The Willful Child

IMG_6655Last week, my eighth graders had the word “willful” on their vocabulary list. When we first go through the list as a class, students create circle maps to help them define each word. In those maps they put synonyms and examples that help them each remember what the vocabulary word means using a personal connection. If I had been making my own map for the word “willful”, I would have written Charlie’s name in it.

Charlie could not be more different than Eddie was at this age. I feel like I say that all the time, but it surprises me every single day.  Eddie has his issues, but by and large he is a rule-follower, a people-pleaser. He is honest to a fault–the boy will even tell me he was thinking of something bad. And he stinks at lying. His disobedience is either being mad about having to do something he doesn’t want to do or getting to wrapped up in what others are doing that he doesn’t realize he is being “naughty”.

My Charlie is different. He knows the rules, but feels that they only apply when he wants them to. For instance, we require pants to be worn at the dinner table. I don’t really feel like this is a major request, yet Charlie and I had a full blown stand off about wearing pants last week.


I was getting the boys’ dinner ready one Thursday night while Cortney was bowling. Charlie was using the bathroom, and came out in nothing but his underwear.

Me: Charlie, where are your clothes?

Charlie: In da baf-room.

Me: Why?

Charlie: I peed.

Me: Ok, Costanza. Go get your pants and put them on. Your dinner is about ready.

Charlie: NO. I not wear my pants!

Me: If you are going to eat dinner, you are going to wear pants.

Charlie: NO! NEVER! (actually it sounds more like “nevah!”)

Me: Fine. Then you can stand there until you put pants on.

Charlie: (turns his head away and puts his nose in the air and makes a little hmm! noise)

I put the food on the table and Eddie and I eat while Alice gums a cracker.

Charlie: (in a tiny, sweet, innocent voice) Mom mom? I am so hungry. So very hungry, mom mom.

Me: I bet you are.

Charlie: (nods with big eyes)

Me: Put on your pants and you can eat.

Charlie: NO! NEVAH! EVAH! NEVAH!!!!!!!!

He stands there with his arms crossed while we eat. Out of the corner of my eye I see him slide his pants toward him. Then he slowly pulls them on. After standing there with pants for a minute, he slowly slides into his spot at the table, eats his food, and we seem to forget the stand off while we all eat and chat.

about 15 minutes later…

Charlie: Can I be done, mom mom? I am full!

Me: Yup. Go wash your face and hands.

That stinker came running out with NO PANTS ON.


When it’s not funny, it’s downright maddening.

I have very few bouts of rage due to anxiety anymore, but when I do it’s usually triggered by Charlie. He is the most stubborn, strong-willed, headstrong person I know. He will do nothing on anyone else’s terms but his own.

In my 12 years of being with Cortney and 20+ years knowing him, I have never seen him yell or get super mad…until we had Charlie. Charlie doesn’t just say, “no” (although he DOES do that a LOT), he stares you in the eye and defies you.

He will tell you he is not doing something AS he does it. In front of your SEEING EYES.

And he is NOT afraid to throw down in front of all of the public in the land. Won’t let him ride in the cart because it is full of groceries? Not good enough, mom. Now the entire store shall know my displeasure in the form of screaming fits and thrown objects.



This boy is the biggest love bug you will ever meet. He is just as stubborn about his love and his cuddles as he is about not wearing pants. Eddie can want nothing to do with him, and he will adamantly insist on hugs. I will be in the middle of feeding Alice and he will bulldoze his way into my arms.

When he is mid-fit, the only way to calm him is to sit down next to him and just be close. No words. Just be at his level with him.

He refuses to trust anyone with his little sister when Cortney and I aren’t around without diligent supervision and constant check-ins. His daycare mom–who I was pretty sure he loved more than he loved me for a chunk of his life–is not immune to this. He stops whatever he is doing randomly throughout the day to make sure Alice is “ok”.


His bullheadedness drives me MAD. Literally. I go a bit nuts when he can’t do one simple task without a full on, epic fit. I get angry when, even though we do the exact same damn routine every day, he acts surprised by it and refuses to move forward until HE is ready.

I have always been against using spanking or hitting or other corporal punishment with my children, but he is the one who makes me question my stance.

And yet…he is so sweet, so wiling to give up the spotlight for his brother or sister or really anyone who will take it off of him because he hates it. He shares so easily. He loves so hard.


This horrible willfulness we are going through at age three-and-a-half will serve him so very well when he is an adult. I hope he never loses the will to stick to his guns.  Even if it’s going to drive me to crazy and back parenting him.

Once again, all photos by TMV Photography

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. Your Charlie and my Charlie sound like they are two of a kind! Even though my Charlie is not quite two, he is already pushing the boundaries (and my first born, like Eddie, is a rule follower & people pleaser) so this is new territory for me! My Charlie just bulldozes ahead with what he wants to do. I feel like your post is giving me a glimpse into my future! Good luck to both of us with our sweet, stubborn Charlies!

  2. You know how I always thought that Charlie and my Scrumps are like the same person. I know this so much.

    But he’s also the sweetest kid, loves on his baby brother and sister, and is such a fun, funny goofball. I’m also hoping it’s an age thing, a phase.

    Ah, who am I kidding. We have willful children! 🙂

  3. On the positive side you have a child who will stand up for himself. I find my son wants to do things his way – like where he eats, what he eats, how things happen… we always have to take a certain toy with for bathtime. I think allowing him certain things is okay but I’m totally with you on the pants, lol!
    I read somewhere recently – I can’t find it now – that kids who talk back actually are more mentally healthy because they can assert themselves and don’t lose themselves as an adult.

  4. Yeah, I have a 4.5 year old that fits this definition. She also thinks she is a comedian. Oy. The rage it causes. And the look in the eye. And yet I know I am raising ME and my husband. AHHHHHHHH.

  5. At 2.5, I’m starting to see these types of behaviors in Jack. Jack just does things on his schedule and his way. We joke that he just doesn’t have any f**ks to give but it’s so maddening to deal with. It comes in waves so it’s never just one incident for the day…it’s either a day of defiance or a day of lovebug. Maybe it’s a second born thing…Sophia is my rule follower, people-pleaser just like I am and then Jack is more like my younger sister who makes up her own rules.

  6. This description reminds me so much of my youngest nephew. I bet he would get on really well with Charlie. The only problem is they would probably organize a coup.

  7. My Jack wasn’t so much “willful” as a “tester/challenger” which translated into some of the behaviors you describe with Charlie. In a big, changing, scary world, Jack wanted to be sure (at all times) that something would be consistent:

    Unfortunately, consistency in parenting is NOT my strong suit. With two children and a teaching job and a husband, I definitely had moments of “I’m just too tired to care that you are breaking the rules.”

    Not proud of it, just being honest.

    So I love that you stuck to YOUR guns about “pants at the dinner table” and didn’t relent because Charlie was hungry and you were worried he’d starve. Good for you. Seriously. Take that in and be proud of yourself. You are doing your best with a child who is willful and testing and needs to know you’re his rock.

    You’re his rock. And sometimes rocks get mad and yell and even consider spanking. But yeah, it won’t work. The few times I went that route (after time-outs and reminders and distraction and and and didn’t curb his behavior) Jack looked at me like, “I win. You lost your control.” And I did. I had.

    The only one who suffered when we tried spanking was us.

    Anyway, my point is that Jack is now an 18-year-old KICK ASS man. I mean seriously. SERIOUSLY.
    He’s mature enough now to absolutely OWN his behavior when he was younger and we laugh about it. Laugh. Can you imagine? (I couldn’t when he was three, believe me.)

    But please do. Imagine. It’s awesome. I won’t wish away your time with your children but know this:
    When they are grown they will know in their bones their mother loved them and did her best.
    That’s all anyone can do. And it’s the only example that matters in the end.

  8. I feel like the strong-willed children of the world will make the best leaders. At least, that’s what I always told myself when I was dealing with my own. He may be strong, but you are stronger!