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Self-discipline is important for your child's success, happiness, and better academic performance. You need to model self-discipline along with creating a positive and inspiring environment for your child. Here's how you can do it
Scenario one: You've asked your teenaged child to stay away from sugary food and 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 teenage child to join a foreign language course as you feel she has a knack for languages and it would help her career in the long run. She joins it and within months master the language.
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. Likewise, learning a new language needs dedication and descipline.
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. Plus, his impulsive craving for sugary delights led to many temptations. These two 'enemies' served as serious obstacles on his path to sucess. There was no way he was going to lose weight without putting in the effort.
In the second scenario, the situation is exactly the opposite. Your daughter joined the language course because of your insistence, but soon realized that joining the course and working hard would help add value to her career in the long run. She was focused, dedicated, regular and never gave in. She looked at the future and diligently worked towards it.
However, the hidden element whose presence (or absence) made a big difference is self-discipline, an important determinant of happiness and success.
Children are impulsive, sometimes crying their 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 entry into one's life. We are talking about self-discipline, or the lack of it.
Self-discipline is learned behavior. 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:
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 starts at 4:15 am, no questions asked. Second training session 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.
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).
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 scores well.
Research shows highly self-disciplined teens outperform their peers in every academic performance variable
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."
It may seem impossible to teach self-discipline to children, but these tips can simplify the journey and help in achieving the goal.
1. Practice what you preach
Psychologists observe that the first step towards helping your child learn self-discipline is to be a role model. If you are self-disciplined, your child will follow 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. 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?
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 teaching better.
4. 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.
To conclude, self-discipline is a key behavior that you can help your child to embrace. Not only will it shape your child's character today, it will also help her achieve success in her future endeavors. 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.'