By: Eliza Najar
Helping Kids Make Healthy Choices
Self-discipline or self-control can be defined as the ability to control our feelings and impulsive behaviour in order to achieve our goals. This means, every time you exercise self-control, you give up something you want, in pursuit of greater reward or a goal you desire to achieve. So each time your child decides to act against her natural impulse, and follow the limits set by you, she is practising the skill of self-discipline. Or rather building up the neural pathways which strengthen when we use them more. Permissive parenting is not helpful for children to develop self-control as the unrestricted freedom doesn't provide them with the opportunity to exercise self-discipline. Does that mean punitive measures are helpful? Trying to discipline the children through threats or punishments is not an effective way either. The reason is that the child is doing what you want them to do. It is a way of enforcing obedience which is unquestionable.
Nurturing self-discipline in young children
Empathetic limits help kids practice self-control Children learn self-control from the boundaries set by you -- only if it is laid on a foundation of empathy. Empathy is essential because it reduces the struggle of your child in following the limits set by you. If the child is connected to you, she knows that you love and understand her. Thus, even if she doesn't like the limits you have set, she chooses to accept it because she knows you want the best for her. Allowing the children to control their impulses is the key to help them develop self-control.
Pick choices over commands
Allow the children to make their own choices instead of giving commands. Give them opportunities where they can choose between self-control and temptation. Pocket money is the most natural way for you to nurture self-control in children. Suggest to your kids that if they save some amount from their pocket money, you will reward them or add it to their savings. Even with daily chores, you can give them a choice. Instead of saying, “Go and water the plants”, you can ask them, “ What would you prefer to do first, water the plants or tidy your room?”.
Think future, think consequences
Encourage the kids to think about the possible outcomes of the choices they want to make. Every time you engage them in thinking about the future, you are helping them strengthen the part of the brain which controls their impulsive behaviour. “I know you excited about the football match and you don’t feel like studying. But if you do not finish reading for your exams, will you be able to cope up well with the next week?”
Teach them ways to distract themselves
Waiting for something you desire can be really tough. It is even more difficult for young children as they tend to keep thinking about what they want. Hence, their patience and self-control get tested and stretched in the process. It gets stretched to a larger extent if they can actually see what they are waiting for. As parents, we can help them take their mind off the temptation by teaching them ways to distract themselves. ‘Let’s go and take a walk in the garden till the cookies bake’. ‘ Let’s watch your favourite cartoon movie while we are waiting for it.’
Let's make it fun
Talk to kids in the language they understand. Play fun games that help them inculcate a habit of self-control. You can try out interesting games like Red-light Green-light, Freeze game, Colour matching freeze, Drum beats and many more. For example, when you play the freeze game, children dance when the music starts and stops when the music stops. In the same way, they dance quickly for peppy songs and show slow moves for the softer ones. Since this is the natural impulse of the child, it is not a difficult task for them. But when the cues are reversed, it becomes a challenge for the child. Now he needs to act against his impulse and hence practices the habit of self-regulation.
Why should self-discipline be nurtured?
Lack of self-control doesn’t mean the lack of intelligence. People who are usually impulsive and have the ability to take risks, also possess great talents and strengths. Inventors, discoverers, entrepreneurs are few of such people. But they can also get into a lot of trouble if they do not possess the quality of self-control. Self-control is a vital part of decision making. Eating a lot of cookies, throwing tantrums or spending too much time on gaming might not seem detrimental while children are still young. But during adolescence, poor self-control and bad decisions can lead to dangerous outcomes in both short and long-term. Self-control during adolescence is crucial as the decisions taken in this phase of life sets them up for success in adulthood. Teens with a higher self-control are able to discern between the risks that will help them grow and the ones that might be harmful to them. On the other hand, teens who lack self-control can get lured into a harmful lifestyle which drains them mentally and emotionally. As teens, our children will be exposed to experiences that are largely out of our control. This is the time when their level of self-control plays a critical role. Their decisions, experiences and a large part of their success as adults is determined by how well they control their emotions and feelings.