7 Ways to Teach Your Child Self-control

1. Explain about it.

Whenever you spend time or at the dinner table, describe what self-control is and share examples of when you have shown self-control. Talk about how it helped you be a better mother or father, or worker, or boss. Ask your kids to talk about how they showed self-control that day. You could do this several times each week. As you make discussions about self-control part of your daily routine, your children will see how you show it, and they’ll learn how you value it. They’ll see it in action. And they will begin to show it in their own lives. This is the single best way to teach self-control: identifying successes and failures with it in daily life and improving in meaningful ways.

2. Decide out of the situation.

It means we decide that we will not be eating chips at breakfast or lunchtime, rather than as we finish our main meal and see the ice-cream for dinner. Help children make decisions about kindness to siblings, social media, gaming or any other issue when emotions are cool rather than during the heat of battle. During your dinnertime discussions, you might decide on something that your child wants to show control in. While emotions are cool, you can help your child decide on what to do if things get challenging.

3. Give gentle reminders.

If your child is about to lose control, gently remind him or her to think of a way to stay calm and make wise choices. Researchers have found that regular gentle reminders keep us on track and making wiser decisions than we might otherwise have.

4. Avoid rewards/gifts.

If we reward self-control, children will start to think it’s only worth being controlled if they can get a goody or their favourite food/thing. We want them to recognise why it matters and make their own decisions.

Being in charge of our lives is our own reward. So, make this point really carefully because it’s controversial for some people. When we reward our kids for showing self-control, we’re actually controlling them ourselves! The rewards are doing the controlling. If they are genuinely intrinsically motivated, they don’t need us to control them. They’ll do it themselves – and the more autonomously they do it (that is, the more they feel they are choosing for themselves), the better the outcomes.

5. Be patient with your child.

When you or your child really want something, talk about whether it might be a good idea to wait. Whether it’s sneaking a treat, checking social media or hitting a sibling (!), encourage your child to be patient and see if it’s still something he feels he must do.

6. Play self-control games.

Games like “freeze”, “sleeping lions”, drumming/rhythm games or “red light, green light” require a child to follow instructions or patterns, listen, be controlled, and make changes. You could play some interesting games with your children. Have some fun while you teach the value of self-control.

7. Be an example.

If you’re lacking in self-control, your child will learn from you and act accordingly. When they see you eat too much, spend too much time in front of screens, or do whatever else it may be that’s a lousy example, they’ll think it’s fine for them to do it too.

This is especially important when we respond to our children’s big emotions. If we respond with disapproval or dismissal to our children, we show less control than when we turn towards them with compassion and kindness. Even more important, our responses don’t help our children control their emotions in positive ways. Telling them to “cut it out” or “get over it” just makes their emotions bigger. They might push them down and away, but inside, they’re getting all torn up. Instead, explore your child’s emotion, identify its cause, label it, and help them work through it.

Word of advice: Your child’s life outcomes are found in the way we teach them to make wise decisions, even when they don’t really want to. As we teach them to view self-control as an asset, and to make wise choices (without controlling everything), they’ll develop the skills to distract themselves, see obstacles as opportunities, and stay healthy and wise.

(Edvantage Point is India’s go-to platform for education-related products and services. We are into admissions management for schools, career advice and counselling services for students as well as recruitment services). 

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