The Will (Part 1): The Strong-Willed Child?

Nov 8, 2010

The Strong Willed Child - part 1
Original Photo Credit
We've all heard the term strong-willed child. There are entire books dedicated to the subject, with experts chiming in on how to handle it, and whether it's actually a sign of a strong personality or not.

These are children who come to us with an innate sense of how to defy, challenge, and push the boundaries. We call them strong-willed, but are they truly strong-willed? Or could it be something else?

Is your child strong-willed - really?

Have you ever tried to give up an addiction? 
Have you ever tried to stick to a diet? 

When you find yourself slipping - maybe sneaking a drink or a brownie - did you think, "Oh, man! I am so strong-willed?" 

Did you cheer yourself on for your strong willpower? Did you feel accomplished because you had a will of iron?

Or did you view it it as a moment of weakness

So why is it, when children fail at their attempts follow rules, obey directives, or control themselves, we call them strong-willed

The truth is that their will is weak.

When I read Charlotte Mason's writings about the will, I had quiet a few aha! moments. Today I want to share a bit of those writings with you.
The baby screams himself into fits for a forbidden plaything, and the mother says, 'He has such a strong will.' The little fellow of three stands roaring in the street, and will neither go hither or thither with his nurse, because 'he has such a strong will.' He will rule the sports of the nursery, will monopolise his sisters' playthings, all because of this 'strong will.' Now we come to a divergence of opinion: on the one hand, the parents decide that, whatever the consequence, the child's will is not to be broken, so all his vagaries must go unchecked; on the other, the decision is, that the child's will must be broken at all hazards, and the poor little being is subjected to a dreary round of punishment and repression. 
Wilfulness indicates want of Will Power.––But, all the time, nobody perceives that it is the mere want of will that is the matter with the child. ~Charlotte Mason vol 1 pg 320
When I read this, my definitions of will power and willful changed immediately. it made so much sense! 
It is not that these children have a strong will. It is that they are lacking in will. 

When your child is out of control, he is in need of will power.

Consider: A child who has just been told he cannot have a much desired toy or treat has an emotional meltdown over it. His reaction? He begins kicking, screaming and throwing his toys across the room.

Does this sound like an exercise in will power? It does if you're mis-defining it. This is lack of will. 

- He does not choose to feel emotionally distraught. 

- He doesn't not want to be full of anger and losing control. 
- It is an not a pleasurable experience.

He would not choose to feel that way, and yet he can't stop himself. Why? He wants what he wants and doesn't have the strength, or will power, to stop himself from behaving this way.

Children are not born with a developed will. They are born with imperfect inherited tendencies, temperaments, and traits.

The Will must be developed. When we dismiss our children as strong-willed, we imply that they are somehow different or difficult. (Not a good message to send.) 

We are also missing an opportunity to help them.

Developing a child's will power is a parental responsibility.

All children are weak in their will. Some will be stronger and some will be weaker, just as with adults, but all children require parents to help them strengthen their will.

A well-developed will is a benefit to the child now and for the rest of his life.

To have a strong will is a protection to them. Without it, what kind of mother, father, employee, boss, husband or wife, fellow human are we sending into the world? 

We're doing our kids a great disservice by dismissing their weaknesses and strengths. We need to teach them the difference between "I want" and "I will." 

But just how do we train them to have a strong will? See: Developing Will Power in Our Children

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Happy Parenting!



  1. Hopping over from the Homeschool Hop! What a great post! I have so many people tell me how "strong-willed" my 2 year old daughter is and that word has always bothered me. I appreciate you sharing. It's given me some things to think about!

  2. Stopping by to say hi from the Hip Homeschool Hop! I have heard that term many times about our oldest son. I enjoyed what you said about the strong-willed child.

  3. Glad I found you through the Hop today! I'm following you now!

  4. Very interesting post!

    I'm following from Hip Homeschool Hop. You'd have fun at, where Disney IS school. Hope you can stop by!

  5. Very interesting! I have a book by James Dobson-The Strong Willed Child. I never really got into it. It think this post is interesting. Thanks! Stopping by the homeschool hop. :)

  6. Tiff: It IS refreshing to have another take on it, isn't it?

    Joy: Thanks for dropping by. Glad you liked the information.

    Fire Life: THANK YOU!!!

    Jodi: Will do!

    Adrienne: Yes.. his book is that to which I was referring. :o)

  7. Very interesting! I have a book by James Dobson-The Strong Willed Child. I never really got into it. It think this post is interesting. Thanks! Stopping by the homeschool hop. :)

    1. I've heard of that book. It's very popular. I've never read the book, so I cannot make a commentary on his philosophy. The phrase "strong-willed" is definitely a misnomer if there ever was one!

  8. I'm so glad you linked up with us on the Hip Homeschool Hop today! I have always said that I had "strong willed kids." Your article was very interesting! In fact, I'm going to go back and read it again and think about it some more. Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

    1. I used to say that about my son, too. Now that he's an adult and I understand so much more, I can see that he never was strong-willed. If anything, he was as weak as they come and needed my help. I did him a disservice and missed an opportunity.


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