When kids lack self control, it’s easy to laugh it off and say, “Oh, they’re just being kids.” And to a certain extent, I think we must allow them to “just be kids.” But those kids will not always “just be kids,” and learning self control is part of the growing up process.
Self control is your child’s ability to think before he acts. When he does stop and think, he will have a better opportunity to make a better choice.
Self control is also the capacity to keep after goals when it is very tempting to take another route.
Do you see your child struggling with either of these?
Self Control is a skill that grows over time. Much like parents learn to exercise their parenting muscles, kids can learn to grow their self control muscles as they mature.
7 Steps to Teaching Self Control
- It starts with YOU. No surprise there. If you aren’t modeling self control, then your child will do as you do, not as you say. I will beat this drum until I die: you have got to BE the kind of person you want your child to become.
- Cultivate good habits. Yes, you may have to remind them over and over when they are little–say “thank you”, brush your teeth, share your toys–but when they are doing those good habits over and over, they are building self control muscles.
- Teach your kids to wait. There were times when we could have bought our kids something right away, or we could have taken them somewhere immediately, but we chose instead to let them learn to wait. It’s funny how that waiting period makes the payoff so much sweeter to your child.
- Show your children the advantages of delayed gratification. This is very closely related to waiting, but involves actually involving them in activity that does not have immediate payoff. Activities such as saving money, practicing an instrument or a sport skill, studying for tests–these often do not show immediate rewards.
- Set boundaries. One way that kids learn self control is to experience what happens when they do not exercise self control. Sometimes those consequences will be logical, like getting benched when he loses his temper on the court or receiving a D on a test because she didn’t study. Other times, you will have to be the enforcer: a time-out or loss of a privilege when he makes a bad choice. It’s not easy being the enforcer, but your child needs to know that lack of self control never pays off.
- Teach responsibility. Responsibility is “doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” It takes self control to a very personal level. Your child may show self control when you are around, but when he exhibits that same self control when no one is watching, he is learning to be responsible. Encourage your child to follow through when no one is around, and then praise them when they do.
- Teach your kids to PAUSE. This is a skill you will literally have to walk your child through at first. When you see your child losing control, or getting ready to blow or make a choice, pull him aside and walk him through what it means to stop and think. Encourage your child to take a deep breath or sit down and rest for a minute. When your child is stopped, share with him some questions that can help him decide how to handle himself: What’s a good way to deal with this? It this really that important? Should I run this by Mom or Dad?
Throughout 21 years of being a sports mom, I’ve seen that youth sports is a great place for kids to learn about self control. I hope you are making the most of these golden opportunities!
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