Last week one of my boys took his brother’s favorite toy and hid it. The little brother had been a nuisance and older brother got tired of it. It had been a hard day for everyone, but the hiding of the toy was a new low for us. I decided it was time for us all to stop and have a conversation.
I called the two brothers to come outside with me. “It seems to me like we have had some struggles today with self-control,” I looked seriously from one to the other, “and I think we should all walk around and shake it off.” Self-control is a tough thing to develop. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, but you still have to know how to practice it. As a parent, it’s my job to point out when they do really well with self-control or to slow down and help them when they struggle. Biblical character doesn’t just happen.
I took the boys outside and we walked around in the sun. I left the topic alone for a few minutes and focused on what their favorite part of the day was. Then, after we all remembered the good parts, we had a little talk about their difficulty. I asked them why they thought they were having a hard time. They shared their frustrations with brothers, school, life, hard days. I understood. I have some rough days too. I asked them what they think self-control means. The younger boy said, “Not getting mad.” The older thought about it and replied, “It’s doing the right thing even when you don’t feel like it.” Ding-Ding-Ding! Give that boy a prize. I want my kids to know that we all have to deal with negative emotions sometimes and everyone gets mad. We do need to guard our hearts, but as children, it’s good to also know that even when we feel upset, we have a choice in how we act. Being angry doesn’t have to result in treating others badly.
How do we do this though?
That’s a hard question. After watching what’s happening on social media these days, I think it’s time we make some intentional change and seek self-control over sin-satisfaction. Here are ways I teach my own children to learn to rule over their actions, despite how they feel.
- Take a breath and count to 20. Before you ever act out of anger or foolishness, step back for a few seconds. Take deep breaths, thinking of the frustrations going out with the exhales and the Holy Spirit coming in as you inhale. Count to 20 before you respond to give yourself time to slow down your heartbeat and clear your mind.
- Think about tomorrow. What if this problem went away tomorrow? Would you regret acting the way you are? Not just in relationships, but in other areas like eating or spending. How will you look back on this decision tomorrow?
- Read a Bible verse. I like to have verses hanging around the house to remind us all that there is a book we live by and it has wisdom for us when we need it. A verse like Philippians 4:8 is a great reminder about where our mind should be.
- Think of 5 things to be thankful for. Lack of self-control is rooted in discontent and gratitude is the enemy of discontentment. You won’t feel so desperate to do the wrong thing if you’re thinking about things to be thankful for. For example, in my son’s case, if he had stopped and thought of a few things to be glad about with his little brother he would have lost the desire to hide his toy.
- Turn to a book for support. Sometimes reading a book or story about someone else who overcame their own struggles can help. Or non-fiction books like, “Liked” about the struggles girls have with who they are seeking approval from. Reading about how others deal with their issues can be a great encouragement and support.
- Ask God for advice. Prayer is a sweet way to let go of those desires to act on our feelings. He is always there to relieve our frustrations and show us what is true. When those urges to do things that are wrong overtake us, ask God for His help and His strength. He will provide.
- Make a plan. When my kids start to have the same struggle over and over, we make a plan of action for the next time. It almost creates a signal to use the minute they are in the thick of a situation. I can say a few words, “Remember you said you wanted to step back when you felt this way,” or, “Think about your goal to turn this problem around,” and it helps them to snap out of it. Self-control takes practice and support.
- Forgive yourself. So often the idea that we have to be perfect leads us to cover up our mistakes. I encourage my kids to let me see their flaws so I can show them that I love them just the same! They need to experience forgiveness and understanding so they can not only give that to others, but let God’s forgiveness wash over them too.
At the end of the day, my boys made up and mended their relationship. They hugged it out, found the toy and we all played a game together and forgot about it.
So what does it mean to have self-control? It’s setting aside what we feel and letting Christ take over. But it doesn’t just happen. We have to learn it, practice it, learn some more. I don’t think we ever fully get it right, so let’s not only work on our own self-control but let others mess up and be forgiven.
Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is acceptable and perfect.”
How are you teaching your kids about self-control?