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Homeschooling the Rebel, Part 2

  • Deborah Wuehler The Old Schoolhouse
  • Updated Jul 30, 2009
Homeschooling the Rebel, Part 2

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Ever feel like you are raising one of Joseph’s deceptive brothers as described in the Bible instead of a valiant Joseph? Or one of David’s bitter and prideful brothers instead of a courageous David? Ever feel like you are raising a brutal Cain instead of a righteous Abel? I’m talking about that one child who brings you to tears or to your knees—someone I call a rebel.

You know the type: those dear children who are very bright—so smart they can be manipulative and put you in a corner with their words before you know where the conversation is even going. They can find good reasons for not obeying and find creative ways of getting out of work. They are so full of themselves that they become fools.

These are the ones who are highly emotive and eruptive, sulky and moody, extremely hyper to extremely depressed. They have a way of making extremely drained parents—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

These are the types of children that aren’t supposed to belong to good Christian homeschool families. They are the ones who look good in public but behind closed doors wreak havoc on the peace of the home. We train them up in the way they should go, and they go the opposite direction—on purpose and with fury. We can feel shame, guilt, and self-condemnation. We question ourselves: What did we do wrong? Are there any answers? Will this ever end?

In answer to the overwhelming response we received to Part 1 of “Homeschooling the Rebel,” (Summer 08—you can order a copy of that back issue from our online Schoolhouse Store,, I now give you Part 2. Part 1 was written about one of my children who was born rebelling and wore our family thin, especially between the ages of 9 and 12.

Following is the long-awaited update. I will keep it gender non-specific to guard my child’s identity as I share practical ideas and insights in dealing with a rebel, including input from my child. I also hope to share some of the blessings of being chosen by God to raise a rebel.

Here are some things I have learned about parenting and homeschooling the rebel:


As I sat my rebel down to talk about how far we have come, I asked about what I could have done differently in those extremely trying years. The answer surprised me: “More consistency.” Looking back, I remembered being pretty consistent, but was I always consistent? No. And because I wasn’t consistent 100% of the time, my rebel would push the limits 99.9% of the time just in case I would overlook it this one time. When I did realize that, I tried hard to keep my word on every threat or warning of punishment, and we began to see inklings of change.

The Words of a Former Rebel: “I would see how far over the line I could go and still get away with it. When my mom wasn’t consistent, I pushed it to the limit every time. When she started to keep his/her word on punishments and follow through every time, I began to realize I wasn’t going to get very far. The times that she said I wouldn’t get to go somewhere special with the family if I continued my disrespect, and then found myself alone with a babysitter while they were all away, made a real impact on me. I was horrified.”

Looking back, I should have been much more consistent not only with discipline, but with a set bedtime, wake time, and meal times. There should have been more consistency with chores and schoolwork. Change was not only difficult for my rebel to deal with, but it was almost impossible because of the disturbance it would cause in his/her spirit and in the whole family. Consistency and regularity bring stability to the whole family, but especially to this one who is easily distracted or highly disturbed by any change in routine. If you tend to be spontaneous, you may need to change your own habits to reflect more constancy, which can bring peace to your days and especially to your rebel. These types of children need to know what’s going to happen and when. They need to know what will happen if . . . , and they need to know that Mom and Dad will always follow through.

Breaking the Procrastination Cycle

There were days that were so intense and difficult that schoolwork never happened for this child. Procrastination or distraction by other things often resulted in the loss of several days of productive schoolwork. One full day with Dad at his workplace with a backpack full of schoolbooks made short work of catching up on those unproductive days. Many play dates or extracurricular activities were denied because of unfinished schoolwork and chores or, most importantly, because of lack of obedience or respect.

The Words of a Former Rebel: “Procrastination makes things much worse. You miss the fun times with the family and you rarely get to see your friends. You get in a bad cycle and have a constant miserable feeling. You go to bed feeling guilty and feeling like you can never change and wake up feeling like you can never get caught up, so you don’t even try.”

So how did we help our rebel break the cycle of procrastination? We talked about ways to facilitate success together. We prayed and asked for God’s strength together. We came up with practical things to ease the load. We decided to cut math lessons down, not requiring every problem to be solved, as math was a real Achilles’ heel. We took away any frivolous busywork that didn’t provide any new knowledge. Our rebel acquired knowledge and retained things quickly, so we decided that we didn’t need anything repetitious. We found friends who were using the same curriculum, which helped stir up a little friendly competition (which our rebel enjoyed).

Tangible rewards were the best motivators. Free time was not an effective reward for our rebel, because it just ended up being “more of the same.” Let me explain. Throughout the day the rebel wasted time on distractions, so to be offered more free time (which would most likely be frittered away) was not an appealing offer, at least not as appealing as something tangible. Telling the rebel about the potential for rewards early in the day helped our rebel stay on course. When our rebel was younger, we offered rewards that were tangible and given immediately (books, treats, picnics, movies). As they have grown, the rewards are more like “gifts of time,” such as spending time with Mom on a shopping trip, having a friend over, renting a favorite movie, or making a favorite food together.


Distractions were a huge factor in our rebel’s habit of procrastination. Everything distracted our rebel. He/She had the ability to simultaneously process input from all the senses and keep track of it all! Some would call that “over-stimulation of the senses.” It literally drives our rebel crazy to hear and understand everyone’s conversations and household noises and take in the sights and smells from everywhere in the house in a family the size of ours!

And yet, this is what our rebel has to put up with. Knowing that, we have tried to keep school time a (semi) quiet time, isolating the rebel in a quieter place to do schoolwork, and we have tried to arrange things (such as our morning routine) in a way that helps this child avoid the pitfall of distractions.

The Words of a Former Rebel: “It helped me to listen to books on tape or music (or wear an MP3 player) while doing chores. That kept me from being distracted by anything else and kept me on task. It also helped to have a chore chart to mark off the things I had done and see what else was left to do. Routine was helpful as well. Some days I try to wake up earlier and do my schoolwork when nobody is awake and then eat breakfast with my family. This allows me some quiet time. Then, while my siblings are doing school, I’m doing my chores. Then I get to play for the rest of the day!”

The establishment of simple, daily, morning routines helped lay a foundation for a successful start each day. Certain things needed to happen every day. This was our simplified routine for our rebel: Upon waking, get dressed for the day and do morning chores. Eat breakfast and then start schoolwork (no lunch until schoolwork was done). Eat lunch, and then do afternoon chores. Free time began when all else was done and checked off the list. Keeping an unchanging list that can be checked off each day by that child will give him/her a sense of accomplishment and a goal to work toward—it gives the rebel that “end in sight” that is really needed.

Bad Habits

Being consistent has a side benefit: it can help anyone, including a rebel, form good habits. Of course, bad habits also can be formed if the individual rebels consistently.

The Words of a Former Rebel: “Fighting, arguing, and rebelling became a habit, even over the simplest things. I would rebel against something as simple as sweeping the floor, and then we would go through this whole cycle of me fighting, arguing, and rebelling, leading to punishment. Then I would ask myself, ‘Why couldn’t I just have swept the dumb floor?’ It was because I had made rebellion a habit.”

Breaking bad habits comes as a result of being consistent with discipline and having the same punishment every time. A good habit I would encourage moms of rebels to have is to speak Biblically at every opportunity. When you are dealing with your rebel, speak the Word into his or her heart and ears. When we don’t know what to do, the Word of God is quick and powerful and able to divide between the soul and spirit. Pray with your rebel often! Talk about ways that he or she can handle himself or herself better.

When your rebel lacks self-control, keep telling him that he needs to put himself under God’s control. Whatever you repeat over and over will become something your rebel will remember. Isaiah 55:16–11 gives us these words of promise and truth: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near . . . .As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. . . . My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”


Simplicity is key. Studying basic core subjects with no frills helped. Realize that a child can be academically successful by simply concentrating on basic Bible, math, and language. Everything else could be introduced and learned by reading good books. If your rebel doesn’t like reading, you can read aloud while he is doing something constructive with his hands, or your rebellious child can listen to books on tape.

We have found that a lot of these kids are not just purposely being unbearable, but instead they are really gifted. After doing a lot of research in an attempt to figure out my rebel’s behavior, I finally stumbled upon this enlightening website entry, which described our rebel perfectly:

We let our rebel be in charge of teaching siblings a subject once a week, but we monitored the situation. It helped this child realize concretely how a student needs to be teachable and that a teacher gets nowhere when there is resistance.

Hands-on academics are helpful to those who need to use all their senses to stay on task. Music instruction gives them a good outlet for pent-up emotions and uses all of their senses in a positive, productive way.

The Words of a Former Rebel: “I am more of a hands-on type of person, so that kind of curriculum helped make schoolwork more enjoyable.”

“I play piano and am now learning how to play guitar, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while but was never able to learn because of constant school to catch up on. Now that I am older, I realize the benefits of staying caught up.”


There were a few especially difficult times over the years when we felt the need for intervention. Everything we were trying was just not working. We were stuck in a rut and our rebel was getting worse. We decided that we needed a safe place where our rebel could go and think about his/her actions and be held accountable for them by someone other than my husband and me.

We found family members who shared our moral values and strong convictions and who were willing to take our rebel under their wings for several weeks at a time. This gave both our rebel and us a needed break, as we all needed help, both physically and emotionally. Our family enjoyed a blessed time of peace in the home while our rebel was away, although I was in agony of heart over my rebel and continued both night and day in intercession for this much-loved child. This also helped the rebel appreciate his/her own home and rules and learn to appreciate his/her own given boundaries. The rebel’s homesickness also prompted a deeper appreciation of his/her parents and siblings. The rebellious child came home a changed person and gained some maturity in having to practice self-control for an extended period of time under someone else’s authority. Christian camps or classes taught by other homeschooling moms put this child under another’s rule, which was helpful in learning accountability and developing maturity.

Another form of intervention came through pastoral counseling. When our rebel mentioned in passing that he/she felt like such a failure that he/she didn’t feel like living any more, we knew it was again time for outside intervention. We set up several appointments with our pastor and enlisted many close friends to pray. It helps to have other adults on your side speaking into your child’s life; requesting your pastor’s involvement is one way to do this. Don’t let the seeming embarrassment of having a rebel in your family keep you from asking for help and support. There were times when friends would know just when to offer to take my rebel for the day to give us all a breather. After all, we don’t always consider it, but these kids are really “special needs” kids, and we need some respite occasionally.

Helpful Hints

Here are some tips I have learned in this journey with my rebel:

- When your rebel is young, give your rebel the least amount of choices possible. Making choices can frustrate him and you. You make the choices for him. As he gets older, giving him choices related to chores or curriculum becomes an earned privilege and helps him learn responsibility.

- Let offenses go quickly. Don’t draw out the discipline all day. After discipline has taken place for each offense, start over in your heart and don’t hold a grudge. It’s very easy to hold a grudge, because you can become frustrated about the great amount of time the rebel is taking up in your day. His training is more important than getting that load of laundry done. Letting offenses go speaks more to your child than even the discipline. The Word of God, whether we realize it right then or not, does its work in the hearts of our children, so we must fill ourselves with it so much so that it flows out of us to them.

- When you are purposely not frustrated and have self-control of your own emotions, your child will learn more quickly how to do the same. Don’t get angry with the child; he is not the enemy. Get angry with the enemy of their souls. Keep a quiet voice; harsh words will stir up your own anger.

- Actively love the child. We tend to want to withhold blessings and affection until they are earned. Especially on hard days, find ways to bless your rebel in between flare-ups. Make him a cup of hot cocoa, or give him a hug and a back rub. Give him a high-five when you notice him doing anything positive.

- Keep track of his blood sugar level. Is he eating enough protein regularly? Limit the sweets.

- Be in unity with your spouse. Agree together on how to deal with your rebel. If your child thinks you are not in agreement, he will try to manipulate one or both of you.

- Teach these concepts regularly: small decisions reap big consequences, you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7–8), judging others brings about the same judgment for yourself (Romans 2:1), God is merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6).

- Win the heart of the rebel by taking time to listen. Rather than always “preaching” at him (although there is definitely a place for that!), offer encouragement, support, and prayer. Let him know about your own struggles and how you have overcome them.

- Become a prayer warrior. Spending time with God in prayer and intercession is where I have learned most about “the fellowship of His suffering.” He knew the suffering I was going through as my heart was breaking for my child. I could feel His heart breaking for His own wayward children. I knew personally His intercession for all saints and that He, too, was praying for my child. I wouldn’t exchange that time of communion for anything this world has to offer. 

- Praying over your children day and night is essential to survival and growth. Praying with your child not only invites him into that special relationship you have with your Father, but it also models how to cast his cares upon Him and shows him that he doesn’t have to stay the way he is—that there is Someone greater than himself who can help control him when he doesn’t know how to control himself. Whenever he comes to you with a problem, pray. Your rebellious child may resist and make you feel like that’s all you ever do, but some day he will thank you for it and look back and remember it for the lasting legacy it really is.

- On those days when you feel like there is no hope, memorize and then meditate on this verse: “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.” (Lamentations 3:21–25) 

Questions and Answers

We can have a lot of questions when raising a rebel. Ephesians 6:10–18 has the answers:

Where do we find strength?

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

What can we do when we feel attacked or manipulated?

Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 

Is our child the enemy? Just whom are we fighting?

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

How do we do battle? 

Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

What kind of armor should we wear? How do we protect ourselves?

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace

How do we defeat the enemy?

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

What do we do proactively to stay ahead?

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints . . . .

Where’s the Reward in Raising a Rebel?

Raising a rebel can be a wearying yet glorious undertaking. We are actually raising mighty warriors who, with their strength of spirit, can stand firm against the enemy. Train them to be soldiers for Christ who learn to defeat the enemy of their souls. They can stand strong against the ungodly culture, fighting for righteousness. We can teach them to fight the good fight of faith and allow their strength of spirit to be used for God’s purposes. (Study the lives of these rebels and how God used them: Jacob, Jonah, Daniel, Peter, and Paul.)

God has created them to be fighters, and our job is to turn that propensity toward the right arenas, allowing them to use that bent for God’s glory. Rebels need to have a vision for why they were created with the God-given characteristics that they can easily regard as hindrances or even curses. Give them something good to fight for. Our rebel has become active on the pro-life front; this child is learning to debate truth, understand a Biblical worldview, support Godly politicians, debate evolutionists, and stand against evil. We stand amazed at how far we’ve come, remembering vividly the times we thought we’d never make it this far. God’s mercy and faithfulness have brought us to this point.

Parents, be strong in the Lord! Don’t give up; look up. Don’t give in; stay consistent. Don’t give way to the devil; fight for the soul of your rebel, wrestling in prayer. Don’t give in to discouragement; encourage your rebel to use his gifts for God’s glory. God needs those who will join His army of rebels against sin and unrighteousness. God needs parents who will fight for their children.

Looking back with my rebel, we can say that we’ve both been through the war but can see the horizon of victory ahead. 

The Words of a Former Rebel: “I’m still not perfect today, but I know I’m better than last year and the year before that! I’m thankful that my parents didn’t give up on me, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Jesus and my parents. ”

Now, who could ask for more than that?

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)

Published on May 4, 2009

Deborah Wuehler is the Senior Editor for TOS, editor of the Schoolhouse SupportE-Newsletter, wife to Richard, and mom to eight gifts from heaven. She loves digging for buried treasure in the Word, reading, writing, homeschooling, and dark chocolate!

Copyright 2008. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Winter 2008/09.
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