“He’s So Independent!” How to Encourage Self-Discipline in Your Kids
By Kim DeMarchi
Self-disciplined children are the stuff of parenting dreams. You know, the kids who persevere in the face of challenges, who love to try new things, and who think through the consequences of their actions?
Luckily, self-discipline is a quality that can be nurtured—by you! Take a look at the following four common scenarios that require parental troubleshooting. In each, your goal is to stay positive and help your budding self-starter learn how to think about the problems (and solutions) for himself.
1. The Situation: Your three-year-old needs to get dressed, which you always do for her (because it’s so much easier to do it yourself).
Encourage Self-Discipline: Your rapidly growing child has rapidly growing abilities, so regularly take a moment to check out what she knows, what she’s ready to learn, or what she really can do herself—and then encourage her to do those things. Your goal is to build competence and confidence—and to show your child you know she’s capable!
“We’re heading out in five minutes. What will you need to put on before we head to the park?”
“I see you put your jacket on. What are your thoughts about shoes?”
2. The Situation: Even though you’ve explained many times to your little builder that Legos have to go back in the bin, there are now hundreds of plastic bricks scattered all over the floor.
Encourage Self-Discipline: Avoid getting frustrated and issuing an order to clean them up. Your goal is to understand your child's thought process—and to encourage him to review past conversations.
“What was your understanding of what needed to be done with your Legos?”
“What do you think might happen if your baby brother gets those little pieces?”
3. The Situation: Your child doesn’t want to eat lunch, but you know that when she doesn’t eat, she gets crabby.
Encourage Self-Discipline: Rather than forcing her to eat (and telling her why), your goal is to help her think about the results of her choices—and then let her make the decision herself, even if that means she doesn’t eat. This will help her develop the ability to solve problems and think about consequences on her own.
“I’ve noticed that in the past when you don’t eat lunch, you seem to get grumpy and really hungry later. How do you think you’ll feel later if you don’t eat now?”
4. The Situation: You host a group of kids for a playdate, and after a snack they all dart away….leaving their cups, plates, and apple cores behind.
Encourage Self-Discipline: Instead of telling them to come back and clean up, your goal is to invite the children to think of a solution by themselves. After all, just as adults don’t like to be told what to do or be micromanaged (because it feels disrespectful), neither do children.
“How do you all plan to clean up after snack?”
“What will you all need to do in order to make sure the table is clear?”