This week’s topic is self-discipline. Interestingly enough, I am a day late in posting this because I lacked the ‘self-discipline’ to carve out the needed time this last weekend to edit my draft.
I have a four-year-old son, Eli. He has incredible self-control. He never throws a fit. He knows how to express his emotions far above his age. Yeah, right.
According to the Lutheran Education Journal, “Self-control [discipline] in the early years is expressed by the ability to trust adults, internalize rules, delay gratification, control angry impulses, find internal ways to be more patient despite frustrations, empathize with others’ feelings, take turns, and find ways to cheer up when feeling sad.” (Honig & Lansburgh, 1991) Self-control is one of the core building blocks we need for our kids.
Does it come as a surprise that in today’s world, our kids are struggling in this area? Can you remember a time you witnessed a child who had trouble understanding boundaries? Can you remember a time when you heard a child act as if the world was coming to an end because they didn’t have the latest video game? Do you know any kids who yell at their video games? Has your child ever thrown something out of anger? Ever seen a child over-react when they miss a free throw or a soccer goal? Ever watch a parent come out of the stands to verbally assault a referee or even worse, their child? Sadly, I can answer yes to all of these questions and provide you with 100 more examples with ease. I believe we are steering our kids in the wrong direction when it comes to being more self-disciplined.
Today, I can log onto a website and order a car and it will show up at my house the next day. I can order a pizza and 20 minutes later it arrives at my front door. If I want a new song, in a matter of seconds I can download it to my phone. Want a book? Download it. Want to see a certain movie? Download it. In today’s world of ‘right now,’ how do we instill a sense of self-discipline when everything is so immediate?
In the study mentioned above, researchers gave preschoolers (age 4) two options:
- One marshmallow right away or
- Two marshmallows fifteen minutes later when the researcher returned after running an errand.
The study resulted in 1/3 of the children choosing the one marshmallow and 2/3’s waited. Many years later, a follow-up study was administered after the same kids graduated from high school. Can you guess what their findings were? The researchers found that the children who waited for the marshmallow “now possessed the habits of successful people (Beachman, 2009). They were positive, self-motivated, and persistent in their pursuit of goals (Beachman, 2009). These habits point to successful marriages, higher incomes, and better health. The study also showed that the participants who did not wait earned lower SAT scores, were indecisive, less confident, and stubborn; all predictors of unstable marriages, low incomes, and poor health (Beachman, 2009).”
Holy cow, it was just 15 minutes and an extra marshmallow! Let’s read that again. “The study also showed that the participants who did not wait earned lower SAT scores, were indecisive, less confident, and stubborn; all predictors of unstable marriages, low incomes, and poor health.” If that doesn’t lead you to think there are dozens of important observations I need to make with my kids daily, I am not sure what will. No pressure here parents.
Being completely honest with you, I have struggled with this topic personally for many years. I am thankful to Laurie for putting a sense of structure around some of my bad habits that have transformed my life in more ways than I can articulate here; but suffice it to say, I have a hard time finding the clothes hamper in our house. My next project should be a series called, “52 things my Laurie does to make me a better man.”
Honesty Admission #1
While I was a young adult, I avoided getting my mail for long stretches at a time. We’re talking many weeks here, folks. I lived in some world where ‘If I just ignore it, the mail and any issues will just go away.” For me, I was an unwillingness to be self-disciplined enough to go through my mail daily, balance my checkbook, and act like an adult. I had convinced myself that the rest of the world had to worry about reading their mail; however, I was an ‘online’ consumer and would do everything via the laptop. I would pay bills when they called me and didn’t need the ‘junk mail’ that came in my mailbox. That was SO Passé (translated: Julian was an idiot.)
The resulting consequences of those actions was poor credit back then, my mail being stopped multiple times, an endless number of phone calls from people who were getting mail returned to them (including family….sorry Mom, DiAnna, Dave, Julie), and a dance I would do with my checkbook, hoping that everything would just ‘work themselves out.’ Wow. That’s messed up.
Laurie handles our mail today.
Honesty Admission #2
I have been historically quick to frustration. Here’s the kicker. It has been almost exclusively home-focused and not work related. My stupid logic; “My family can’t fire me, but my job can.” How messed up is that, right? Thankfully, I am getting a lot more patient. The improvement is coming by using some tools:
- I pray. I know prayer isn’t for everyone. For me, it is something that brings a peace to my heart and soul that calms me down tremendously.
- My good friend Jed Mullinex, who will be writing for GetConnectDAD next week, says, “You will pour out, what you pour in.” (loosely quoted) I spend time focusing on things when I have a few minutes here and there trying to fill myself up with good thoughts, messages, and people. When I am apt to lose my patience, I listen to good music, take a walk, breath deeply, and find something to read that fills me up.
- Being honest with my struggle has helped me become more conscious of behavior that I find unacceptable in myself.
- I take a pill to help me reduce some of the triggers that create my frustration. For the record, I am a horrible pill-taker. I still do it, because it helps me.
“So, Julian, you are a mess, how does this help me with my kids?” you say. Here’s the great thing, we as parents can do some pretty cool things to improve our child’s self-discipline.
This is NOT a complete list of areas where you can have an impact on training self-discipline with your kids; however, it gives you some ideas for adoption and modification.
- Work your child’s manners. We are working hard on encouraging our kids to be polite when they are interrupting and more importantly, try not to interrupt when others are talking. Eli and Ervin (4 and 2 years old) don’t have much of a tolerance for patience; however, we try to balance their needs for attention with the need to teach them self-discipline. Remember, anything nurtured will grow.
- Feed the dogs first. In our house, we do our chores in the morning before we make breakfast. It is quick, feeding the dogs and getting them outside takes a few minutes; however, it teaches the boys to be patient and to do the ‘tough stuff first.’
- One Toy at a Time. I believe we came up with this one purely to keep the house in some sort of order; however, it has become a core part of teaching a lesson to the boys. You can’t have everything when you want it. This process build’s patience and it does a decent job of preventing an explosion of toys everywhere.
- Roughhouse with your kids. Father’s play an important role in teaching your kids limits when it comes to roughhousing. Multiple studies have shown that fathers who successful regulate aggression during roughhousing can effectively teach children how to limit their aggression.
- Don’t stop activities when your kids are frustrated. Eli, our four year-old, loves puzzles but can’t stand the frustration of not finding the right piece. He gets upset when something doesn’t fit and his lack of self-discipline (he is only 4) leads him into even greater frustration. By working with him repeatedly, he is learning that with patience, he can figure it out.
- Meditation. If you asked me five years ago if I would have ever say meditation was something I used with my kids, I would have said “you are crazy.” Meditation can be as simple as sitting down together and having your kid(s) count slowly and softly to 10. It actually does a great job of calming them down so they can make better decisions. Ervin, who is a wee bit hot-blooded, get so riled up and then starts crying intensely. I have to gently remind him to start his counting. Imagine this little man, screaming as loud as he can and then working on saying “one”, scream some more, “two,” until he has kind of redirected his lack of control into something he can control, counting. Teaching your child a technique to re-center their emotions can help them forever.
- Have Simple Rules in the House. We have simple house rules. They are: In this house we are…
- Good Listeners
The secret here is to keep the rules simple and easy to understand, so they are easy to follow. We have found that 99.999% of any issue we have with our boys fall into one of these five rules. Your teenager comes home late? You were not considerate or safe. Your teenager calls his brother a name? You were not nice. Your young child jumps off the couch? You were not safe and you were not considerate of our home. See where I am going with this? We will use these rules for our entire life with the boys.
- “Use your words” to encourage self-discipline.
- You showed great self-discipline when ___________
- I’m proud to see you using words to express how you are feeling.
- You did a great job figuring out what the problem was before you reacted, Good Job!
You can come up with a few that make sense for you; however, the key here is to make self-discipline a key component of your conversations with your kids.
In writing this last week, I will always remember the marshmallow study. If you were the father of one of the 1/3 who took the marshmallow immediately and new the outcome, would you have done anything differently with your child’s upbringing?? I would have.
Religious Corner (…for those so inclined)
“My beloved brothers, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”
My paternal grandfather was a deacon in his church. By all accounts, the kindest man I have ever known. He was soft spoken, he was patient with all of us grandchildren, and devoted his entire life to the church, the message, and fellowship.
If you think about this simple sentence, what would happen if everyone in your family took this as their ‘mantra’ when dealing with each other, and when dealing with others outside of the house?
I was a very awkward boy growing up. 5’2”(1.57 Meters), 130 lbs. (60KG). You can say I was quite the looker. When I look back as an adult and think through what the other kids said and did to me, I realize that they hurt my feelings at the time; however, they didn’t have any real impact on my life. If I had leaned into this scripture more as a young man, I think I would have been much more equipped to handle the silliness of those years.
I want to instill in my boys to be like my grandfather, slow to speak and never angry.
My prayer to you and your family
“Dear God, in a world where you have made everything so easy to get, please help us to slow down and remember your example for us to follow: your son Jesus. My family is filled with temptations, frustrations, stress, and selfishness. Please help us see the best in our neighbors, be more patient with others, more loving to all we encounter, more forgiving to those who hurt us, and more humble in every way. We know your plan for us is great and by leaning into that, we can have peace in a way we have not yet experienced. Please be with my family through this journey and bring peace to all those I encounter. We asked this in Jesus’s name, Amen.”