Tactical Parenting: Kids and Self-Control

If you have spent any time with children, you know you CAN’T teach anything you don’t believe enough to live out. If your child doesn’t see it as real in your life – they will never take your word for it. Things like lying, stealing, hurting people… many times these are easier to stay away from. ¬†Personally, I find that I am successful at this. I have no problem teaching my kids to stay away from things that are widely accepted as negative. I am able to model it and teach it.

How do I teach my kids self-control though? Is that something I am practiced up in?

Self-control is something that can be applied in almost every area of our lives. The obvious times are when we respond to other people’s actions, eating/drinking, driving the speed limit, discipline and dealing with hard things at home. Self-control is a skill, that when honed, can be used in the pursuit of success everywhere you look. I want to define self-control a bit here so we know what we are talking about. Understand that there are probably a lot of aberrations of the definition – but this is what we are looking at today:

:Not doing something because you know BEST results won’t come of it.

:Doing something because you know that BEST results won’t come from ignoring it.

I think one of the biggest hurdles I personally face is that of RESPONDING. With work, I have to respond to both criticism that hurts and direction given that I don’t agree with. Many times I don’t employ self-control and instead of composing the appropriate, respectful and valuable response; I just blow up and spew out whatever emotional response is boiling up inside of me. Honestly, with age and experience I handle this a lot better than I used to – but if you put me under enough stress and hand me criticism that hurts; I will deliver a response that immediately causes me to regret the situation.

The strange thing is that when you don’t impose self-control, you end up hurting yourself more than anyone else could. Many times an uncontrolled response negates any legitimate argument you have. You might be right, your idea might be better, you might have handled it exactly the right way – but if you respond to someone else with heavy emotion and no self-control – it doesn’t matter how right you WERE. Your great idea or good work now drowns in your sea of uncontrolled response.

If you are hurting for examples of this – look to your children. Especially 2 year olds and especially 15 year olds. For whatever reason both of these ages give us the feeling of more independence than we really have. When we try to invoke our independence and are corrected by parents who are looking out for our best interests, that is when emotion runs high and we lose control of our response. I have no idea how a 2 year old or a 15 year old can think that throwing a fit will get them their originally desired outcome. When my kids were 2 I routinely responded to “fits” or “purposeful disobedience” by making their life worse than it was before they started complaining. You wanted two cookies instead of one – now you don’t even have one. You don’t want to share that toy – now you no longer own the toy. Andrew can probably best explain my practice of discipline as: making his life worse than it was. I love to bring perspective. Some parents say “well I hate discipline, but I have to do it.” or “discipline always hurts me more than it does them.” That isn’t true with me at all. I love to discipline my kids. I love to bring large truth into their life that they have to embrace. It makes them better. Also, I am a grown man – disciplining my kids MAKES MY LIFE BETTER – it doesn’t hurt me. It might hurt the “favor” I get from my kids – but seriously, if I need my kids approval and affection to be happy then I have a serious shortage of REAL relationships.

We want our kids to be the best adult humans possible someday and one thing that can really help determine this is self-control. How do we build that in our kids?

  • Congratulate them when they control their impulses.
  • Help them understand the consequences of their emotional responses (not just their actions)
  • Help them to refocus on what is going right.
  • Teach them to recognize the goal, and find new ways to reach it when their first attempts are thwarted.
  • Help them to transition and refocus on the “next thing”.¬†
  • Encourage them to compare the incident that occurred (or is occurring) to the other things in their life. Help them see the bigger picture.

That is how we teach – but how do we model?

  • Tell stories. Let your children know about when you blew it and what the consequences were.
  • To a level that is appropriate, let your children see struggles in your own work or social life that you are dealing with in a positive way by using self-control.
  • When you blow it – communicate that right away. Take responsibility for your actions. Let them see that we don’t only get credit when we do things right, we get credit when we do things wrong too! This is hard.

It is hard to fail at self-control and then own it. It is even harder to do this in front of your children. This is how they learn though. Sometimes our lack of self-control causes us to need to confront a person, admit where we went wrong and ask for forgiveness. I dare you to do that in front of your child. I dare you to let your children see how you respond when you fail. It stinks, but many times your children pick up more character from you because of your failure than they do because of your success.

Kids WILL learn how self-control works from you. What are you teaching them and modeling for them?

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