Helpful Articles •
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Helping Children Develop Self Discipline
One of the primary tasks of early childhood is to develop
self discipline. Parents often find themselves correcting
their children for interrupting, being wild, not following
instructions or for not controlling their hands or mouths.
These all require self discipline or self-control. Young
children are by nature impulsive. Some children have ADHD
or other biological factors which increase impulsiveness.
Part of the solution for impulse control is to learn self
discipline. A child armed with self discipline has a tremendous
asset for addressing life’s challenges. So many relational
and personal problems can be avoided or controlled when
one has self-control. Here are some suggestions for teaching
it to children.
1. Teach children to come when they are called. When a
parent calls a child, that child shouldn’t yell, “What?”
from across the house, parking lot or playground. Children
can learn to come to the parent, within a few feet, in
order to have a dialog with the parent. This helps children
learn that self-control sometimes means that we must give
up what we would like to be doing in order to do something
2. Teach children to respond positively to correction.
Most children don’t like to be corrected and respond negatively
in either aggressive (anger) or passive (bad attitude)
ways. This is unacceptable and becomes an excellent opportunity
to teach self discipline. One of the facts of life is that
people often must follow directions which may not be their
preference. Teach children to respond with a good attitude
as well as right behavior. This requires self-control and
helps children learn to control their impulses. A good
response to correction is sometimes difficult to learn
but work in this area will help a child develop a skill
which will help them forever.
3. A number of social skills require self-control. Praise
children when they demonstrate this quality and point out
areas they need to work on. Listening, knowing when and
how to interrupt, anger control, reporting back after completing
a task all require self discipline.
4. Encourage children to take on activities which build
self discipline. They may include sports, music lessons,
a paper route, the responsibility of caring for a neighbor’s
pet, memorization of scripture, a clean room, or a host
of other activities.
5. When a child receives a reward like payment for a job
accomplished or even a star on a chart or special treat,
talk about self discipline. External rewards give a great
opportunity to talk about internal rewards. The real benefit
to a paper route is not the money, it’s the building of
self discipline. “You are pretty determined and responsible
to get up every morning.” “I know you would have rather
played the game but I like the way you took time to walk
the dog. That shows self discipline.”
6. Use bed times to teach self discipline. Some children
have a hard time going to bed without creating a battle
and this becomes a great opportunity to teach self discipline
to children. After all, it requires a lot of self-control
for a child to stay quietly in bed while parents are still
awake. Set a bedtime, develop a routine which covers all
the necessary bedtime tasks and work at getting your child
to stay in bed without Mom or Dad falling asleep in the
room. This requires work on the part of the parent but
will pay off tremendous dividends in the end.
7. Morning routines, chores, and family schedules become
opportunities for children to learn responsibility and
self discipline. Responsibility is “doing the right thing
even when no one is watching.” The rewards for being responsible
are called privileges. The child who is responsible to
get ready and be at breakfast by 7:30 a.m. is allowed the
privilege of staying up until their 8:00 p.m. bedtime.
Being able to choose one’s clothes is the privilege for
getting dressed before the deadline. Simple benefits of
life are seen as privileges associated with basic responsibility.
Some parents try to give their children an
easier life than they had or they try to make their children
feel good at the expense of good character. Unfortunately,
this often translates into more freedom and less self-control.
A wise parent will use childhood to prepare a child for
success as an adult. Self discipline is one of the most
important character qualities a child can develop. Ironically,
spoiled children are not happy; self disciplined children
Self discipline is a primary quality that
will help children be successful in life. More techniques
and ideas are available in the book, Good and Angry, Exchanging
Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids.