Ten Ways to Help Your Child Develop Self-Discipline

Last week, I led a discussion at a back-to-school brunch on self-discipline.  Sometimes parents don’t realize that things we do lead our children toward adulthood.  Following are ten tips that are especially helpful.

  1. Teach your infant/toddler to respond when you call.  Likewise, when your child calls your name, respond immediately.  You may say “Just a moment, please; I’m in the middle of something.”  But if you hear your name, model immediate response, whatever the response may be.
  1. Give your child your full attention when s/he speaks to you; children can tell if you’re not looking or listening.  Likewise, expect your child to stop and look/listen to you.  (This is also a basis for helping your child have respect for self and others.)
  1. Help your child to make transitions.  Know that almost all children make transitions better if they are given a warning a few minutes before the change is required.  “We’ll need to leave in five minutes.  Start getting ready!” is a typical warning.  Some children need a five minute, three minute, and one minute warning.  However, don’t string out the time and leave later than you planned.  If your child has difficulty with transitions, you’ll find warning your child, and then going through the preparation process together will help.
  1. Bed-time is usually an opportunity for your child to practice self-discipline.  Keeping in mind your child’s temperament, observe how your child “winds down” or prepares for sleep.  Some are worn out and ready to sleep, others want to be up ‘just a little longer’.  A very tired child may not need special activities before bed.  An excited child may need quiet games/books/activities in the evening in order to be able to settle him- or herself.  By following the same process at the same time daily, your child will develop the habits.  Bathing or wash face/ brush teeth, pajamas, book or story are all examples of what your child’s bedtime routine may include.  Be aware: some children need/want parental accompaniment during this time until they are far older than others.
  1. Set expectations for a self-disciplined lifestyle:  clean up one game/task (yes, you can help; great modeling!) before going on to the next; put away all toys before bed; once in school, make the backpack ready for the morning before bed.
  1. Teach your child to tell time as early as possible!  In many cultures, humans live by the clock and show respect by honoring agreed-upon times.  Three year olds can learn to use the clock for timing intervals.  The old-fashioned (analog) clock led us to say “The long hand is on the three, we need to leave when it’s on the five” or “dinner should be ready when the long hand is on the twelve; keep an eye on the clock and wash your hands when the long hand is on the ten”.  With digital clocks, it’s easier!  As soon as your child recognizes the numbers on the clock, you can begin.
  1. Help your child make good use of time.  I grew up knowing how long ½ hour and one hour were because that’s how long TV shows lasted!  My children learned about time and smaller increments, and then we started timing them.  How long does it take to make your bed? (This also leads to the basics for subtraction.)  How long does it take to make your lunch?  How long does it take to shower? Once your child understands how long things take when focusing on the task your child will understand why he/she needs to start a certain number of minutes before something else can happen.
  1. Look at your own special and unique child.  Think about the outcome you want.  Think about what will cause that outcome.  Plan to make it happen.  Help your child to organize until your child organizes automatically.  Some parents find charts with steps in the process help; find your own best method!
  1. Be consistent and firm.  Be confident and calm.
  1. Lead and engage your child through this development process.  Using love and respect, taking the time to work through this with your child, you’ll find that of course, your child can do this!

If any of these tips lead to questions, feel free to send email to me at melissa.pazen@gmail.com.



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2 Responses to Ten Ways to Help Your Child Develop Self-Discipline

  1. Great outline for good parenting. As someone who knows parents struggling with children who have mild autism-spectrum problems, I know that the warning for transitions, having predictable order in their lives and helping the child know what’s expected are even more important, to help them develop a sense of self and other as well as self-discipline.

    • I appreciate your comment, Susan. It’s always a joy to know someone is reading what I write and your point is spot on! While special needs children absolutely require structure, warnings, etc., all children benefit from them. I hadn’t considered the special needs child when I wrote the tips, yet you are right!

      Thanks for pointing this out.

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