Strong willed child

We are beginning a new series today on “The Way of the Will.” Over the next few weeks we will take a look at some of Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on how our children’s wills shape their characters for life.

If you have ever been on a diet, you are intimately acquainted with what Charlotte Mason called “the way of the will.”

Let’s say your friend invites you out to lunch. As you open the menu, you dutifully look for the salad section and make your selection. But as you set down the menu to wait for the server, your gaze falls on a gorgeous picture of chocolate cake. Moist, three-layer chocolate cake. With raspberry sauce.

All through the meal that image flits into your mind. And when the server comes back to offer dessert, she brings a tray with a slice just for you to see again.

Here is the defining moment. You know you want that cake. What will you do?
If you give in and eat the cake, do you later explain, “I just couldn’t help it; my will was so strong, I had to eat it”? No. We usually say things like, “I was weak” or “I really need more will power.”

A Weak Will

You see, the will is what governs our passions and appetites. If our will is strong, it governs well and helps us choose to do what is right even when we don’t feel like it. If our will is weak, it takes the easiest route of “I want” instead of making the right choice.

Now, apply the principle of the way of the will to our children. Charlotte explained it this way: “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 nor 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.

“But, all the time, nobody perceives that it is the mere want of will that is the matter with the child” (Vol. 1, p. 320).

Help Strengthen the Will

When I learned this principle, it changed the way I looked at my child. I had been thinking that my child had a strong will, and it was my job to dig in my heels and butt heads with her to show that my will was stronger. I was my child’s opponent in the battle of the wills.

But once I understood this principle, I suddenly realized that she did not have a strong will—one that had enough power to choose what was right even when she wanted what was wrong. She had a weak will that constantly chose the easy path of “I want.” It was my job to help her strengthen her will to be able to choose what was right, even when she didn’t want what was right. I was not her opponent; I needed to be her coach.

Over the next few weeks we will look at what else Charlotte Mason had to say about the way of the will and how we can come alongside our children and help them strengthen their wills to choose what is right.


  1. I love the idea of being my child’s coach rather than her opponent when she throws a fit. Looking forward to reading more on this topic.

  2. I am wondering about a situation I’ve been encountering with my 2 yr old, In the old way of thinking about “strong will” needing to be broken if my 2yr old won’t say please/thank you then I don’t move on- and make sure he says it before I give him something/do something. What is the way to approach this situation with the different perspective on training the will, do I let him have/do the thing if he doesn’t say it, how do I train for that without it becoming a battle. Thank you! Love the idea and it has changed the way I look at training time with my kids.

    • The please-and-thank-you habit is a great one to help strengthen our children’s wills. You can still use natural consequences to help form the habit, but the big change will come in your own mind. As you mentioned, now instead of thinking of the situation as a battleground, you can see it as an opportunity to help your child develop this good habit and learn to choose to do what is right.

      So continue the natural consequence of not moving on until your child chooses to respond appropriately (“please” or “thank you”). But now the negative battle-front emotions can be put aside. This is no longer a case of Who will win? This is a case of doing what is best to help your child make the right choice. Stubborn love, if you will, that is focused on doing all we can to help our children choose what is right, not just what they want. Our own emotions are taken out of the picture, and we’re working steadfastly toward a higher goal — strengthening their wills for their own future lives.

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