Be patient when getting your child to understand the concept of self-discipline.

How to Explain Self-Discipline to Children

by Angeliki Coconi

Kids are impulsive, and that's a fact of life. But there's something that can be done about the impulsive tendencies that cause you to yell, "Don’t climb on that!" or "Don't touch that -- it’s boiling hot!" This wonderful little tool is known as self-discipline. But self-discipline isn't innate; kids aren't born with the ability to discipline themselves. And that's where you step in. Self-discipline is a learned behavior that will make your life and your little one's much easier to deal with.

1 Help your little one learn through correction, and stress to him the importance of responding to correction with a positive disposition. Remain consistent and firm when you correct your child. Keep in mind that you need to exhibit self-discipline yourself if you expect your little one to embrace the concept.

2 Test out the effectiveness of your attempts by calling for your child out loud at random. Do this from time to time, so as to take the little guy by surprise. If you shout, “Tommy, come here!” and he simply replies, “What?” then you know that certain improvements need to be made. Why? Even when you've caught him in the middle of watching something on television, or playing with his toys, he needs to learn to drop what he's doing and approach you. Tell yourself that little Tommy is on his way to self-discipline if you call his name and you hear the patter of little feet moments later. When your kid is able to respond to your calls in this way, it most likely means he’s started to understand that giving up what we like for what is needed is sometimes necessary.

3 Establish bedtime and morning routines. According to clinical psychologist Laura Markham, routines help kids adopt a strong sense of mastery over their lives and take on important changes and developmental challenges. Make it clear to your little one that bedtime is at 8 o'clock and breakfast is served at 7.30, and be consistent in keeping to that schedule. Encourage your child's acceptance of these "house rules" by creating rewards. If your kid gets into bed by 8, his reward might be his favorite bedtime story. If he's at the breakfast table by 7.30, he gets his favorite cereal. The ability to get what he wants by controlling his own behavior will spur him to practice self-discipline.

4 Make a list for yourself that includes all your kid’s responsibilities -- eating, dressing, going to preschool, getting into bed. Take it to him once you’ve compiled it with everything you want your little guy to do for himself (eventually). Discuss the most important ones, and let him know why his responsibilities are important and what he needs to do to make them happen. Sometimes, simple communication can work pretty well in drilling it all in.

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