Let’s face it, one of the hardest things for anyone to master is self-control. And, self-control is such an integral part of life as an adult. Successful completion of schooling requires self-control. Staying employed requires self-control. Maintaining a happy marriage requires self-control. Keeping out of trouble with law enforcement requires self-control. In short, living a happy and productive life requires the development of self-control. Here are four suggestions for teaching our children self-control and a free behavior tracker to keep track of the improvements we have made.
So, how do we go about teaching our children self-control?
Self-control is a tricky skill to teach others; partly because “self-control” can encompass so many different skills, and partly because a lot of self-control happens inside a person. The skills involved in learning self-control include being in control of feelings, managing desires, thinking of others, and achieving calm in stressful situations. Self-control also requires the honest recognition of violent, aggressive, angry, or selfish feelings and desires and then dealing with those feelings appropriately.
Our ability to teach self-control to our children starts by example. We, as parents, need to be in control of our selves. We need to be living lives that show our children what self-control looks like regularly. And, when we slip up – because we will – then we need to be quick to point out that we lost control for a moment and ask our children to forgive our mistake. When our children see us striving, yet struggling, with self-control they will learn more than we could ever tell them.
There are four things we can do to help our children gain this essential skill set.
- Open and honest communication with our children will help them feel safe enough to begin to work on mastering self-control. Many times parents need to give children feedback, correction, and assistance when the children’s behaviors so require. If the parents have taken the time to develop relationships of trust with their children previously, then the children will be more likely to listen to what the parents have to say – rather than reacting in defensive ways.
- Set a clear standard of behavior that is age and ability appropriate, and follow through with immediate appropriate consequences. It is not reasonable to expect a three-year old to behave like a 10-year old, but it is reasonable to expect a three-year old not to bite other people. When the three-year old does bite someone, then immediate and appropriate consequences need to occur. Waiting until later, or “until your father gets home”, only confuses the child and makes the child think she got away with the behavior. She will not understand why she is receiving a consequence hours later. More than likely, she will have forgotten about the inappropriate behavior and so, will not be able to link the consequences to the poor behavior.
- Creating charts or lists to track behaviors can often improve self-control in older children. Keeping track of the good behavior often helps build feelings of success as children tackle new habits. It takes a lot of time to change behavior, and can often feel discouraging. A visual reminder of the positive success children have achieved will often motivate them to continue making positive changes in their lives.
This is a personal reporting chart that has the child (or parent) write down what he or she did well with that day. This helps to change mindsets about how that child “is” and often helps the child and the parent start to feel better about the issue being delt with. Click here for to download this free chart.
- Extend patience and forgiveness to children struggling with self-control. Everyone makes mistakes. I make many every day. We are all learning and struggling with different issues. We merit forgiveness and so do our children. We especially need to be careful to avoid labeling anyone of our children. No child should feel like the “bad” child, the “uncontrollable” child, or the “explosive child”. Children will live up to the expectations we have of them. If we expect them to be “bad”, “uncontrollable” or “explosive” then they will do everything in their power to become that way.
There is no magic miracle that will impart self-control onto our children in an afternoon. Self-control takes years, even decades sometimes, for people to master. And yet, the mastery of self-control leads to so many wonderful experiences – like rearing a family and becoming a supportive spouse, being successful in employment and creative endeavors, and a general happy adult life. Helping our children learn self-control is one of the most important lessons we can ever teach them.
Are there specific techniques you use to help your children gain this life changing skill? I’d love to hear about them. Let me know in the comments below.