Self-discipline is an important skill that is essential for becoming a fully-functional adult. After all, kids aren’t always going to have an adult around to help keep them on the right track. Helping your child develop self-discipline will not only benefit them, but it’ll also make your life as a parent a little easier, too.
What do we mean by self-discipline?
We all know that self-discipline is good, even if it’s not always our forte. But what does it actually mean?
Self-discipline is all about learning how to control impulses and stay on track, usually to meet a certain goal. The key to self-discipline is learning the value of delayed gratification; or, put otherwise: resisting the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a greater reward down the track.
Another way to explain it to your child is giving up something that you want in favor of achieving something that you want even more.
Why is self-discipline important?
Self-discipline is a necessary skill in kids and adults of all ages. Many studies have repeatedly shown that children who display self-discipline perform better academically, are more likely to be healthier and mentally stable, and succeed later on in life.
As adults we know the value of willpower, and the earlier in life that self-discipline and self-regulation is mastered, the better.
Teaching your children self-discipline will help them with their schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, and it’ll also help you out by making them more independent and self-sufficient.
7 steps to help your child develop self-discipline
Set a good example
As with any good behavior, the best way to teach self-discipline is by modeling it yourself. Kids pick up a lot from adults. If they see you neglecting your chores to watch TV, it’s likely they’ll adopt similar habits. Take note of areas where you struggle with self-discipline and work on improving these to set a good example.
You can even start a conversation with your child about how you sometimes struggle with willpower but are determined to improve your behavior. This will hopefully give your kids the inspiration to do the same.
When your kids are first starting to practice self-discipline, it might be helpful to remove as many temptations as possible. Adults can lose all their diet-based willpower at the sight of a donut, and it’s even harder for kids.
Put away toys or electronics while they’re doing homework and keep the healthy snacks at the front of the fridge and pantry. You can explain what you’re doing, and help your children to identify and remove temptations on their own in future.
Sometimes facing the consequences of our actions are the best way to learn a valuable lesson. Explain to your children the consequences that they’ll face if they make poor choices. This might be something you enforce, such as a no-screen time if they don’t clean their room. They could also be natural consequences, like being cold if they’re disorganized and forget to take a jacket to school.
You can model good behavior around this. Make a show of acknowledging consequences in your own life. You can say “I want to eat a piece of cake for lunch but I know that if I do I’ll feel tired or sick later, so instead, I’ll have a sandwich.”
It’s important for your children to be able to identify and avoid consequences on their own, without needing you to point them out. Once you’ve explained the result of a lack of self-discipline, it’s then up to your children to make choices for themselves.
Communicate the reason behind rules
It’s all well and good to introduce rules around bedtime and screen time and food and homework. But if you don’t explain the reasoning behind them, then they’ll seem like an arbitrary set of rules that your child might want to rebel against.
Instead of saying “do your homework because I said so”, you can say “if you do your homework now, you’ll have plenty of free time after dinner to play”. Little reminders of why there are rules will, over time, help them learn to set their own rules and develop discipline skills.
It’s always better to reward kids’ good behavior than to punish bad incidents. If you notice your child exercising good self-discipline or making excellent choices, let them know you’ve seen it. Simple comments praising their behavior, such as “good job taking your dishes to the sink after dinner without being asked” can go a long way in reinforcing good habits. You could also introduce a reward system like a sticker chart to motivate them into being self-disciplined.
Give your kids a lot of space to feel their emotions. If they’re crying, allow them to identify and regulate their own emotions, rather than saying “stop crying” or “there’s no reason to be sad”. Ask them to talk through their feelings and together you can come up with ways they can cope with what they’re experiencing. Experts call this “emotion coaching”, and it’s been shown to help children to develop rational thinking skills, which in turn come in very handy for self-discipline.
Take one step at a time
Kids aren’t going to learn self-discipline overnight. And, much like adults, some kids may struggle with it a lot more than others. It’s a process that will develop over many years, so it’s all about sticking with it and continually modeling and praising good behavior. Take it one step at a time, and don’t expect too much from your children especially when they’re young.
Start out by setting good examples, explaining the concepts of discipline and consequences, and implementing systems to help remind them of the right thing to do. Over time it will start to come naturally.
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