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Friday, December 28, 2007

Teaching Self Control

“Control thy passion lest they take vengeance on thee.” - Epictetus

Last week I wrote the school system should not be responsible for disciplining children, parents should. Because I do not believe in pointing out a problem without providing some kind of solution, I want to reiterate what experts have to say on this subject and pass on some of the tools and techniques they suggest.

Research across the US suggests that a child’s level of self control relative to their peers is largely set by age 10, and while the development of self control will continue as they mature, they will not suddenly become more disciplined than their peers if they were less disciplined at age 10. The primary cause of low self control is believed to be parents who fail to monitor the child’s behavior, and using a loving, consistent, reward and punishment system, modify the child’s behavior. You will hopefully notice none of these methods include corporal punishment. So to that end here are a few suggestions to developing self control in your children:

1. Be a good example. “He preaches well that lives well.” – Miguel De Cervantes. If your children see you flying off the handle at traffic, your spouse, or the child themselves, they will see little reason to exhibit self control. So when disciplining your child, stay in control yourself and explain there are consequences for losing one’s self control. Then calmly explain what those consequences are.
2. When your child is angry, excessively excited, or too wound up encourage them to “take a break”, chat with them a moment about what they are feeling so they learn to recognize the signs of a meltdown.
3. Set fair and reasonable limits. These limits must be consistently enforced whether in public or at home.
4. Make sure your instructions are clear. If you were unclear or if the child did not understand or is not capable of complying that is your shortcoming as a parent, not the child’s behavior. Chalk it up to your own learning.
5. Use appropriate rewards. Small, constant, positive feedback will go a long way to teaching self restraint. This feedback and rewards can be simply, “I am so proud of the way you handled yourself back there, that was very grown-up.”
6. The National Association of School Psychologists have a website ( with age appropriate role playing games to help you speak on a child’s level (as young as 3 to 5 years of age). These games are intended to work on self control in a positive manner and teach parental skills that can be modified as the child grows.
7. Be consistent, be fair, and do what you say you are going to do as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.
8. Last, and by far most importantly, love your children. Hug them, touch them, be unselfish to them, serve their needs before your own, and by all means tell them you love them and are proud of them constantly. When you do this, the child is far more likely to want to please you to hear such things.

Teaching your children self control and self discipline is your responsibility and while the failure to do so is yours as a parent; your child will pay the price for your failure. This can be a difficult job, especially if your own level of self control is low; however the reward for doing a good job is a successful, well adjusted child, of whom you maybe justifiably proud.

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