Monday, February 14, 2011

Self-Control: A Foundational Virtue

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Sometimes, training our children, from baby to older child (and I am sure pre-teen and teen) is exhausting. Sometimes it seems it would just be easier to just sit back, relax, and see where the chips land and go from there in a year or two. Why all the effort? Why all the work?

"Self-control is a foundational virtue, meaning other virtues are dependent on it" (On Becoming Babywise II, page 22). I definitely believe this. I have long been taught the importance of self-control, but now that I am the mom of a 5.5 year old, I can really watch the effects of self-control taking place. "Self-control influences kindness, gentleness, proper speech, controlling negative emotions, concentrating, focusing, sitting skills and many other behaviors" (page 22).

Self-control influences kindness. How does it do this? For one thing, self-control allows you to filter what comes into your head. Kindness is definitely something some people lack, and I am sure a lot of it comes from a lack of ability to control what they think. 

Of course, I strive for a higher law than simply controlling my words--I want to control my thoughts, too. Perfect? No. I think unkind things about people sometimes. So the next step is to learn to control our thoughts. We push those unkind thoughts out of our heads and replace them with kind thoughts. 

Self-control also helps with kindness in the world of sharing. We control our selfishness and think of others.

What about gentleness. If you have a hitter or a biter, have you ever considered your child's ability to have self-control? Are there things you could do to help your child learn to control herself--to not act on that impulse to hit another person?

This can be helpful with positive emotions, too. Perhaps your child is very excited to see a puppy or a baby. A child with self-control is better equipped to be "gentle and soft" with the young thing. 

What about concentrating? Does your mind ever wander? Is it hard to stay focused when reading something "boring"? 

It all comes down to controlling yourself. YOU choose your emotions. YOU choose your actions. YOU choose your perceptions. You are free to act--you don't have to be acted upon. You are not the victim of your surroundings. A person with self-control knows this and recognizes this. You don't have to be angry. You don't have the right to be unkind. You are stronger than your emotions. You can find something to be of interest. 

But it isn't easy, is it! I am positive you saw something in that list that you find difficult. 

So why do we put the effort in now?

To help our children better master self-control throughout their lives. Teaching that baby to control her impulse to spit food all over your face helps her to better control her desire to crack a joke about another person down the road. She learns it is okay to spit in the tub, but not at the table. She learns to control herself. She learns to think about what is appropriate when. She learns that entertaining herself is not all that should drive her behavior.

These early steps are small, but they greatly aid in the development of self-control. 

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2 comments:

Sum said...

I was just searching your blog this morning for info on self-control/self-discipline! How timely :). Could you maybe do a post recommending books or other resources that focus on how to teach self-discipline? Everything I have read indicates that it is a virtue that is key to success in all areas of life, and so I really want to get it right with my kids. Thanks!

Plowmanators said...

Sum, I don't know if I know of any books off hand that focus on teaching that.

A huge thing that helps is having independent play and other structure in the child's life. Also teaching the child to work and to wait turns and to help herself. The -wise books are full of little tips that add to the child's ability for self-control.

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