Obedience requires self-control to do what you want instead of what she wants.

Self-Discipline Exercises for Children

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

“Stop jumping on the bed!” Many young children lack self-discipline and might give in to impulsive behavior, such as jumping on the bed or running up and down the hall using their outside voices. You might help your child curb impulsive behavior with self-discipline exercises. Those exercises might help your child resist pretending to be one of the monkeys jumping on the bed!

Model and Talk

Your child learns self-discipline watching you, so if you can’t resist that chocolate brownie, you might think twice before you reach for it. Explain, “I know that if I want the brownie, I need to wait until after I eat lunch. If I eat too many brownies, I won’t feel good later, so I have to stop when I’ve had just enough. What kinds of things do you need to wait to do, or only do a little?” Your little one understands your motive for exercising self-discipline and learns to apply similar principles to her own life. Praise her and offer a pat on the back or high-five when she displays restraint.

Story Time

Young children enjoy stories, and may emulate behaviors they learn by identifying with characters in the story. Your child can learn from both positive and negative examples, such as how self-control benefits a character or how lack of self-control hurts the character. Read selections such as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” Isaac Watts’ “How Doth the Little Busy Bee,” Jane Watson’s “Sometimes I Get Angry” or various Berenstain Bear books. Ask your child questions about the story, such as “What happened when the hare decided to stop and rest instead of finishing the race?” or “How did the turtle win the race?” Help your child see how self-control benefits the characters.

Setting a Goal

Your child can exercise self-control by setting and pursuing a goal, such as earning enough points to invite a friend over to play or saving enough to buy a desired item. Explain, “You can get what you want if you are willing to do what is necessary to earn it. If you clean up your room and help with the laundry, then you can invite your friend over to play this afternoon. If you decide to play instead of doing what I asked, then your friend can’t come over.” Your little one learns that exercising self-control to obey you has advantages and disobedience has negative consequences. If he wants positive results, he will decide that making good choices is ideal.

Team Sports

Playing team sports requires self-control to follow the rules, cooperate with team members and discipline to practice the skills necessary to succeed, when your child might prefer to do something else. If she wants to be a leader on the team, this requires an extra measure of self-control to work fairly with teammates so they are willing to be led. Encourage your child to spend time several times a week practicing game skills. She also benefits from treating teammates with courtesy and kindness, even when she doesn’t feel like it.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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