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Growing Kids with Self-Control

As parents raising children in a world of instant gratification, the challenge to teach balance and self-control is daunting. Our children are surrounded by images of celebrities and athletes embracing wrong desires. Television glamorizes getting what you want, even if what you want costs you dearly.

So, amid all the chatter, how do we raise young people who reject wrong desires and do what is right instead? How do we show self-control as a foundational characteristic in our families? Here are some ideas:

1. Explain and model the truth that all choices have consequences. 

Though we as adults have learned that every decision has a consequence, children often have a hard time grasping that concept. To help children get a better handle on the idea, discuss some scenarios.

For example, a boy at school trips in the hallway and drops all his books. Everyone in the hall laughs. Do you laugh or help him pick up the books? When your child has answered, you can then discuss the consequences of that response. If they choose to laugh, then explain how a negative consequence could be an embarrassment to the boy that fell. If they choose to help pick up the books, explain how the positive outcome might be that the boy appreciates their compassion.

Another way to teach about choices and consequences is to share a personal example of when you failed to show self-control, the consequences of your decision, and the lessons you learned through the process. This lets your kids know that you are not perfect, and it models how one can learn from mistakes.

2. Help children set goals and work to achieve them. 

Since we are constantly faced with the pull of instant gratification, it can be difficult for kids to exercise self-control. One way to develop a sense of delayed gratification is to set specific goals and work through the process of achieving them.

Goal-setting means painting a clear picture of what you want, why you want it, and how you plan to get there. The more you understand a goal and the rewards that await you, the easier it is to withstand temptations or distractions that might derail you from reaching your goal.

3. Praise what you want to develop. 

As parents, we often feel like we say, “No” far more often than we say, “Yes.” It is essential as our children grow into young adults that we catch them doing things right. When children are praised for having self-control, they are more likely to exercise that character trait again.

A great example of this happened the other day at an indoor playground. It was time to go and after giving my child a five-minute warning, I told them it was time to put their shoes on. My 5-year-old immediately realized we were about to leave and his fun on the playground would be over. I saw the look on his face and braced myself for a full-fledged fit. To my surprise, he plopped himself down on the floor and put his shoes on.

Now, I know that inside his little self, he was dying to climb back onto the playground, but instead, he used all his self-control to make a good choice. Both my husband and I immediately began praising him for making a good choice. I explained that I knew how badly he wanted to keep playing, but was so proud that he chose to listen to me instead. He absolutely beamed with pride as we left the playground. The next time we were in a similar situation, he showed self-control again, and then reminded me that he was making a “big boy choice!”

As busy as we are, it is easy to forget the importance of self-control. But, self-control is essentially what helps us become compassionate, law-abiding people. As we strive to create families of character, let’s remember that rejecting what is wrong will always be the right choice.