Teaching Your Child Character: Self Control

by kate on February 14, 2021

I have honestly no idea how to do this. I lack a certain amount self control :) Oh, I’m getting better, I suppose. But this is one I struggle with. Maybe you can relate?

So I embark on this character trait as a exploratory journey. Can I teach my children something that I, myself, need to continue to learn? Maybe we’ll just have to learn it together and maybe that’s OK.

Self control. It starts with impulse control, something toddlers have to grapple with as their brains develop. In the very beginning, we as parents might be more forgiving to the lack of impulse control because we know that a 1 year old has no concept of waiting. Time is meaningless so babies want what they want, when they want it.

And then they grow out of it. Or they don’t, right?

I cannot get into the science of all this but there is a lot of science dedicated to brain function, brain regions, physiology as well as psychology regarding self control. Pretty cool reading.

How does that relate to teaching self control? I think it has more to do with examples and modeling behavior. That’s probably because self control tends to be more on the productive side of character than the ethical/moral side of character. As in, if you have self control you are able to get things done. You may want to lounge on the beach all day in Waikiki but you stay at your desk and work.

That’s why I think that modeling this behavior is key to teaching/inspiring self control.

In a sense, because I have to work on my own self control maybe I will, after all, be a good teacher. They (the eternal they) say if you want to change your kids, change yourself.

Ways in which I’m going about beefing up my self control:

1. Putting my cell phone down. I may want to check it all the time, but I will delay that gratification until my attention is no longer needed elsewhere. This also goes to resisting distractions - because we all know how much of a distraction a smart phone can be. Easier said than done.
2. Eating my fruits and veggies. I may want a plate of chips, but it’s better for my body to have fruit and veg. I can always indulge after I eat the stuff I insist my kids eat first.
3. Exercise - if only walking to and fro instead of driving. Why is this self control? Because it fights away the lazies for me. If I’m moving my body then I have a better chance of staying in motion and not succumbing to loafing about getting depressed. I guess this has more to do with discipline than control but it’s a different side of the same coin.
4. Brush my teeth in front of my children. Again it speaks to discipline, but it shows a certain repetition, even in the face of lethargy or ambivalence to furry teeth. It’s not that I don’t like clean teeth. It’s just that I get too busy in the morning and I forget and then I feel off the rest of the day.
5. Practice some sort of art or creation. Cooking is creating. Drawing, however badly, is artistic. Drawing in spite of my insecurities is very much about self control.
6. Save more money. I don’t need much of what I think I need, and neither do my kids. We have a big financial goal of buying a house soon, so I’m down with not spending money willy nilly. And, I’m down with discussing just why my purse strings will be closed.

I could go on but I think you get the point. Self control is easier to point out than to define. Doing household chores with your children is an excellent way to both teach productivity and discipline. There is a beginning (a pile of laundry), a middle (the spinning of the machine, the folding of the clean clothes) and the end (all the clothes tucked away inside drawers and closets).

Of course, there is always the praise route, too. You can point out self control in your kids when they exhibit it. But if kids are imitating beings (at least when they are small), then they might not quite know how to manifest it.

How would you go about this one? I could use all the help I can get on this one.

Next character lesson: Giving Thanks.

Previous character lessons: Zest, Grit, Social Intelligence.

photo credit: peagreengirl

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pinchus Rose February 14, 2021 at 1:56 am

Self discipline will have the strongest effect. Its the way it works. For me, using my work hours for work instead of email, using my kids hours for them instead of nap/computer/phone and using my night for sleep instead of ambling around are top of the list.

Penny W. February 14, 2021 at 11:57 am

I think it starts with delayed gratification, and you’ve listed some tactics to do that. Once they realize that hard work pays off - “You cleared the table and now we have time to go to the park!” or “When your homework is finished you can use the computer for half an hour!” - your kids will see how when they use some self-control to get things done they have time for their own amusement too.

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