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7 Ways to Teach Self-Control

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One of the primary tasks of early childhood is to develop self-discipline. One of the primary tasks of parenthood is teaching self-control.

Most children, young children, in particular, are by nature impulsive. Part of the solution for impulse control is self-discipline. A child armed with self-control and self-discipline has a tremendous advantage in addressing life’s challenges. So many relational and personal problems can be avoided when one has self-control. Here are 7 ways to teach self-control to your children.

1. Teach children to come when they are called.

When a parent calls a child, that child shouldn’t yell, “What?” from across the house, parking lot or playground. Children can learn to come to the parent, within a few feet, in order to have a dialog with the parent. This helps children learn that self-control sometimes means that we must give up what we would like to be doing in order to do something else.

2. Teach children to respond positively to correction.

Most children don’t like to be corrected and respond negatively in either aggressive (anger) or passive (bad attitude) ways. This is unacceptable and becomes an excellent opportunity to teach self-discipline. One of the facts of life is that people often must follow directions which may not be their preference. Teach children to respond with a good attitude as well as right behavior. This requires self-control and helps children learn to control their impulses. A good response to correction is sometimes difficult to learn but work in this area will help a child develop a skill which will help them forever.

3. A number of social skills require self-control.

Praise children when they demonstrate this quality and point out areas they need to work on. Listening, knowing when and how to interrupt, anger control, reporting back after completing a task—all require self-discipline.

4. Encourage children to take on activities which build self-discipline.

They may include sports, music lessons, a paper route, the responsibility of caring for a neighbor’s pet, memorization of scripture, a clean room, or a host of other activities.

5. When a child receives a reward like payment for a job accomplished or even a star on a chart or special treat, talk about self-discipline.

External rewards give a great opportunity to talk about internal rewards. The real benefit to a paper route is not the money, it’s the building of self-discipline. You are pretty determined and responsible to get up every morning. That shows self-discipline.

6. Use bedtimes to teach self-discipline.

Some children have a hard time going to bed without creating a battle and this becomes a great opportunity to teach self-discipline to children. After all, it requires a lot of self-control for a child to stay quietly in bed while parents are still awake. Set a bedtime, develop a routine which covers all the necessary bedtime tasks, and work at getting your child to stay in bed without mom or dad falling asleep in the room. This requires work on the part of the parent but will pay off tremendous dividends in the end.

7. Morning routines, chores, and family schedules become opportunities for children to learn responsibility and self-discipline.

Responsibility is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. The rewards for being responsible are called privileges. The child who is responsible to get ready and be at breakfast by 7:30 a.m. is allowed the privilege of staying up until their 8:00 p.m. bedtime. Being able to choose one’s clothes is the privilege of getting dressed before the deadline. Simple benefits of life are seen as privileges associated with basic responsibility.

Some parents try to give their children an easier life than they had or they try to make their children feel good at the expense of good character. Unfortunately, this often translates into more freedom and less self-control. A wise parent will use childhood to prepare a child for success as an adult. Self-discipline is one of the most important character qualities a child can develop. Ironically, spoiled children are not happy; self-disciplined children often are!

Self-discipline is a primary quality that will help children be successful in life. More techniques and ideas are available in the book Good and Angry, Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids.

Tell us! What’s the best way you’ve come up with to teach your children self-discipline?

Dr. Scott Turansky is an author and speaker known for his heartfelt parenting approach. He offers moms practical, real-life advice for many of parenting’s greatest challenges and is the founder of the National Center for Biblical Parenting.


In what area do you have the toughest time with self-control? Junk food, games, texting?

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