Helping the Headstrong Child Act, Learn, and Build (safely)

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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images-18By Melissa McQuarrie

David, my second son, is a bit of a rascal. Impulsive, headstrong, extremely intelligent—he kept my parenting skills honed to a razor-sharp edge throughout his life. His dream college was James Madison University, and after finally dedicating himself to getting the grades he needed (and taking an expensive SAT prep class) he was accepted. He loved college—maybe too much. Lots of partying, not a lot of academics, but he was smart enough to make it through with minimal effort and lots of fun. So, imagine my surprise when he came home at Christmas of his sophomore year and told me he wanted to leave school and join the military. He had decided, he said, that he was mostly attending college because “it was what I wanted” and that his true dream was to follow his father’s footsteps into the Navy. Interestingly, I was not part of that decision at all. He had already made it; unbeknownst to me, he had talked to recruiters, looked into his options, and made up his mind before breaking the news to me.

The insight I gained was that it was wise of him to recognize that he was following MY dream for him—not his. How insightful for a child to see his own true calling in spite of the path we feel would be best. It was my job as a parent, then, to get out of the way and allow him to be free and fulfilled. I had provided him with the opportunity I thought was right, and the wisdom and challenge for me became to let go when he was old enough to make his own choices. He is now serving his country and living the life he was meant to live.

As a parent, it is seldom easy to encourage our children to follow their own paths, especially when they diverge from the ones we’ve laid out for them. However, when we can see that they’ve thought through their hopes and dreams, and acted in ways big or small to manifest those dreams, then we’ve done our job as parents and can be assured that their lives are unfolding as they would want them to.


  • How do you react when your child chooses a path that you wouldn’t have chosen for him?
  • How do you respond to your ‘more difficult to manage’ child?


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