Teaching Kids Self-Control
My first word was “mine”. I’m pretty sure my middle little’s first word was also “mine”. Isn’t it interesting how quickly we learn to assert ourselves and claim what we deem as rightfully ours at such a young age? We do not have to teach children possessiveness or to act in controlling ways. The difficulty comes when we try to teach them self-control and reasonableness.
How can we teach children self-control? They love the idea of being in control of themselves and they think being the boss sounds just about right. But self-control as a fruit of the Spirit does not mean total autonomy in all areas, but Spirit-control instead. How do we teach our children to be Spirit-controlled? How can we explain this to little minds?
You’ve been there before, you’re familiar with the scene. After maneuvering the aisles for groceries for the week you turn into the checkout and there it is, the dreaded rows of candy and chips and small toys oh my! These treasures are right at eye level for little people who are fed up with grocery shopping and with keeping their hands to themselves. They immediately begin grabbing their snacks of choice and plead for these conveniently placed items. Can we use this as a teachable moment in stewardship and self-control?
When teaching kids self-control we need to use real world examples that they can understand and to which they relate. Grocery store checkout lanes provide plenty of opportunity to teach children the difference between want and need, how to steward the resources God has provided, and have self-control in their decisions and actions.
When teaching kids self-control we must make sure they understand who is the rightful owner of all things. “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.” (Deuteronomy 10:14). One of the first stories we often teach our children is the story of creation. We marvel at God as the Creator in the beginning, but it is important for our children to also understand that God remains the Creator of everything in the world today. We are Spirit-controlled beings and we are given the task of caring for ourselves as the temple of God (1 Peter 2:5) and for the world around us as our work given by God (Genesis 2:15). We have the choice to use or misuse the creation of the Lord. Our children must learn self-control in order to allow Spirit-control over their resources.
When teaching kids self-control we guide them in aligning their desires with the Lord. In the Bible, immediately after creation we read the story of man’s fall and sin entering the world. We live in that sinful state and in a fallen world today. First John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” Indulgence is a gateway. In the eyes of a child, the bags of chips or the blind bag toys in the checkout lane are enjoyable, fun, and feel so necessary. We can use this opportunity to teach our children self-control in our food choices and our finances. Introducing the idea of stewardship at early ages allows a progressive discussion as our children grow and their responsibilities increase. The idea of using our resources to honor God and not our fleshly desires is training our children to align themselves with the Lord.
When we teach kids self-control we teach them to keep eternity in mind. After the fall, we receive the hope for redemption and reconciliation in Christ. First Corinthians 9:25 says, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” We teach the children the concept that “practice makes perfect” and to “try try again”. We need to remind our children that in living a Spirit-controlled life which allows us to walk in self-control then we are becoming more Christlike. We are not stuck in our sinful state but have the hope of redemption through Jesus Christ. We practice self-control in worldly ways so that we can grow in Spirit-control for all eternity.
As silly as it seems, the checkout lane provides such a great practical experience in self-control. Teaching self-control requires baby steps and something as simple as saying “no” to that candy bar can be a lesson for our littles. I used to view a small checkout lane treat as a reward for our hour long shopping trips. If the boys behaved, didn’t get in the way of other shoppers, and didn’t try to sneak extra things in the cart then they deserved a reward. But as our family grew we began going to the store more and more often for forgotten items and ingredients. So I started saying “no” and reminding my boys of all the healthy food we had at home and how thankful we should be for that provision. At first it was met with grimaces and groans, but eventually my oldest would remind his brothers, “We don’t need to spend the money on candy when we have healthy food at home to make us strong!” That was a proud mama moment and a reminder that even simple changes can make big impacts.
Do we still occasionally indulge in a special treat? Yes! We are made to enjoy life and I wholeheartedly believe that receiving a tube of mini m&ms fills my boys’ love tanks. Teaching self-control isn’t about teaching ultimatums and absolutes. Teaching self-control is teaching our children to respect the Creator and Authority over all things and aligning our desires with His for all eternity. Let us teach our kids self-control in the small things so that when the bigger issues arise they have the tools and willpower to walk forward in confidence.