Children who have strong self-control enjoy more school success, greater avoidance of risk-taking activities and a healthier social life. Here are some ways you can encourage self-control in your child or tween.
Teaching Self-Control by Using an Effective Parenting Style
Of course every parent wants to do their absolute best. But psychologists have found that one style of parenting may actually be more effective at helping teach children self control. They call this parenting style "authoritative." Authoritative parents provide rules and structure that they expect to be followed. Unlike other parenting styles, though, these parents explain why each rule exists and offer flexibility and support if the child has a misstep. This high-communication, high-warmth, high-structure style seems to produce children who are well-adjusted and self-disciplined.
Demonstrateing Self-Controlled Behavior
Your actions are perhaps the most powerful teacher in your child's life. It doesn't matter what you say if you don't model self-controlled behavior yourself. This means learning to take a deep breath and control your words and actions when something frustrates you. It also means demonstrating the ability to delay gratification, or to put off small immediate rewards in exchange for later, larger rewards. For instance, when you're at the mall with your tween and you see an expensive item you'd love to buy, you could demonstrate self-discipline by saying aloud, "I'd love to buy that, but I'm going to instead choose to save up for our vacation this summer."
Encouraging Thoughts About the Future
Researchers have found that children and tweens who have a "future time perspective" do better with delay of gratification and self-control. A "future time perspective" is the propensity to think less about the past and the present and more about the future. You can help your child develop this way of thinking by encouraging him or her to visualize future events in detail. You probably often ask how his day was when he come homes; note that this question encourages past and present thought. Follow up with some future-oriented questions, such as exactly what the tween plans to do next week, or even discussion about possible future careers.
Offering Opportunities to Practice Self-Control
Finally, provide your child with plenty of opportunities to practice self-control. "Knowledge is of little value if it is not applied in practice," says school psychologist George Bear, PhD. Sports are one arena for practicing self-control and patience. Sports also allow tweens to take risks in a safe and controlled environment. This is important since risk-taking teaches about the consequences of actions, which in turn promotes self-discipline and future thinking. You can also provide your tween with home-based opportunities to make self-controlled decisions. For instance, if you offer an allowance, you might try a decision-based allowance system: have your child choose whether to take their usual allowance right now or a slightly larger allowance at the end of the month. At first she may choose the immediate payoff, but with time she just might come to see the very real value of delaying the reward.
Bear, George G. , PhD. School Discipline and Self-Discipline: A Practical Guide to Promoting Prosocial Student Behavior. 2010. New York: Guilford.
Romer, Daniel, Duckworth, Angela L., Sznitman, Sharon, and Park, Sunhee. "Can Adolescents Learn Self-Control? Delay of Gratification in the Development of Control Over Risk-Taking."Prevention Science. 2010: 11, 319-330.