Martin suggests the best place to start with teaching self-discipline is for parents to model the fruits of the spirit for their children. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV).

“Self-control is the key to discipline,” he says. “If a child can exercise self-discipline, there is less of a need for us to discipline. Our philosophy is this: our job as parents is to first model self-control in our own lives and then teach our kids how to control themselves.” Here are some ideas for helping children—and adults—with self-mastery.

Pray. This may seem too simple a solution, but praying that you and your children will exhibit the inward and outward signs of self-control is vital to any success in this area. Pray for and with your kids about self-discipline.

Show your struggles. All of us stumble in the area of self-control at one time or another. Share some of your “down” moments with your kids. For example, you could talk at dinner about how you lost your temper at work. Tell how you apologized and what steps you’re taking to avoid future blow-ups, such as not scheduling meetings right before lunch because being hungry makes you irritable. Ask for prayer as you work through this loss of self-control. Letting them see a snippet of how you wrestle with self-mastery can be encouraging. 

Practice. Practicing self-control is no different than practicing a sport. Professional athletes, for example, often do the same drills over and over again. Aamodt and Wang, in the New York Times article, find that “self-control can be built through practice.”

Provide alternative expressions. When kids lose self-control, it’s often manifested with hitting, kicking and screaming. “When was the last time we physically showed our kids how to control their emotions when they are frustrated, disappointed or upset?” says Martin. Direct the child to jump on a mini-trampoline, run around the outside of the house, or do pushups when he or she starts to feel a loss of self-control. 

Delay gratification. Self-discipline can be taught by not giving in immediately to a child’s request. For more than 10 years, Martin has hosted a camp for around 1,500 children with challenging behavior and special needs. “We would take them to Best Buy and let them look around, picking up video games and movies they wanted. Then we’d leave the store without purchasing anything. We physically taught them self-control,” he explains.

We should keep in mind that the consequences of not teaching self-control can set our children up for failure later in life. “Self-control helps teenagers resist the temptations of alcohol, drugs and sexual activity. Self-control is essential if our kids are going to be financially independent and responsible,” says Martin.

It’s never too late to begin a corrective course in self-discipline for you and your family. Even though setbacks will be inevitable, remember that Christ himself calls us to a life of self-control. “If we want our kids (and families) to reflect the nature of Christ, then we all need to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit when stressful situations occur,” says Martin. 

Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children. Visit her at www.sarahhamaker.com.

Publication date: October 2, 2012