How You Can Teach Your Child Self-discipline

The start of a new year is a time for creating novel habits. However, It's not easy to stick to resolutions, so teach your child how to be self-disciplined and stick to new habits.

By Akshaya Ganesh

How You Can Teach Your Child Self-discipline

Scenario One: “It’s not easy to lose weight” — You’ve told your teen many times. To avoid your constant nagging, he joins the gym you wanted him to. Win-win situation? Not really, you feel a few months later. After all, you don’t notice any difference. He looks the same to you.

Scenario Two: “It’s not easy to lose weight” — You’ve told your teen many times. To avoid your constant nagging, he joins the gym you wanted him to. Win-win situation? Absolutely, you feel a few months later! After all, you notice a huge difference. She looks amazing!

On the surface, you may be wondering what went wrong in scenario one. Well, there are several hidden elements in the two scenarios. Losing weight is not just about joining the ‘best’ gym and expecting the results. It takes immense dedication, perseverance and discipline to lose weight.

So, in the first scenario, even though your teen managed to join the gym, he wasn’t regular as he was unwilling to persevere. Plus, his impulsive craving for sugary delights led to many ‘temptations’. These two ‘enemies’ served as serious obstacles in his path. There was no way he was going to lose weight.

In the second scenario, the situation is exactly the opposite. Your daughter joined the gym because of your constant nagging, but soon realised that joining the gym and working hard will help her stay healthy for a lifetime. She was focused, dedicated, regular and never gave in to impulsive cravings. She looked at the future and diligently worked towards it.

A quick glance at the two scenarios may show no ‘visible’ difference. However, the hidden element whose presence (or absence) made a big difference is self-discipline, an important determinant of happiness and success.

Why should your child embrace self-discipline?

As babies, we are all impulsive, sometimes crying our way to achieve things. However, things change with the passage of time, especially between the developmental ages of three and seven. This is also the time when a crucial trait makes its maiden entry into one’s life. We are talking about self-discipline, or the lack of it.

Self-discipline is learned behaviour. It implies the ability to control one’s own emotions, thoughts and actions. A self-disciplined individual also possesses strong ‘delay of gratification skills', and often thinks about the future and not the present. Renowned counseling psychologist and coach Saras Bhaskar says, “Self-discipline is about training and controlling one's conduct, usually for personal growth and self-development. It appears in various forms such as endurance, perseverance and restraint.”

Several studies have hinted at a strong correlation between self-discipline and success. One of the most popular studies in this area was titled ‘The strength model of self-control’ by three eminent professors from Florida State University and University of Minnesota, which was published in 2007. The study concluded that ‘Self-control is a central function of the self and an important key to success in life’. So, let us dig deeper and understand the benefits of self-discipline:

Leads to success

Rio Olympics' silver medallist, PV Sindhu’s success is entirely credited to her self-discipline. In a conversation with ParentCircle after returning from Rio, Sindhu’s coach Pullela Gopichand said, “At just 21, Sindhu is an epitome of hard work and discipline. Her work ethic can inspire anybody. First training session at 4:15 am, no questions asked. Second training session at 7:00 am, no questions asked. You must also give credit to her parents for this. They too wake up with Sindhu and they too dream.” Gopi also revealed how Sindhu stayed away from her favourite ice cream variant and sweet curd for a good couple of weeks during the event at Rio. She also kept her mobile phone away for several months prior to the Olympics. The story of self-discipline in her case didn’t begin with Rio in sight, but during the formative years itself.

Leads to happiness

Not only does self-discipline lead to success, it also helps individuals stay happier, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2012. Led by German psychology professor Wilhelm Hofmann, this study involved a series of tests, and concluded that people with higher levels of self-control are happier in life than those who lack it. This is because individuals with good self-control tend to avoid situations that lead to conflicts. As an example, if they were trying to lose weight, they would avoid walking into an ice cream store to resist the temptation (to have ice cream).

Leads to better academic performance

A study conducted by Angela L Duckworth, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, along with Martin EP Seligman, a positive psychology advocate, revealed that self-discipline positively impacts a child’s academic performance. It was found that highly self-disciplined teens outperformed their peers in every academic performance variable, including report card grades, standardised achievement test scores, admission to a competitive high school and attendance. These teens outperformed their counterparts because of their ability to keep long-term gains in mind, over short-term pleasure. For example, a self-disciplined teen would skip having fun at a party to prepare for her exams so she scores well.

Research shows highly self-disciplined teens outperform their peers in every academic performance variable

Teaching children self-discipline

As highlighted earlier, self-discipline is learned behaviour. It can be difficult for many children to embrace it due to the urge to give in to temptations and peer pressure.

Saras Bhaskar adds, “There are many and varied reasons that prevent children from being self-disciplined. First would be the inability to control temptations and curiosity, thus leading to impulsivity. Peer influences also pose an obstacle. Sometimes overprotective parents can prevent children from being self-disciplined because they take on their children's responsibilities.”

It may seem impossible to teach self-discipline to children, but these tips can simplify the journey and help in achieving the goal.

Practice what you preach

This element of training features at the top of any list that involves teaching behaviour and inculcating values in children. Psychologists observe that the first step towards teaching children self-discipline is to be a role model. If you are self-disciplined, your child will follow your footsteps.

Create a positive environment

Setting up a structure and routine is a good way to develop self-discipline in children. Help your child plan his tasks and set up the guidelines he needs to follow every day. For example — encourage your child to sit with his homework at a particular hour every day and ensure that he finishes it within the allotted time. However, don’t push him too much. Be assertive, not aggressive. Give him prompt reminders to complete tasks while simultaneously appreciating the effort he puts in. That helps him grow and learn. Saras Bhaskar stresses, “Do acknowledge, appreciate and encourage when children exhibit self-discipline on their own.” Simple, isn’t it?

Inspiring stories of famous people

We all have dreams. But to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort. — Jesse Owens

Inspiring stories are a great way to help children understand the importance of self-discipline. Tell your child stories of how singer Asha Bhosle gave up eating ice cream and consuming anything cold as it would affect her singing. Giving your child relatable examples helps her understand and absorb your teaching better.

Make learning self-discipline fun with games

Getting your child involved in competitive games and activities is a great way to help him develop self-discipline. Games like 'Conducting an Orchestra' help develop children’s self-regulation skills. Try a simple orchestra at home. Give children musical instruments like bells and drums. Whenever an instructor waves his hand quickly, children should increase the tempo and vice versa. Then, reverse the rules and ask them to increase the tempo when the hand is waved slowly. A study done at Oregon State University shows that playing games that require children to listen, remember and follow instructions, helped them practise better self-control.

Highway to success

To conclude, self-discipline is a key behaviour that you should teach your child to embrace. Not only will it shape your child’s character today, it will also help her achieve success in her future endeavours. Remember, if your child manages to develop the required attributes to become self-disciplined, nothing can stop her from achieving greatness. In the words of the famous author Maxwell Maltz, 'The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.' 

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