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How To Teach Your Children Self-Discipline

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how you could handle conflicts with your children. I encouraged the idea that you give your kids space to make their own decisions – and ultimately their mistakes. But how do you make sure they have all they need for completing this task?

External v. internal steering

Everybody knows that there are different theories of raising kids. This one about self-discipline, that I support, is from Dr Thomas Gordon. He was influenced by Carl Rogers. Rogers was a humanistic psychologist. He believed that every person can achieve their goals because they have one basic motive, that is the tendency to self-actualise – i.e. to fulfil one’s potential and achieve the highest level of “being human.”

Gordon distinguishes between external and internal steering. Reward and punishment are external steerings and a norm in our society. Internal steering, however, is often left out because it means giving children a chance to experience the unpleasant aspects of their behaviour.
Reward and punishment are external ones. In our society, it is considered normal to use external steering and it does not support internal steering. You can teach kids the second if they get the chance to experience the unpleasant aspects of their behaviour.

How to solve this problem in 6 steps?

Dr Gordon suggests six steps to solve a problem:
1. Establishing and describing the problem.
I will use again an example out of my own experience. I have a full-time job and I don’t think it is fair that I’m doing all the chores at home. It means that I work at home usually the whole weekend to catch up, so I have no time to relax. I started the conversation with naming the problem and using I-statements about how to divide household chores.
It is handy if someone in the family writes everything down.
2. Brainstorming possible solutions.
Everybody can say, which tasks they would prefer. Then, you can also elaborate whether some tasks can be attached together in order to be handier.
3. Evaluate the solutions.
For example: “doing the groceries is a much heavier task than taking out the garbage” Everybody should have their say in the matter.
4. Make decisions.
In this step you can turn the discussed solutions into actual decisions. But it can still lead to discussions about the implementation and possible problems. “Do you clean the table immediately after dinner?” or “Do you walk the dogs every night at the same time?”. It is settled when all parties are satisfied with the decisions.
5. Implementation of the solutions.
Once decisions are made, it’s important to implement them.
6. Evaluate the solutions (again) after some period of time
Often you can only see how something can be done better when you actually start doing it. In my example, we gave it 2-3 weeks in order for everyone to get used to their chores and then we would sit down and talk about their opinions and ideas for improvements.
It will not succeed every time to work through the steps without problems. For example, if step 4 doesn’t generate a solution that everyone is happy with, you need to go back to step 2 and think about new ideas. Sometimes the process is shorter – if you find a good solution in step 2, step 3 can be very quickly done.

The basics of self-discipline

The most important thing about this method is that the children are involved in the decision-making. That is the reason that they can feel responsible for it too. They get confronted with problems, they think about solutions and they bare the consequences together with parents.

Finding the balance

Gordon criticizes the either/or attitude that is typical in most of the parents: “I either win with implementing my will, or I lose by letting their will prevail.” This is not necessary. The third solution is that you can have a common decision that knows no winners or losers because everybody has a say in it. I do stand behind this theory, with a footnote. I do believe – as I stated this in my first blog post – that you need balance. You need to teach your kids self-discipline, but you have to be authoritative when necessary. The steps that Dr Gordon suggests do not apply in some situations – such as life-threatening situations (I will talk more about this in the next post).
All in all, where internal steering ends and the reward and punishment take its place is a personal decision for every parent based on their beliefs and values but it is important for every parent to be aware of it.



Do you have another example of allowing your children in the decision-making process?

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