When kids melt down in the middle of a crowded store, at a holiday dinner with extended family, or at home, it can be extremely frustrating. But parents can help kids learn self-control and teach them how to respond without just acting on impulse.
Teaching self-control is one of the most important things that parents can do for their kids because these skills are some of the most important for success later in life.
Helping Kids Learn Self-Control
By learning self-control, kids can make appropriate decisions and respond to stressful situations in ways that can yield positive outcomes.
For example, if you say that you're not serving ice cream until after dinner, your child may cry, plead, or even scream in the hopes that you will give in. But with self-control, your child can understand that a temper tantrum means you'll take away the ice cream for good and that it's wiser to wait patiently.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help kids learn to control their behavior:
Up to Age 2
Infants and toddlers get frustrated by the large gap between the things they want to do and what they're able to do. They often respond with temper tantrums. Try to prevent outbursts by distracting your little one with toys or other activities.
For kids reaching the 2-year-old mark, try a brief timeout in a designated area — like a kitchen chair or bottom stair — to show the consequences for outbursts and teach that it's better to take some time alone instead of throwing a tantrum.
Ages 3 to 5
You can continue to use timeouts, but rather than setting a specific time limit, end timeouts once your child has calmed down. This helps kids improve their sense of self-control. And praise your child for not losing control in frustrating or difficult situations.
Ages 6 to 9
As kids enter school, they're better able to understand the idea of consequences and that they can choose good or bad behavior. It may help your child to imagine a stop sign that must be obeyed and think about a situation before responding. Encourage your child to walk away from a frustrating situation for a few minutes to cool off instead of having an outburst. Praise kids when they do walk away and cool off — they're more likely to use those skills again.
Ages 10 to 12
Older kids usually better understand their feelings. Encourage them to think about what's causing them to lose control and then analyze it. Explain that sometimes situations that are upsetting at first don't end up being so awful. Urge kids to take time to think before responding to a situation. Compliment them as they use their self-control skills.
Ages 13 to 17
By now kids should be able to control most of their actions. But remind teens to think about long-term consequences. Urge them to pause to evaluate upsetting situations before responding and talk through problems rather than losing control, slamming doors, or yelling. If necessary, discipline your teen by taking away certain privileges to reinforce the message that self-control is an important skill. Allow him or her to earn the privileges back by demonstrating self-control.
When Kids Are Out of Control
As difficult as it may be, resist the urge to yell when you're disciplining your kids. Instead, be firm and matter of fact. During a child's meltdown, stay calm and explain that yelling, throwing a tantrum, and slamming doors are unacceptable behaviors that have consequences — and say what those consequences are.
Your actions will show that tantrums won't get kids the upper hand. For example, if your child gets upset in the grocery store after you've explained why you won't buy candy, don't give in — thus demonstrating that the tantrum was both unacceptable and ineffective.
Also, consider speaking to your child's teachers about classroom settings and appropriate behavior expectations. Ask if problem-solving is taught or demonstrated in school.
And model good self-control yourself. If you're in an irritating situation in front of your kids, tell them why you're frustrated and then discuss potential solutions to the problem. For example, if you've misplaced your keys, instead of getting upset, tell your kids the keys are missing and then search for them together. If they don't turn up, take the next constructive step (like retracing your steps when you last had the keys in-hand). Show that good emotional control and problem solving are the ways to deal with a difficult situation.
If you continue to have difficulties, ask your doctor if family counseling sessions might help.
Self-discipline is extremely vital for our wellbeing because we need to be in control of our behaviors and our lives to achieve our goals.
A recent study found that self-discipline is a better predictor of happiness and goal attainment than most other personal traits that were studied. It makes sense, people who lack discipline tend to develop different kinds of poor habits, obsessions, fears, and addictions. Having self-discipline keeps you focused on your goals and guides you on the right path.
How to Develop Your Self-Discipline
To develop self-discipline, you must first identify which areas need to be kept in check. A lot of common areas where people feel they need are things such as bad eating habits, bad drinking habits, work life, shopping addictions, gambling, smoking, and obsessive behaviors.
To develop self-discipline also means first to identify what emotions you’re lacking control of. This could be unhappiness, anger, fear, frustration or even dissatisfaction. We often let these emotions take over our thoughts and actions, but we don’t realize that we can prevent these emotions from taking control by identifying the thoughts that that push us towards adopting our uncontrolled behavior.
According to Martin Meadows’ book ‘How To Build Self-Discipline’, it is extremely hard to rid of bad habits, and that is why we need to monitor our thoughts and be in control of our actions. He says that meditation is also a good way to stay focused on your goal and not become distracted easily, and that is how you develop self-control too. It’s a highly entertaining book and also includes an audio version so you can listen while driving or doing your chores.
During the day, at least, several times, especially when you think you need to show that you are in control of your life and your behavior, remind yourself of the following things:
- I’m in charge of my own actions
- Self-control is enjoyable and relaxing
- I am in control of my own thoughts and emotions
- I am in control of my reactions
- I am in control of myself and my life
Visualizing yourself is also another way to develop self-discipline. When you visualize how you would instantly react or respond to a certain situation or something put in front of you, in a negative manner, and then visualize yourself in that same situation but with a more calm and controlled manner, it will help you to choose gradually the calmer demeanor when the time comes.
Once you’ve mastered the art of self-discipline, you will soon realize how it benefits your life. Having self-control means having a sense of balance in life. You will become more in control of your moods and emotions. When you develop self-discipline, you become and feel more confident and gain self-esteem . Self-control also helps you feel independent. Overall, you become a more trustworthy and responsible person who knows exactly where you are going and what you need to do in order to succeed.