The ability to practice self-control as a child is one of the early predictors of success in adulthood, not his socio-economic status, not his birth order, and definitely not his intelligence. A child with good self-control is able to know the limits of acceptable social norms, has a strong concept of right and wrong, is able to delay gratifications and knows the difference between a need and a want. Many people might feel that it is too early to expect that of children. Habits form at an early age and very often, the understanding of what is appropriate or not, begins from simple habits.
To raise a child with strong self-control, it is important to establish consistent daily habits, set clear expectations and practice good rationalization with children. These are some ways to do so:
- Set consistent bed times. We know how difficult it is to establish consistent bedtimes especially when we are attending social events on weekends or your kid just refuses to put away his fire engine truck. Knowing when is play time and rest time is a good start for self-control. A habit to raise from young, children who adhere to consistent bed times are more likely to lead a disciplined routine later in life.
- Set parameters. Parameters can be set for everything at home. This is especially important to curb indulgence. Parameters can be set for simple things like consuming sweets (e.g. every Friday, or twice a week), when can the child get a toy or television time. Do remember the more parameters you set, the more adherence you need to establish. It is important to explain the reasons behind setting these parameters to help children understand why they need to do so.
- Always talk through expectations before an outing. Children get very excited when they are out for a party, a trip to the mall or an overseas trip. The last thing we want as parents is to turn the trip into a major sour discipline trip. Always talk through the expectations before leaving the house and ensure that these expectations are adhered to. Leave room for discussion and make joint decisions together with your child where possible.
- Discuss the day’s routine. Introducing the concept of planning and keeping to the plan at an early age is a good way to hone self-control skills. Discuss the day’s routine with your child as a habit. Have your child agree to the plan and keep to it. Affirm him for keeping to the plan. It is also important to discuss different scenarios of the plan if it does not turn out as anticipated and learning how to accept changes without a fit also builds self-control.
- Rationalising purchasing decisions aloud. Demonstrating habits of financial prudence is a good start to developing self-control. Before your next trip to the supermarket, draw up a shopping list with your child. Instead of allowing him to sweep the aisle for all his favourite cereals, discuss and agree on a parameter e.g. choose only 2 types of cereal. Over time, he will develop a way of thinking through before deciding on what to buy.