One of my children had a friend that was absolutely and totally self-indulgent. As my son and his friends grew up, worked hard in high school, had good self-discipline, got summer jobs and prepared for college, their friend immersed himself in video games and surfing the web. He dropped out of high school and spent all his waking hours online or gaming, other than eating and sleeping at his parents' home.
The jury is still out on how my son's friend will turn out in the end, but it has been clear that somehow or another, he missed the memo about the importance of learning self-discipline and integrating this principle into his life. I have to believe that the time will come when he will learn the lesson, but that learning will likely come through a very hard reality check rather than through a constant progression through his younger years.
Self-discipline is the art of doing something that you don't want to do but know that you need to do for a long-term benefit. It also involves stopping behaviors that do not lead to the end you hope to achieve. Responsible adults generally become responsible by denying every impulse that crosses their path and charting a course toward what they want or hopes to achieve.
Fathers who are committed to raising responsible children make the needed efforts to teach their children self-discipline.
These tips will help any father think more about what he is teaching his children in terms of self-discipline and how he can best help them develop the self-discipline they will need to succeed.
- Don't coddle them. Coddling is a term that is probably a little out of vogue, but it basically means to protect a child from the consequences of his or her choices. It means giving into what the child wants, regardless of whether or not it is good for them in the long run. For example, picking up a candy bar at the grocery store check stand for the child who wants one may seem relatively harmless, but if parents give in to such demands time after time, knowing that it is not good the child, the child is taught to satisfy his or her whims. Fathers need to stake out the territory as to what is best for the child and then move directly through that course.
- Involve them in something bigger. One of the reasons many families embrace sports for their children is to teach them self-discipline. Once they register for the sport, they have to keep commitments to come to practices and games and they might have to practice their skills at home or with friends. In order to develop the skills needed, they need to say "no" to other things that don't contribute to their goal. Taking music lessons and working to master a musical instrument or learn to sing or dance well can lead to similar outcomes. When we are involved in something that causes us to stretch, we can learn self-discipline more readily.
- Model self-discipline. Teach children by your example that self-discipline is important to you. Put together a savings plan as a family for a fun new amenity at home (maybe a trampoline or an air hockey table) and then conspicuously save for it. Maybe you and your family can be saving for a family vacation and then when you are tempted to bring home fast food, remind them of the family goal, put the money in your savings jar and cook at home. Denying yourself in front of them will help them see what self-discipline looks like and the reward that you see in it.
- Demonstrate and teach how to manage anger. One of the most common emotions we feel is anger, and when we are angry, we tend to lose our self-control faster than it almost any situation. Help your child learn anger management skills and practice things like stepping into a time-out status when we are angry. One respected leader I know told me once that whenever he was angry with his wife, he would take a walk around the block to cool off. He credited his long life to many long walks and fresh air blowing off steam.
- Cut back on consumption. We live in a society that is becoming ever more complex and competitive. Our kids see the things their friends have and want to have the same things, regardless of your family income or attitude. A little simplification may be in order so your family focuses less on the material things and more on the intangibles that often matter more.
- Give them opportunities to make choices with smaller consequences. One of the reasons we hope that our children learn self-discipline is to protect them from disastrous consequences later in life. So help them practice with choices now that may have negative but not irreparable consequences. For example, have a little planter box in the backyard or on the patio where they can grow a tomato plant. Help them learn to water and fertilize, remind them of their responsibilities and then let them succeed or fail based on their effort. The self-discipline that they don't exhibit will result in a dead plant; but if they succeed, they can have delicious tomatoes in the fall.
A few simple choices and activities on a father's part can have huge positive results in helping children develop self-discipline. Modeling disciplined behavior, teaching by precept and creating consequences all have a part in helping your child become more self-disciplined.