Is Your Child Strong-Willed or Weak-Willed?

Is Your Child Strong-Willed or Weak-Willed?

What we often call a strong-willed child,
Charlotte Mason would call a weak-willed child. Let me explain. Welcome to the Simply Charlotte Mason podcast. I’m Sonya Shafer. A few weeks ago I did an episode on the Way
of the Will as a little refresher course on how Charlotte Mason explained the will and
how it works. Many of you responded with requests for more
on that subject. So today we’re going to touch on another aspect
of the will, and I will sprinkle in more over the coming weeks and months. Be sure you’ve subscribed so you don’t miss
any of those episodes. It’s an important subject. Today I want to talk about a mental shift
that can occur if you change just one word when you think about your child’s will. Parents often refer to a child as strong-willed
when that child refuses to do what he is told. But Charlotte Mason would beg to differ. She would propose that the child is not strong-willed,
but weak-willed. Think about it this way. Let’s say you’ve started a new eating plan
and have cut out sugar. Then you go out with some friends to celebrate
someone’s birthday. You end up at a certain restaurant where everybody
orders cheesecake: raspberry chocolate cheesecake and salted caramel cheesecake and fresh strawberry
cheesecake and mango key lime cheesecake. If you give in and eat cheesecake too—if
you do what you want to do instead of what you know you should do—would you describe
yourself as “I can’t help it, I have such a strong will”? No. You would say, “I’m weak. I need more willpower.” Yet when a child chooses to do what he wants
to do instead of what he knows is right, somehow we ascribe to him a strong will. Charlotte Mason would say that a child who
chooses to do what he wants instead of what he should is weak-willed; his will is not
strong enough to choose to do what is right even when it’s hard. It’s an interesting way to look at the will,
and it can be a helpful one. Especially with young children, their emotions
can feel overwhelming at times. You remember that Will is the gate-keeper
to the heart and mind. He decides which ideas are allowed in to influence
thinking and behavior and which ideas are rejected. When a child’s will is weak, his emotions
can run havoc over Will. Picture Will standing at the gate. Two ideas are before him: one is to keep playing
with toys; the other is to do what Mom said and go put on his shoes. While Will is standing there deciding, suddenly
this mob of emotions comes rampaging out to the doorway, grabs the Play with Toys idea,
and chanting “Play with Toys! Play with Toys!”, lifts it to their shoulders,
and comes flooding back through the gate. Will just stands there watching them and feels
like he can’t do a thing about it. It’s never pleasant to feel out of control,
like you’re being carried along with no choice in what is happening to you. At any age, really, it’s important to strengthen
Will so he can make those tough choices even in the face of a mob of emotions. Eventually, he will be able to stop that mob
in their tracks before they even get to the doorway to bully him. How? Charlotte said that Will is strengthened just
like any muscle in our bodies: by feeding it and exercising it. We feed it on living ideas of heroic models
in stories and in real life. And we exercise it by giving it opportunities
to make choices. As with any exercise program, start small
and once that level is mastered, gradually build up. Especially with young children, it helps to
present small choices that have immediate built-in consequences. For example, when my children were young,
they didn’t like to eat peas. (Who would have guessed it, right?) So at meal times we would give each child
as many peas as she was in age: a two-year-old received two peas on her plate, a four-year-old
got four. The rule was If you want a second helping
of anything or if you want dessert, you have to eat everything on the plate, including
the peas. They had a choice. They could choose to not eat the peas and,
therefore, not get seconds or dessert. It wasn’t a life-shattering decision (and
don’t worry, we didn’t have peas every meal), but it was a tangible choice that had immediate
consequences. That’s just one example. If you take a little time to reflect and brainstorm,
I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with many more opportunities for your child to practice
making small decisions with immediate consequences—opportunities to exercise his will so it can grow stronger. Keep in mind that this is not going to happen
overnight, just as with strengthening a muscle. You don’t do one push-up and suddenly you
have strong biceps. It’s going to be a gradual process. But it’s such an important one. I wrote a blog post on a fascinating study
that was done with preschool age children. It’s called Charlotte Mason and the Marshmallow
Test. I encourage you to read that article. I’ll leave a link in the show notes for you. Basically, the young children were given a
choice: they could have one marshmallow right now or they could choose to wait until later
and receive two marshmallows. What is fascinating is that many years after
that study, the researchers followed up on those children and discovered that the ones
who had been able to wait for the two marshmallows—the children whose will was strong enough to choose
to do what was hard—those children had experienced better success in life. They had better grades, better health, fewer
addictions, better relationships, fewer divorces, and better jobs. If you think about it, that makes sense. So many decisions in life are difficult ones
that require strong willpower: resisting addictive behaviors, instilling healthy habits, not
saying or doing hurtful things in relationships, applying diligence in studies or in work. A person who is carried along, out of control
by rampaging emotions, and doesn’t have the strength to make good decisions is going to
struggle through life. He lacks the necessary willpower to succeed. But a person who is strong enough to make
the right decisions, even when they are hard, is set up for success. As Charlotte put it,
“The man who can make himself do what he wills has the world before him, and it rests with
parents to give their children this self-compelling power as a mere matter of habit” (School Education,
p. 20). Strong-willed or weak-willed? It’s a difference of just one word, but that
one word can radically affect how we view our children and interact with them. I’ll talk more about how to strengthen the
will in a future episode, but I think there’s enough here for you to get started on. I hope you will. If you enjoyed this video, subscribe through
iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or your favorite podcast app so you don’t
miss an episode. You can also subscribe to the audio version
of this podcast or read the blog post on our website at All of those links will be in the notes along
with the link to that article I mentioned. Thanks for joining me. See you next time!

6 thoughts on “Is Your Child Strong-Willed or Weak-Willed?

  1. Hi Sonia, I am curious how you would do this with lessons? I feel like my biggest battle with my daughter is this very thing but mainly with lessons and chores. After reading CM’s writing on the way of the will I realized that I have a weak will as well and grew up in a home that didn’t know any better. What would you say to mothers who need this just as much as children?

  2. I like what you are objecting… though i say it relates more to awareness first.. also mothers can mentor their children into shifting to making the right decision

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