May 5, 2020 Self-discipline is a learned skill that develops with time. But there are certain things you can do as a parent to teach your child self-discipline early on.
The term ‘self-discipline’ is also referred to as self-control. A self-disciplined individual needs to control or ignore his or her own impulses to meet an end goal. In simple terms: we ignore strong impulses for something we want in order to get something we want more.
For children, self-discipline is not trying to control their behavior. It’s about teaching them to control their own behavior. A child showing signs of self-discipline can do their homework, chores, and more without nagging or pressure to completing essential life tasks.
Children who lack self-discipline will continue to lack this important skill in adulthood that can affect managing . . .
- Finances, or
- Household chores/responsibilities.
To help you get a better perspective of what self-discipline looks like in children, here are some examples of self-discipline versus no self-discipline situations.
No self-discipline: A 4-year-old interrupts conversations because he cannot wait his turn to speak.
Self-discipline: A 4-year-old asks for help from an adult about a peer taking his toy instead of resorting to hitting his peer in retaliation.
No self-discipline: A 5-year-old keeps getting out of bed because she cannot tolerate boredom while trying to fall asleep.
Self-discipline: A 6-year-old finishes breakfast and leaves the table to dress for school on his own initiative.
The skill of learning self-discipline or self-control is a life-long process. Many adults still struggle with self-control with all or some aspects of their lives. But if an adult can work on self-discipline skills, so can children. If some adults struggle with self-discipline, don’t expect your child to learn it overnight. Thankfully, there are ways to help your child develop self-discipline over time.
Ways to Encourage Self-discipline
1. Practice self-discipline
This is by far the easiest way to teach self-discipline to your child. Simply model it yourself! Children learn by watching. Even when you think they are not paying attention, you’re being watched.
If your child sees you model self-discipline by completing household chores before sitting down to watch a movie, he/she will learn over time the same discipline is expected of them.
2. Give consequences and rewards
Sometimes as parents we want to shelter our children from any unpleasant emotion or situation. But when we do that children don’t learn the consequences of their own actions. For example, if you do your child’s homework for them, he/she won’t learn . . .
- The subject they are studying,
- Feeling proud of themselves for learning and completing a new assignment, or
- The consequence of failing if they don’t complete the assignment.
Instead of avoiding challenging situations, let your child fail at something to learn the consequence of their actions when they lack self-discipline. Some refer to this as “tough love.” While a child needs to learn what results from the lack of self-discipline, they also need rewards for their hard work!
If you notice your child completing household tasks like getting dressed or brushing their teeth without asking, reward them with a compliment or even a weekly reward like staying up an hour past their bedtime to watch a movie.
3. Provide structure
Providing structure in a child’s life is a fundamental step in learning self-discipline. If your child follows a daily routine, then they know what you expect of them regarding responsibilities. A daily routine like eating breakfast, dressing, and brushing their teeth creates a structure for self-discipline tasks a child can eventually perform themselves.
Structure and daily routines set a child up for success when it comes to self-discipline. Plus, a structured environment will allow a child to feel proud and accomplished for completing everyday tasks by themselves. This, in turn, creates a reward system of “feel good” emotions because of self-discipline.
4. Let them know it will be challenging
Children are fast learners! Yes, they will learn fast from consequences, but it’s also crucial to let them know the challenges of a situation. Have you ever met a difficult situation or task and wish someone would have warned you how hard it would be?
By warning or telling your child the truth about a difficult situation or task, it mentally prepares them for the challenge ahead. Let’s look at an example!
Example: Your child wants to start swimming lessons. For swim lessons your child needs to show an incredible amount of self-discipline to keep going to lessons, learning new swim techniques, and learning challenging techniques like diving.
This example takes dedication and self-discipline from your child. But swimming is also a very challenging sport to learn more than “doggie paddling.” To help your child mentally prepare themselves for the self-discipline they need to display, sit your child down, and have a conversation about the challenges and rewards of swimming lessons.
Along with letting your child know about the challenges of swimming lessons, you also need to tell him/her about the rewards too! If you only tell him/her the challenges of a situation, it will make swimming lessons unappealing and your child might not want to participate anymore. But if you state the rewards they will get from swimming, it tells them how demonstrating self-discipline can be rewarding in life.
The Bottom Line
Self-discipline or self-control is something that comes with time. Even some adults still struggle with it! While it’s possible to teach self-discipline to your child, the concept develops slowly over time. However, if you start teaching while he/she is young, your child can grow into a self-disciplined adult! This one ability can determine whether young children become successful people later in life.
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