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Teaching kids self-discipline

As parents, we have so many lessons to teach our kids. One of the big ones is self-discipline. Especially in the older child, instilling the lesson of self-discipline is important before they make further forays into the wider worlds. It’s healthy food before treats, homework and responsibilities before the play – and the cleanup afterward. You can call it self-control if you want, or whatever, but whatever you do call it, it’s a myriad little things that make up how a life works and fits together. It’s how things get done.

Mom out walking with two girls

As much as I am working to try to give these lessons to my sons, I did notice recently that I have not been so good about self-discipline. I sneak treats before dinner, play on Facebook before I
get my work done, and leave the cleanup for later. While some (SOME!) of this is not necessarily awful – we all need a little slack in our lives – when I’m trying to teach the lesson to the kids,
it’s not such a good example.

Parental hypocrisy

As long as there have been parents, there has been some level of hypocrisy. The groaner phrase,”Do as I say, not as I do,” probably came from a parent. While we likely have the big lessons down –
when it comes down to it, we can and do shun less important stuff until the big important stuff is done – our kids see the little things. They know you are snacking and not necessarily always
practicing what you preach.

Kids of all ages see and absorb more than we think they do. Insisting that your son always sit at his desk for doing homework sounds hollow when you do your work (whatever it may be) sitting on the
living room couch in front of the television.

Look at yourself honestly: do you do this? Have your kids called you on it? Is it time to revisit the issue in yourself so you can more honestly ask it of your kids?

Get back on the wagon

Almost everyone could use a revisit on the self-discipline issue every now and again. We’re not perfect! Everyone has detours and bad days. Life happens. Take a deep breath, and get back at it.

Everything from eating healthy and exercising regularly to setting the most conducive environment for getting things done, think about the little ways you can exercise some self-discipline. As much
as you love music while you work, maybe you know that the music often distracts you. Maybe you are more efficient in silence – and therefore done quicker and can get back to the music!

And don’t confuse self-discipline withe self-deprivation; they are not the same. Self-discipline is necessary; suffering is optional.

Learn together

Be honest with your kids that you are still trying to learn the lessons of self-discipline and self-control, too, and you may stumble sometimes. If you are trying to teach you kids lessons about
self-discipline, do it with them. If you want your son to sit at his desk for homework, establish time in the afternoon when everyone is at
their respective desks working. If you want your daughter not to snack on less healthy things before dinner, agree to keep the
snacks out of sight (or don’t buy them at all), then work on making a healthy meal together. If it’s exercise, then maybe you and your kids can go on walks together. If it’s cleaning, establish a
daily schedule. In every day in little ways, you can do it together.

Positive reinforcement

A little acknowledgement – maybe even a reward – can also help you and you kids associate self-discipline with positive things. While ideally a good result is it’s own reward, reinforcement in
little ways can go a long way. If the homework and work gets done efficiently and there’s time to play a board game together, do it.

Nobody is perfect. We are all constantly learning and relearning life lessons. While looking in the mirror and acknowledging faults can be a not so pleasant thing, exercising a little
self-discipline to pull it all back together – to keep trying – is a great way to say…and do.

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