening and communicating calmly with you.   

3.  Create Goals Together and Chart It

Whenever we observe an undesired behavior arising we try to resolve it by encouraging her to come up with a Behavior Management Chart .  We sit down together on the computer and create a chart.  She helps us to write the rule and theme.  Then we print it out and she decorates it and hangs it up.  We’ve created it together and she feels that she’s had a voice, a part of the control that she’s seeking.  All it takes is a week or two with the chart and we’ve seen a big improvement with that specific behavior issue.  It’s worked for staying in her bed at night, combing her hair, watching TV, cleaning up toys, eating her food, controlling temper tantrums.  Truthfully it’s worked over the years in my classrooms and it very easily works at home.  Pick a goal and work with your child for a few weeks and you will see such a difference. 
Avoiding Power Struggles with Kids

4.  Create Structure and Routine

We’ve found that she functions much better when things were told in advance and structured for her.  When she knows the weekly schedule and the daily schedule she’s easily able to predict what’s going to happen next.  Children thrive on structure in their lives and the predictability of it. 

5.  Pick your Focus Keeping Safety First

We've also learned that you have to pick your battles with a strong willed child.  First and foremost safety first and there are no exceptions to those rules.  However in order to successfully experience each day with your child, sometimes you have to focus on a specific area and reach that goal before you can address other goals. 

6.  Create the Art of Distraction

We’ve found that distraction can help to prevent some strong willed behaviors.  As we see it coming we try to find a task, job or interest that will take her to a different thought process. 

7. Take Care of Basic Needs First

We’ve learned to ask ourselves 3 questions when we find our child choosing a strong willed behavior. Are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they getting enough attention from me? Many times the whole situation could have been avoided if we made sure these simple needs were met. Think of those outbursts at the park, on vacation or at Disney and you just can’t understand why and then you realize they are off their schedules, haven’t had a nap and did not eat all their breakfast. Yeap… basic needs first.

8.  Create Simple Systems that are Predictable

We had trouble getting ready for school with choosing outfits that she wanted to wear. As you know most 4 & 5 year old girls would wear a dress every single day if they could, plus we had to deal with uniforms this year too. We came up with a simple solution. Every Sunday she picks out her outfits and puts them into the Days of the Week Holder. She picks, from a selection I've set out, the outfit, socks, hair bow and shoes. We’re giving her a sense of control as she selects her outfits. Plus it keeps us organized for when we have to leave for school so early in the mornings. Then on those mornings where she is having a strong willed moment and doesn’t want to wear something we simply remind her that she choose that day what to wear and needs to stick with her plan. 

Back to School Organization

Things to Remember for Parenting a Strong Willed Child

  • Children need love, attention and praise
  • Children need boundaries, structure, and consistency
  • Children need goals that are achievable
  • Children need a positive safe environment with positive choices
  • Ask yourself does my child need sleep, food, or more attention from me?

Tips for Avoiding Power Struggles with Kids

Additional Resources for Strong Willed Children 

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57 comments:

  1. Distraction and redirection will not teach what the correct behavior should be. Aside from this, great tips!

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    1. Thanks! Sometimes you have to pick your battles with a strong willed child and these are preventative measures to be able to find those teachable moments.

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    2. Exactly. Because all teachings have to be age appropriate. "discipline" means nothing to th youngest of toddlers

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  2. Kim these are great ideas! I like how you have included a variety of ideas as I know things work differently for my kids in different situations. I just adore how you have structured your morning routine to help give your daughter control ahead of time with her outfit choices and I am looking for something to organize this for next year!!!

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    1. Thanks Amanda! I'd love to hear if you have some more suggestions to add to the list of what works well with your kids too?

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  3. Thank you for this post! My daughter is 2yrs old and is extremely strong willed. It has taken me a while to catch on, but I use some of the same strategies that you have listed and WOW! was a difference it has made. With her, communication is big! You have offered some ideas for obstacles that I will run into in the future. Thanks again.

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    1. I'm so glad you stopped by and shared. 2 years old is a busy time when they are ready for the world but also learning to talk and not always able to express themselves and their wants and needs. Can cause lots of temper tantrums. I'm glad you found some things here to prepare for the near future.

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  4. These are awesome! Its also a good reminder for myself that each child is different and I cant parent all my girls the same! My second born is definitely a strong-willed child and I can already see how these will work for her. (we already do a lot of this at home now) The goal chart is my favorite! We are going to do this today!! Thank you!!

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    1. Thanks Jannell! I hope that the goal chart will work out for you. Keep in mind when creating it to consider picking one goal you know she'll achieve easily, children need to feel successful. Then you can pick one desired goal that she can work on.

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  5. I love this! It is great. A nice reminder about how each of my girls is different.

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    1. Thanks Cassie! Each one of my children have been very different, for the most part in teaching these strategies have worked pretty well for me over the years.

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  6. This is really awesome! I love how you kept control over the problem areas by helping her feel more control over them. Genius! I tweeted and stumbled this post.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, the more tools parents can have in their pockets the better it is for everyone.

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  7. Thanks, I think this is a great article. I know many of these tips have worked with my kids and I'm going to try the new ones I learned!

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    1. Bethany I'm so glad you found a few new ones, you'll have to let us know how they work out.

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  8. Great tips! I feel so identified, having a strong willed child myself. Will most definatly try some of your tips!

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    1. Thanks, I hope you'll be able to use them with your little one too!

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  9. Some great comments that make me feel more positive. My daughter is 2 coming on 15 I think! However like you have mentioned she is very creative, talkative and confident. It is funny as I have adopted some of these techniques without realising it. I love the idea about getting ready in a morning at what age did you start this process?

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    1. We started it at when Kindergarten started at age 5, althought we probably could have started it sooner in Preschool since that was when I noticed some frustations with getting dressed with the things I was picking out. It's funny becuase my son could have cared less even though becoming a teenager of what to wear. Every child is unique.

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  10. Great ideas! What does the goal chart look like? I take it from the comments you can use it with more than one goal at a time? Do you and/or your child then rate themselves on how successful they were in achieving their goals each day? Thanks for the idea!

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  11. Oh my goodness! This post feels like it was written about my 6yr old daughter. Ever since she was 2 it has been a constant battle. Everyone kept telling me "oh its the terrible 2s" then "terrible 3s" eventually it just became oh no she is just a strong willed little girl. She fought with me today because I gave her kool-aid with her meal instead of milk. I am going to have to print this out and post it where I can see it on a daily basis. I did the clothes organizer last year for kindergarten and it was a life saver. I am really going to need it now that her school closed and we are going to public school and so no more uniforms. I cant wait for those battles! They really do need structure. This is why part of me is not a big fan of summer vacation bc their structure of school comes to a stop. Now I have to build a structure during the summer which is hard bc we are always doing something different each day. Then it is back to the structure of school. I am trying to find a good way of transitioning from one to the other. Thanks for the great tips I need them.

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    1. Thanks Katherine for sharing... it's good to hear that sometimes there are children who just need more structure in their lives. I hope the beginning of school goes well for everyone. I would try to do the same thing with clothes so that mornings aren't a battle for you.

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  12. I have a four year old strong willed little girl. We run a highly structured house because of her. It has helped a lot. However, one area that just hasn't gotten better is drop off time at the sitter. She loves the sitter, and never wants to leave. So I know it is a transition issue. She goes 3 days a week to the sitter, and every day from Aug to May last year, she cried (screamed!) because I would not carry her from the van to the house. I have a two year old also, I do not carry either one of them. I have to pick this battle or they will both want to be carried (that and she is 4!) Do you have any suggestions? I go back to work next week (I am a teacher) and am really dreading drop off time. Thanks!!

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    1. Debi we had trouble with my daughter with the gym daycare and we started to talk about it more and more when we weren't there and how much fun it is to be able to go to your own school, we called it that even though it was just a sitter. We made a little book about it. The other thing we did was have an item that transitioned with us from each place, it was a little doll. We also had a planned activity for when she arrived at the daycare. She loved to color so she would get to pick her own little coloring sheet out and it worked out really well. I'm sharing our little school book next week on our site so perhaps you can print it off and create it with her. Again another option it to talk about the ways to get to the sitter's door from your car... have a handful of ideas like butterflies, birds, rabbits, big bears. Feel free to email us and I can give you more ideas.

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  13. Thanks! This is a great list! I have a feeling (oh such a certain one) that my baby daughter is strong willed! She is SO determined! And feisty! Nothing at all like my easy going son! Actually, she is rather like me! I wonder if you have taken the quiz to see if your daughter is also highly sensitive? She sounds like she might be! I think mine is, as I am. I think being highly sensitive and strong willed often go hand in hand!

    here's the quiz in case you are curious: http://hsperson.com/pages/test_child.htm

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    1. Thanks Kimberellie for the kind words and for the link!

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  14. Wow, great ideas! My Little guy is super easy, but I know there is a chance that I will someday have a strong willed child. I am pinning this in case I ever do :)
    I would love to have you link this up to my linky party! http://domesticrandomness.blogspot.com/2012/08/friday-fascinations-3-everything-linky.html

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    1. Thanks for linking up to Friday Fascinations! Don’t forget to link up to this week’s party! http://domesticrandomness.blogspot.com/2012/08/friday-fascinations-4-everything-linky.html

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  15. Great ideas, I have read some of them before and implemented many of them with my VERY strongwilled, red-headed, daughter. Something else that took us a LONG time to figure out was change. She hates change and so when we were out on a playdate, park, etc and she was happily playing she would pitch a ROYAL fit when we said time to go. So we started getting her undivided attention and gave her a warning, "In 10 minutes we have to go" and made sure she understood, then we would give her the 5 minute warning and when it came time to actually go, she would come without incident. I think letting her warm up to the change in activity or venue has helped us tremendously.

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    1. This is a terrific tip... in the classroom I used to have a timer that would I set with a little ding or a song as a clue for my students that you can five more minutes before we're moving to the next thing. Think about if you were in the middle of doing something and all of a sudden your spouse said get on your shoes we're leaving. Transitions are a big stuggle for children if they don't know the routine of things.

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  16. This is such a great list! My daughter has been strong willed since the day she was born. Some of these tips we already use & some I will keep in mind as she gets older! Its very true "Think of those outbursts at the park, on vacation or at Disney and you just can’t understand why and then you realize they are off their schedules, haven’t had a nap and did not eat all their breakfast. Yeap… basic needs first." Also we have realized if mommy or daddy are stressed(be it from home, work or just life in general) she feeds off it & we have more outbursts. Thank you for this great post!

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    1. Thanks Stacey for your kind words. I agree stress can add so much to a family and how children react.

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  17. Thank you so mcuhf or this. I knew I had pinned for good reason and reading it again now I've had an awe ha moment! We do everything except the chart. Today we are creating a behavior chart, I feel like have something to try instead of just feeling frustrated. Thank you so much!

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    1. You'll have to let us know how the behavior chart works and what goals you're starting with. Good luck!

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  18. I am honestly going to try this with my fiancé! I've already done a chores schedule, so we will see if it works...been a bit frustrating lately. Thanks for the post!

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  19. I'd love to know more about what you do at bedtime. My four year old daughter sounds so similar to yours and bedtime - staying in bed is such a struggle and source of much frustration in our house. Thanks!

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  20. Thank you so much for posting this. I thought my child was the only one, she isn't bad she just is so HARD HEADED in her own ways. I have three kids and my four year old can make or break a day, some days Im at wits end and I think your suggestions are amazing. Its also nice to know Im not alone.

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  21. I was a strong willed child and some of these ideas would have helped me growing up. I'm sure I'll have a strong willed child and these tips will help me in that adventure some day :) Thank you.

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  22. Would be amazing if you could do a pin board for strong willed children. Examples such as the clothing organizer which is GENIUS!

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  23. I believe I have a strong willed 3 year old little girl!! She drives me crazy at times, but then there are those times she blows me out of the water!!! We have found that art is very soothing for her, give her color crayons or paint anything and she is so focused on that and I can see her mind just going into whatever she is making!!! One problem we are having is at our church's childcare (or any situation with new people or new settings) we have been at the same church and she has been in the same class for 10 months now and still has not said a word to anyone or played with any kids! Is this part of her strong will? If so, any suggestions? Doctors are wanting to diagnose her with an anxiety disorder, but I'm wondering if its just her strong will. It seems like her biggest problem in these settings is that she has no control. She wont even talk to me in these situations. Any advice would be helpful!!!!

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  24. Great ideas! the link didn't work for the article on strong willed spirited child.

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    1. I just fixed the link, not sure what happened. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know Nichole.

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  25. Maybe mine is more strong willed then most because I have tried many of those and none seem to work. Distraction worked until she turned two. Giving her choices doesn't work unless one of the choices is exactly what she wants. Keeping a calm voice hasn't worked, she makes me think she likes me to yell. I could continue on and on. I'm at my wits end with this one! On a more positive note many of these tips worked on my oldest daughter.

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  26. I could have wrote every word of this about my daughter. Thanks so much for the post; definitely pinning it :) I always laugh at what my sister-in-law once said, "We want our kids to be strong-willed and have opinions of their own...just not around us!"

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  27. I really appreciate this post. I have a strong willed 2nd grader. I didn't read all the comments but a common thread with strong willed children seems to be difficulty with transitions. This is one of my sons greatest struggles. I have a few things I'd like to share that worked with him. His school has been very accommodating to his needs. He is a very bright student but he struggled in the less structured parts of the day/ transition times. Two major things were done. 1. He is offered "bridge activities" a smaller activity to get him from point A to point B. Some might think it's creating more transitions but for him it's worked. Also for classes he had trouble settling into, e.g., music he has an activity basket. His teachers told him that he could sit with his activity basket after 15 minutes of engaged time in music. And slowly built up from there to where he usually participates for the full hour. He likes to draw so his basket has mainly art supplies in it. At home, at school...wherever in my mind the most important thing is positive reinforcement. Catch them being good, staying on task, doing something that they often struggle with. Have that BIG reaction then! This goes miles with my guy. Conversely butting heads with him is a big loose, loose situation. And everyone feels defeated, frustrated and mad afterwards. Encourage teachers to give your kids "caught being good" tickets for behavior they want repeated. My son's teachers do this and we have a rewards system at home that's centered around the "caught being goods" I'm thinking of handing them out at home for fun and even more positive reinforcement!

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  28. Hi Kim, I’m Anne from Life on the Funny Farm (http://annesfunnyfarm.blogspot.com), and I’m visiting from the Kids Activities Blog Hop.

    Ah, the strong-willed child. I've had my share of those! Not easy, but as you pointed out in your excellent post, they have their rewards, too. They're a special breed, aren't they?

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. If you’ve never visited yet, I hope you can pop by my blog sometime to say hi…

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  29. I loved this! I was a strong willed child and my poor parents had ZERO clue about how to parent me(I knew what I needed, but I was the child, what did I know?). There was a lot of restriction and very little positive reinforcement. Knowing this about myself(and my husband)I am preparing for the day when we too will have a whip-smart, strong willed child of our own. Of course we could get lucky and have an easy-going child like our siblings.....one can only hope...right?!!

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  30. These directions will do me good. I am so happy i've discovered it.

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  31. Thank you so much for sharing your advice. I have a strong willed 6 year old and although we are doing a lot of the things you mentioned I will implement more structure during our morning routine. This might help to get us to school on time in the mornings

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  32. Good article on, well, those tough cookies of ours!

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  33. I have a wonderful son who is very strong willed is very smart but,will not produce what he knows in school.He's repeating first grade next year. I cant help feeling like a bad parent..although I know he knows I love him with all my heart. It seems like he's pushing me away as he gets older. We do thing together, we talk, it just always seems that he's going threw something.He's never been disrespectful, yet now he's talking out in class a lot. I've done behavior charts. a weekly allowance for being the best he can be.

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  34. love love LOVE your advice about parenting a strong willed child!!! I have a question- may you all can help me out with THIS situation:
    My nephew is 3...in December his mom went to the hospital, gave birth to his lil brother.. He went literally overnight from being an only child to an older brother- from getting ALL of the attention to now only getting SOME of it.
    Ok Question:
    When he comes to our house, which is like everyday for my mother in law to take care of him and his mom takes care of the new baby... HERE I can easily keep him calm and under control. We've established rules and consequences. I've taught him to say "please and thank you" excuse me and all of those 'magic words' The problem is, my mother in law, who lives with us, does not follow these methods and at home he basically does whatever he wants...When he is here he is so fun to be with, but he's started becoming very aggressive and screaming and so rude and impolite. When he's with ME, I don't tolerate him "ordering" me to give him a drink or whatever. I say to him "what do you say?" and then he changes and says "PLEASE can I have a drink?" How in the heck do I get his grandmother and his mother to start being consistent and routine with this child? He is a lot of fun -with me- but when his other family members are around he's like a completely different child! A monster who I simply don't like to be around.
    Any advice?
    Thanks-
    Tara

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  35. These are great ideas. My dad always told me that it's good to have a strong willed kid because they
    grow up to be more independent. For now it's certainly difficult.

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  36. This is great! Thanks for the helpful info. The links for the charts for #3 do not work. I'm looking for sample charts to help with my child. Could please provide the links to the charts?

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  37. I love this! My oldest son has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety. We are now homeschooling (which was never in our plan) because public school just wasn't working for him. I am interested in following along with this series. My goal for 2014 is to tell my story and our strategies as well.

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