Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Strong-Willed Child

Have you ever referred to your child as “strong-willed?” I’m sure most of us have heard this phrase used before, or have used it, ourselves. Charlotte Mason called this child “weak-willed.” A weak-willed person is a selfish person, because he has never been taught to CHOOSE to suppress his immediate desires, emotions and appetites. It is the job of the parent to strengthen the will of the child to make right choices or he will never become a person of character. And is this not the goal of education?

So how does one go about strengthening the will? How does one make right choices? Charlotte Mason thought that a child should be taught to replace tempting thoughts with right thoughts and to motivate himself with natural incentives.

“His thoughts are wandering on forbidden pleasure, to the hindrance of his work; he pulls himself up, and deliberately fixes his attention on those incentives which have most power to make him work, the leisure and pleasure which follow honest labour, the duty which binds him to the fulfilling of his task. His thoughts run in the groove he wills them to run in, and work is no longer an effort.”

The Master teacher Himself, told us through the writings of the Apostle Paul: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”

Charlotte also thought that children should learn to think of others and then they wouldn’t be so focused upon self. In our home, I often ask a child, “Did you just treat your sister the way you would want to be treated?” (THIS IS VERY POWERFUL. THEY IMMEDIATELY SEE THAT THEY DIDN’T AND THEY FEEL REMORSE OVER THE BEHAVIOR)

She also didn’t think that merely insisting upon obedience was enough to change one’s character or focusing on moral reasons either. I know that my three year old is NOT motivated yet by Scripture, but my seven year old is becoming sensitive to morality and my older daughters are now extremely motivated by this reason.

When my three year old starts to have a tantrum, I often remind him, “Son, you are the boss of your body. Don’t let it tell you what to do. You make it obey you. You are the king of yourself.” (This gives a child a sense of power, rather than helplessness and they rise to the challenge.)

To a child a little older, “Honey, you are forgetting that your emotions are not the boss of yourself, YOU are. You must control them. When you feel angry, do not let it overcome you. The Lord says that an angry person is like a castle with no walls around it to protect it. You don’t want the enemy to win or you will regret it later. You want to be a happy person.”

I often remind my children of the fight that Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress had with Apollyon. I tell them that when they are tempted to give into the flesh, they are allowing the enemy to hurt them. This is also very effective.

I have noticed that this combination of natural incentives, focusing on others, moral motivation and yes, the occasional infliction of pain, have aided my children in developing a STRONG WILL to make right choices. The foundation is best laid when young but it is continually built upon throughout their youth.

I have used these methods consistently and am so pleased with the character of my children. They still have little weaknesses, but they are truly becoming admirable people and I have every hope that one day they will be with the heroic.

“When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, a mother would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training--a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure… Once again, though a disciplined will is not a necessary condition of the Christian life, it is necessary to the development of the heroic … A Gordon, a Havelock, a Florence Nightingale, a St. Paul, could not be other than a person of vigorous will.”


  1. I remember reading this when you originally posted it, but I'm glad to be given the opportunity to reread it. My son is a classic "strong-willed child" just like his Mama was. I can't tell you how many times I heard "Rebeca, you can use that strong will for yourself, or you can use it for God's glory!" Thankfully, God grabbed hold of me!
    I want to thank you for your many excellent posts. We are just beginning the homeschool journey and it's wonderful to see how you live out, practically, Charlotte Mason's teachings. Choosing a method can seem rather daunting, so it's very helpful to see how it plays out in your home and family.
    A blessed and joyful new year to you,

  2. Thank you for the kind note, Rebeca. I think I will eventually tell my third daughter the same thing your mother told you. I see so much potential and so much danger there.