We don’t want our kids under parenting-control. We want to guide them to their own self-control. We want them to be able to manage themselves in hard situations and be able to make good choices when we aren’t watching.
What does this mean and how can we do it?
Self-control is a skill that can be both taught and caught.
Our job as parents is to guide our kids to self-control. This ability helps them to not act on impulses and to be able to choose what’s right. They really can become their best selves when they learn not to act on impulses.
Kids are impulsive and need to learn this important skill of self-control. It is a learned skill, not something they are born knowing how to do. Their brains operate a certain way and they see the world a certain way. Kids don’t typically start to develop any kind of self-control until middle childhood. However, this is a set of skills we can always patiently be working on. Self-control helps them to not act on impulses and to be able to choose what’s right. They really can become their best selves when they learn not to act on impulses.
Self-control and self-discipline are very similar. We want our kids (and ourselves!) to be able to rely on what’s within them, not on external forces. When external forces control us or how we feel, we are at their mercy. When we have the ability to rely on what’s inside of us, we are more in control of ourselves and feelings.
We can do this by:
Modeling our own self-control:
We can choose how to act. It’s hard when we are flooded and that’s why we see so many knee-jerk reactions. And that’s also why we need to model self-control and teach it to our kids. They can see us struggle and still choose to do the right thing.
Our modeling and talking out loud about our own choices as adults can help our kids as well. We can show kids that we struggle too, but we try to make the conscious choice to do the right thing.
Maybe emotional self-control isn’t something you’re good at doing. Maybe self-discipline in certain tasks isn’t a quality you often have. That’s OK. We are all uniquely wonderful. If there are areas of your life you want to improve, take the steps to improve. That’s what you would want your kids to do.
Teaching emotional intelligence:
Teaching emotional intelligence can help kids learn to cope with emotions instead of acting out. Research has shown that kids who have parents who emotionally support them and who become able to manage their emotions do better in school, relationships, can bounce back faster when distress hits, have resilience, and have fewer behavior problems. Teaching kids the label what they feel and techniques and skills to feel better works wonders on big feelings. When kids have a better handle on their emotions, they can have a higher frustration tolerance for uncomfortable feelings.
Helping Develop Executive Functioning skills:
I can get exhausted keeping track of everything for all our kids. Life certainly gets easier when they learn to manage their own lives more. But that skill set won’t just happen on its own. It needs to be fostered. Helping our kids develop their Executive Functioning (EF) skills will make everyone’s lives easier and help set them up for success. We can give them opportunities to be responsible and point out when they are doing things well.
Setting and enforcing loving boundaries:
We enforce boundaries and limits to show kids where the line is. Much like the laws we follow. Life is usually better when we have self-control and follow the rules. They can learn to have boundaries with themselves and others. Boundaries keep kids safe and help them know they are cared for. Again, we don’t want kids under parent-control, so we aren’t dictators over their lives. They do need a healthy amount of freedom.
Allowing kids to deal with consequences of their actions:
Practice makes better. Kids need to blow it sometimes to learn. That happens best with our empathy. We understand that kids will mess up. That’s a healthy part of being a kid. They need to push boundaries and we need to remain firm in them. We also need to be cautious not to use harsh punishment. (Read 5 Virtues of a Positive Parent here.) I would rather my kids make lots of mistakes while they are young and the consequences aren’t as bad as when they are older.
Giving lots of control and choices:
We all need control in our lives. Kids need a healthy amount of freedom and control in their lives. Allow them to make choices within reason and their ability. If they don’t feel the need to fight for control, they are less likely to act out. Remember- you are the parental authority and not a permissive parent.
Allowing them to set limits for themselves:
When our kids learn that life is made of boundaries and rules, they can enforce those on others as well. They can decide to say no to drugs or sex. They can decide to drive safe and do chores. Kids and teens should have a say in some boundaries in their lives. Sure, they may say their curfew should be 1 am or they should get 8 hours of screen time a day. But we as parents, who are the family-team-captain, can use our parental authority to say “no.” Kids are part of the family team and we should hear their ideas, especially when it comes to their lives.
You can read more on Preventative Parenting here. But in a nutshell, knowing what is going to cause problems can help us prevent them. Instead of being reactive to situations, we can be proactive. Notice your kids struggling in a certain area? Have a chat and come up with solutions. Notice your kids struggle without food or a nap? Plan ahead. Life, of course, gets in the way sometimes, so we can’t get these things right every time. That’s just life. But we can plan for what we can and hopefully prevent undesired behaviors or situations.
We can’t force it upon our kids. We have no control over them, their words, and actions. We can only control ourselves, and teach them how to do the same.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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This blog is written as an educational and general resource only. It should not be used to diagnose or as a substitute for parenting or relational therapy, advice, or counseling with a professional therapist or medical doctor. Renewed Hope Parenting is not responsible for results or use of the information provided in these pages if you choose to use them. Everything included in this blog and website is copyrighted to Emily Scott, PhD and Renewed Hope Parenting and may not be used without permission.