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We know it by many names: patience, discipline, reserve, restraint. When children exhibit self-control, we often note how well-behaved they are, what good manners they possess, and what great parents they must have. However, in today’s world, with everything available at their fingertips (not to mention sensory overload) and the fact that their peers are constantly downloading, upgrading, and advancing at lightning speed, it’s becoming increasingly harder to teach children that good things come to those who wait. Depending on your child’s age, there are some things you can do to reemphasize the value of patience and ultimately, self-control.


Our society and culture is ever-changing. With many of our households now dual income or single parent, children have had to become much more independent, and in a way, growing up far faster than we did, or our parents, and grand-parents. But unfortunately independence doesn’t always equate maturity, and our fast-paced, technology driven society never stops influencing — allowances (and easy money, because let’s face it, teenage jobs aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be) are spent on upgrading to the newest gadget the minute it’s released, media-driven peer pressure surrounds them at the flip of a switch, and a careless picture can be snapped and shared in a second never to really be deleted. Little mistakes these days carry heavy consequences. It’s important that our children know when to stop, think, and make good decisions before big mistakes carry even bigger consequences. In other words… it’s important that our children are taught self-control as soon as possible.

Tip #1: Time Out

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While taking a time-out can certainly zap all the fun out of a child’s day, it can also be a much needed moment of pause (and reflection if you’re lucky!). We’re not just talking about sending little Susie to the designated time-out chair for two minutes mid-temper tantrum. Time-out can be used when you see signs that trouble is brewing — stress levels are heightening, expressions are hardening, voice levels might be increasing. Teach your child to counter stress and conflict by taking a brief break from the situation and coming back to it when their mind is more clear. You can help by offering a brief positive distraction if they are really young (this is a good time to practice counting!), or simply suggest that they take some time to themselves if they are old enough to understand. You may opt to rephrase it “Take Two” or “Take a Break” rather than time-out if a full-on tantrum hasn’t yet ensued.

This lesson can also be applied to social media — cyber bullying among teens is real and serious. Teach your kids to walk away from heated debates online to clear their heads before they post something that could have serious implications.

Tip #2: Set Limits

…. and hope your child pushes those limits at least a few times! Children learn that there are consequences for their actions when they break them — better to learn at home and with you, than out in the real world. Enforce limits at home and be sure to have well-known consequences in place in case those limits are broken. Once broken (because they are kids and life’s a learning process – it’s bound to happen), enforce the consequences and always remain consistent. Once a child learns that there are consequences for their actions, they will begin to stop and think, weighing right from wrong. Enforcing limits can start young, such as teaching children not to hit in spite of anger, or if they’re older, limiting screen time until after homework is finished or only at a designated time during the day.

Tip #3: Delay Gratification

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Remember what it was like in the fourth grade to recite every word on your spelling list over and over up until the day of the test, then ace it in no time? Or, saving every little bit that you could until you had enough for a down payment on a house? It wasn’t fun working up to those moments, but the end feeling was like no other, mostly because you had worked so hard to get there. Encourage your child to work hard towards attainable future goals, whether it’s practicing for sports try-outs, studying for a big test, saving up weeks of allowance for a coveted item, or keeping their room clean the week before a sleepover. Delayed gratification reinforces the concept of patience, hard work, and determination. It also brings about some of the best feelings, feelings that your children shouldn’t miss out on! Help your child to understand the importance and excitement in delayed gratification, and praise them for achieving or earning something they have worked so hard for.

Tip #4: Raise them to be Responsible

Chores can do amazing things, by not only getting things done around the house, but also by building a sense of responsibility in your children from an early age. It’s hard at times to know when to start incorporating chores with younger children, especially if their idea of putting silverware away from the dishwasher isn’t quite as — ahem– organized as yours, but simply giving them a job to complete to the best of their ability on a consistent basis builds character, and ultimately a sense of responsibility. What does responsibility have to do with self-control? Self-control is about taking ownership or responsibility of one’s behavior. It also teaches them to take care of the things that they own and use on a daily basis. If they can’t keep track of their favorite video game or have broken a phone or two, perhaps making them responsible for replacements will prevent any further future mishaps.

Tip #5: Maintain a Do-able Schedule

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So many of our schedules today are jam-packed with sporting events, tutoring, meetings, play dates, and work. Kids are either constantly on-the-go having to make split second decisions, or many kids are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, coming home after school to hours of television and technology. Maintain a “do-able” schedule where your child isn’t overwhelmed with endless activities, but also isn’t spending hours alone in front of a screen. Part of teaching self-control is learning to manage stress levels and tuning into your surroundings (rather than tuning them out). Give them the opportunity to be a part of real life situations and interactions, such as being involved in an after school club where debate and/or decisions are positively portrayed, but be sure to include down time spent with just the family — distraction free — completely disconnected from all media influences every once in awhile. 

While technology will only continue to advance, and it is likely that it will become easier and easier to obtain our biggest desires, instilling a sense of self-discipline and patience will hopefully help your children determine right from wrong and needs versus wants before making hasty decisions as they grow older.

For further information on technology, social media, and our children, check out What We Don’t Know: Social Media and Teens.

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Stephanie is a military wife, currently residing in North Carolina, and mama of two exceptionally curious little ones; a rugged pint-size princess and a mini Evel Knievel-in-training. When she isn't exploring the family's newest dwellings, running trails, and playgrounds, she spends her down time working from home, feverishly correcting "textspeak" in her college students' essays as an adjunct English instructor for a local community college. Her passion for writing and photography can be found on her personal blog Living Our High Life.