How to strengthen your child’s willpower?

31.05.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

What is a child who lacks willpower like? He/she goes through life unmoored, without much thought or a plan for even the next few hours. He knows only the words “I want” but does not understand how exactly to achieve the desired, and therefore is listless and indecisive. When facing the slightest difficulty, he backs down. Many parents attribute all this to the specificities of the age and temper of the baby, missing one of the most important stages of his/her development — the formation of willpower and motivation. How to raise a strong-willed child?


  1. Why is it so important to develop willpower in children?
  2. When is it better to start building up willpower in children?
  3. Psychologists’ recommendations on how to strengthen willpower in a child

Why is it so important to develop willpower in children?

Willpower is a person’s trait, the level of which corresponds to the level of person’s control over his/her psyche and actions. [1] It is powerful, inexhaustible energy aimed at achieving a certain result.

Developing willpower in a child is part of his/her harmonious development as an individual. The child learns to manage his emotions, actions, becomes more confident, decisive and diligent. These qualities will be useful even for first-grade pupils. In adulthood, sense of purpose and temperance will help to achieve their goals. [2]

When is it better to start building up willpower in children?

to start building up willpower in children

Willpower is not innate but acquired character feature. When is it better to start building up willpower in a child? Don’t expect that the kid will become driven in a snap. It’s going to take some time.

It is necessary to provide the most favorable conditions to strengthen willpower in a child from an early age. This does not mean that parents should “train” the baby from the cradle in an attempt to teach him/her to be disciplined and diligent. However, the systematic development of positive qualities will bear fruit by 7-8, when a child will go to school.

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An important feature that is directly related to willpower manifests in children at the age of 3 — self-control. Children learn to keep their tempers in check — not to act out if parents refuse to buy another toy, or quietly stand in line at the doctor’s waiting room. Toddlers do not yet understand the need for diligent behavior — rather, they try to keep their emotions under control, because they are afraid of parental disapproval. However, this is a good start to a long journey.

At the age of 4-7 children already know how to control their behavior and have a sense of what is acceptable and what is not. The child develops useful volitionary habits and individual character features, such as responsibility, perseverance and discipline. It is believed that junior school age is the main stage of willpower formation. From now on, this quality of character is actively developing. [3]

Psychologists’ recommendations on how to strengthen willpower in a child

“I must have missed something in my daughter’s upbringing, I’m desperate. She is 8 (2nd grade), but she already stands on hind legs at its best. My daughter does not want to learn and is not interested in anything but social networks. She only does her homework with me. I when have more important things to do, she simply goes to school the next day without completing homework. She says she doesn’t understand anything, and in general “these math problems are boring.” We hired a tutor to improve her academic performance and correct grades, but even the professional didn’t help. Previously, my daughter enjoyed drawing, but now the album and the paints are gathering dust somewhere in the closet. Teachers give a large list of books for extracurricular reading. But my daughter, seeing that all the books had many pages, instantly put them away. We tried to make her go to the dance studio, but after the second lesson my daughter said that she did not like it and “everything was difficult here”. I don’t know how to build up dedication and willpower in my child. Do I have to sit with my daughter at her desk until high school and control everything for her to avoid her being expelled from school?”

— Anastasia, mother of 8-year-old Vika

Building up willpower is not an attempt to raise a superhero-kid with “steel” nerves, prohibiting him/her from crying or showing weakness and encouraging him/her to “stop at nothing” in achieving their own goals. Strong willpower and dedication means having the desire and ability to overcome difficulties, self-confidence and positive view of the environment. What should you do if your child lacks willpower?

Psychologists give parents the following recommendations on the development of willpower in children:

recommendations on the development of willpower in children
  1. Discipline

Discipline is the main tool for strengthening willpower. For many preschool- and primary school-age children, a precise daily routine helps to be more responsible, organized and focused on important matters. A visual time grid with a schedule of meals, classes and sections automatically builds up the willpower.

Making a competent daily routine with your child is just half the battle. Parents should monitor the schedule not only occasionally, but systematically. It is important to flexibly and unobtrusively control the kid’s activity by praising and giving useful advice.

  1. The ability to get things done

One of the negative traits of a child lacking in willpower is the reluctance to finish what they started. There can be a lot of reasons that make kids leave things half-completed, for instance, misunderstanding of the task, difficulty in achieving the goal and laziness. An unfinished dollhouse kit is not the worst thing that could ever happen. It is much more serious when a child refuses to do lessons on its own, citing their complexity.

Parents should teach the child that things should never be done by half. This will be useful to him/her in the course of studying at school. Mother and father would have to help their child at first. But after some time the child, albeit unwillingly, would get used to the fact that he will not succeed without putting in some effort first.

  1. Responsibility

Children who lack willpower often “suffer” from slackitude. They are distracted, non-punctual, scatterbrained and restless, which negatively affects their performance at school.

Even in junior school the child should understand that studying is his/her duty. Only he/she is responsible for the grades, and not mom and dad. This develops discipline and a high level of responsibility. Yes, parents should monitor their child’s homework and extracurricular work, and if necessary help him/her. But they must not allow the child to step back from his direct duties, transferring the responsibility of learning the material being taught to mom and dad.

  1. Motivation

Forcing a child to do something is not strengthening willpower of a child, but suppression of his/her personality. Instead, parents should better organize their child’s life in such a way that they are motivated to achieve their goals. Ideally, the child should want to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.

Parents need to learn how to motivate their children properly. However, this does not mean giving pocket money for housework. It is necessary to explain to the child what benefits he/she will get when the things will be done: The lessons are there to make people smarter; classes in the sports section add physical strength; a clean room contributes to productive activities; looking neat and tidy increases the chances of making new friends.

  1. Self-confidence

A person who does not believe in their own strength or who does not know their worth cannot exhibit willpower. The task of parents is to instill self-confidence in children. This character feature will be very useful to them in adult life.

A kid grows self-confident if there is a trusting relationship in the family. He/she should not be afraid of parents’ displeasure. When mom and dad show approval and encourage any endeavors in every way, it is easier for the child to pursue the road towards achieving the goals that have been set. It is important to praise the kid for his successes if a problem has been solved. He/she should know that he has done a good job.

Constant criticism for the benefit of moral teaching, strict prohibitions and punishments are not the best methods for building self-confidence and willpower.

  1. Freedom of action

Sometimes its parents themselves who instill in child irresponsibility and lack of desire to perform tasks. All moms and dads have a goal to make sure that their beloved child wants for nothing. But the situation sometimes gets out of control. If she sees that her child can’t do something, mother immediately comes to help him/her. She knows in advance what is better for her kid, not allowing him to express himself and cope on his own. Children get used to it. They start to think that parents should just “do everything themselves.” Hence the complete lack of willpower, coupled with the inferiority complex.

For a child to grow up confident, willing, and able to achieve their goals, they need to be given freedom of action. You shouldn’t do for a child what he or she is perfectly capable of doing, for instance, tying shoelaces, performing homework, packing his school bag, etc.

  1. Patience

Patience is one part of the willpower. It is an important personality trait that hardens the character, and it is better to develop it in the child first. A kid must understand that sometimes he has to wait patiently before acting decisively. Patient children are more diligent and focused.

It is hard to be patient. It is useless to explain to the child that waiting for a couple of hours before the upcoming walk with friends is nothing. Even adults are not always patient, nervously reacting to long queues in shops and traffic jams.

Experimenting at home will be helpful to train the “wait and get a result” concept in young and middle-aged children. For example, you can try to grow crystals from salt or germinate seeds of some plant.

  1. The benefit of failures

Even failures may help in developing willpower and perseverance. It is important to explain to the child that “failure” is not a reason to deviate from the goal, but a great motivation to correct errors and become better. Negative experience is also an experience. It teaches the child not to be afraid of difficulties.

If the child has failed (whether it is a bad score at school or third place in the mathematical competition), parents need to support him and exhibit positive attitude. The kid should understand that difficulties can be overcome.

Parents may miss an important moment when it is easiest to develop the willpower in a child, thinking that “the kid will still have time to face difficulties, let him rest.” However, children themselves quickly get used to the fact that parents do not require discipline and achievements from them and thereby become unmotivated. This directly affects the performance at the school — the child is restless, sequacious, does not recognize the authority of teachers, does not aspire to anything, and cannot do homework independently. Everything only gets worse in difficult adolescence. It will be difficult for parents to develop willpower in the child, if this was not initially emphasized in childhood. Therefore, it’s better not to postpone this task for later.

One of the effective methods of raising children’s willpower is 7Spsy behavior modification technique. The program is based on the scientific theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A.Ukhtomsky, etc. The course will help the child to change the pathological pattern of behavior, which prevents him from being more diligent in his studies and decisive in achieving his goals. Positive attitudes that develop willpower will be formed in him. A child will learn to perceive minor failures as a call for more active actions, not as a reason for surrender.

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The program is designed for 2-6 weeks. A child will be trained independently in remote mode; the psychologist will support him by phone, e-mail or in online chats. Participation in the program is confidential — the child’s teachers and friends will not know that he is undergoing a behavior modification program.

By helping your child to raise willpower you give him successful future in which he will create his own destiny.


  1. «Detskaia psikhologiia», 2006 g., E. O. Smirnova
  2. «Psikhologicheskaia gotovnost rebenka k obucheniiu v shkole: psikhologo-pedagogicheskie osnovy», 2005 g., N. I. Viunova
  3. «Lichnost i ee formirovanie v detskom vozraste», 1968 g., L. I. Bozhovich