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Why Self-discipline Is An Important Quality For Children, And Ways To Help Your Child Master It

Akshaya Ganesh Akshaya Ganesh 8 Mins Read

Akshaya Ganesh Akshaya Ganesh


Self-discipline is important for your child's success, happiness, and better academic performance. You need to model self-discipline and create a positive and inspiring environment for your child. Here's how you can do it

Why Self-discipline Is An Important Quality For Children, And Ways To Help Your Child Master It

Scenario one: You've asked your teenager to stay away from sugary foods and to follow a fitness regime to lose weight. He joins a gym but within a month quits it, and continues to eat junk food. 

Scenario two: You ask your teenager to join a foreign language course as you feel she has a knack for languages. Besides, it could help her career in the long run. She joins the course and within months she masters the language.

Comparison of the two scenarios

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 inner motivation, dedication, perseverance, and discipline to lose weight. Likewise, learning a new language needs dedication and discipline.

So, in the first scenario, even though your teen managed to join the gym, he wasn't regular as he was not willing to toil hard - mainly because it was your goal for him.  That's probably why he gave in easily to his impulsive craving for sugary delights. It's important that your son owns the goal for himself. He must feel the need to lose weight - an inner motivation that says 'I want to do it for myself because it's important to me. And he must find his own purpose in going to the gym.

In the second scenario, the situation is exactly the opposite. Your daughter joined the language course because of your insistence but soon realized the purpose it would serve - that working hard at the course would help add value to her career in the long run. Therefore she was focused, dedicated, regular, and did not give up. She looked at the future and worked diligently towards achieving a goal that she chose for herself.

However, the hidden element whose presence (or absence) made a big difference is self-discipline, an important determinant of success and happiness.

Why should your child embrace self-discipline?

Self-discipline is learned behavior. It implies the ability to regulate one's emotions and actions, to work hard at something, to persevere, and not give up despite mistakes, failures, and lost opportunities. Self-discipline is also about working and behaving in certain ways without being told to do so. The controls come from within the person.

A self-disciplined individual also possesses strong 'delay of gratification skills', and often thinks about how the present choices can have a gainful impact on the future. 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 titled 'The strength model of self-control', by three eminent professors from Florida State University and University of Minnesota, 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. The first, training session starts at 4:15 am, no questions asked. The second training session is at 7:00 am. 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 favorite 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, but 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 and thus 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, standardized 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 can score well.

Help children develop self-discipline

As highlighted earlier, self-discipline is learned behavior. 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."

Tips on how to encourage self-discipline in children:

1. Practice what you preach

Psychologists observe that the first step towards helping your child learn self-discipline is to model the behavior for your children. If you are self-disciplined, it becomes a way of life in your home and makes it easier for your child to follow in your footsteps.

2. 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. Children usually give up when they are overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness or frustration or confusion. Attending to their feelings with empathy helps them regain their confidence to focus on their work with a renewed energy to do complete it well.

Saras Bhaskar stresses, "Do acknowledge, appreciate and encourage when children exhibit self-discipline on their own." Simple, isn't it?

3. Inspiring stories of famous people

Inspiring stories are a great way to help children understand the importance of self-discipline. You can tell your child about singer Asha Bhosle and how she 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 guidance better.

4. Make learning self-discipline fun

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 practice better self-control.

Highway to success

To conclude, self-discipline is a key behavior that you can help your child embrace. Not only will it shape your child's character today, but it will also help her achieve success in her future endeavors. Remember, if your child learns to become self-disciplined, nothing can stop her from achieving success. 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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