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How to Teach Your Child Self-Discipline, Part 3 of 3

...part 3 of 3:

1.  In order for a child to develop self-discipline, they must first see that their actions have very real consequences, both good and bad.  Without this basic realization, they can’t be expected to “force themselves” to do the right or best thing.  Why should they, if they don’t see that their actions lead to direct consequences? 

To get them to see this, you need to give your child crystal-clear expectations about your rules -- make certain that he knows what behaviors you expect of him -- and be consistent in giving negative consequences when those expectations are not met, and positive consequences when they are met. 

2.  Allow your child to make plenty of mistakes, and don’t try to shield them from the negative consequences of their mistakes.  Only by making mistakes and getting negative feedback from others or from the environment do we learn to “self-correct.”


3.  Clearly link their actions and inactions with realistic negative results, not “punishment.”  Children develop self-discipline when they see that not doing the things that they should do leads to uncomfortable results.  However, if you deliver unrelated consequences, or deliver consequences with anger, then the child thinks this way: “when I don’t do what I should do, or when do things that I shouldn’t, other people get really angry, so I better make sure I don’t get caught next time.” 

Children who form this mode of thinking require constant supervision, and they don’t make the connection that when they don’t do what they should do, it leads to negative results for their own quality of life -- not just to punishment from their parents.  Also, when they are not supervised, they go right back to their problem behaviors.

If, however, you instead deliver consequences calmly and with empathy, then they see that receiving negative consequences for poor choices is just a matter-of-fact reality -- and that these negative consequences are not just tied to their parents’ reactions. For example, if they didn’t do their after-school chores, then they don’t go to their activities that night, they don’t get to watch T.V., they don’t get to play their video games, etc.  This result should be delivered as a matter-of-fact reality that when we don’t work, we don’t get to play.  Don’t display anger or feel that you have to lecture -- you just calmly state the consequence, and explain that that is how the world works -- if you don’t work, then you don’t get to play -- then go about your business.

4.  Explicitly point out to your child those instances when her self-discipline leads to positive consequences. For example, if she gets started on her homework as soon as she gets home so that she’ll have enough time left to go skating with her friends, then before she leaves for skating, be sure to point out to her that the reason she’s getting to go is because she used self-discipline and made herself start her homework right away, when she would rather have watched TV.  Helping your child make the link between good self-discipline and positive outcomes is every bit as important as making sure that they see the negative consequences of poor self-discipline.

5.  One of the most powerful reinforcements for any behavior is “public praise” -- so praise your child to other people, and making sure that your child hears you.  When your child achieves something as a consequence of self-disciplined action, tell people -- and make sure that your child hears you! 


6.  This sixth technique is one of my favorites, because it can be very impactful, and it also allows parents to proactively teach, rather than having to simply react to their child’s actions.  This is the technique of modeling self-discipline for your child by “thinking out loud.” 

For example, while reading the newspaper in the evening with your children in the room, say out loud, to no one in particular, something like “Boy, I really want to keep reading, but if I don’t get up and make dinner, then none of us will be able to eat tonight”; or on Saturday morning, to no one in particular, say out loud “I really don’t want to work today -- I’d rather stay home and watch TV, but if I don’t work on this project, then we won’t have enough money to go on vacation.” 

The effectiveness of this technique comes from the fact that (1) you are not “preaching” to your kids - you’re simply thinking out loud, so they don’t tune you out, and (2) it’s a form of modeling, which is by far the most effective of all teaching methods.

     So there you have it -- six powerful techniques for teaching the skill of self-discipline.  It’s not a quick process, and it does take a lot of work on your part, but there are few things you can do that will have a greater impact on your child’s future!



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