Shaping the will without breaking the spirit - Glasshouse Christian College

Shaping the will without breaking the spirit



  • June 8, 2022

       While the spirit is brittle and must be treated gently, the will is made of steel. 

If you have a strong-willed child in your family, I am sure you already know it. You don’t need anyone to point him or her out to you. Typically smart, confident and loyal, strong-willed children show a remarkable capacity for creative thinking and problem-solving, and a ‘nothings going to get in my way determination’ to achieve their goals.

Children, including those who regularly challenge authority, are delightful little people who need buckets of love and understanding every day of their lives. Furthermore, it is vitally important to establish a balanced environment for them, where discipline and consequences are matched by patience, respect and affection.

The objective to shape the will needs to be done but without breaking the spirit. To understand this dual objective of parenting, we need to clarify the distinction between the will and the spirit. 

The will represents the child’s deeply ingrained desire to have their own way. The intensity of this passion for independence varies from child to child, but it exists to one degree or another in almost all human beings.

The human spirit relates to the self-esteem or the personal worth that a child feels. As such, it is exceedingly fragile at all ages and must be handled with care. As a parent, it is correct to assume that you can damage your child’s spirit quite easily by ridicule, disrespect, threats to withdraw love and by verbal rejection. Anything that depreciates self-worth can be costly to damaging the spirit.

Some advice I have gleaned after reading the writings of Dr James Dobson include:

  • When addressing behaviour that is willful, always address the behaviour and not the child.
  • Always provide an opportunity for a child to re-establish a relationship with you by using specific language.
  • Consistency and certainty of consequences is king.
  • Providing boundaries provides security. It is unsettling to be your own boss when you are little.
  • Provide family rules and courtesies and clearly outline family expectations.
  • React decisively with no screaming or derogatory accusations but mean what you say.

The will is malleable. It can and should be moulded and polished, helping each child to gain the ability to control their own impulses and exercise self-discipline. On the other hand the spirit of a child is a million times more vulnerable than their will. It is delicate and can be crushed and broken very easily. The spirit is the most fragile characteristic in human nature and is particularly vulnerable to rejection, ridicule and failure.

Gail Mitchell Head of Primary

Note: Most of the information in this article has been taken from work written by Dr James Dobson. Dr James Dobson is an American evangelical Christian author, psychologist and founder of Focus on the Family, which he led from 1977 until 2010. He has written some very thought provoking books: ‘Dare to Discipline, The Strong-Willed Child and Shaping the Will Without Breaking the Spirit’ and can be heard through many of his messages shared on “Focus on the Family.’

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