My pastor shared an old Chinese proverb the other day.
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.
That clever saying has lots of applications. In parenting it is a reminder to start today in training up your child. But what about self-control? By definition self-control means to be in control of one’s self. When they are born children aren’t in control of anything. So is it possible to teach self-control to a child that has NO control? And if not, then what is the age when you can begin teaching them to be self-governing. And we would tell you the answer is today! But how do you teach a young child, even an infant, self-control? Well you can’t… but you can begin the process.
Watch Kelli when she is diapering an infant and the baby begins to fuss. You will hear her say things like, “Alright now, let’s relax and calm down. Get control of yourself. I’ve got this. You’re going to be ok.” Now some would say, you’re just talking to yourself. To which I would argue, even if that were true, it wouldn’t be a waste. You see, before you can teach your child self-control, you have to recognize the need and importance of doing so. By uttering those words, you are reminding yourself of the value in teaching your child self-control (we consider it one of the 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Child). I would also tell you, whether it’s the words, or the tone of voice, or the short prayer Kelli would pray over our child, I’d argue you’ve begun the process of teaching them self-control.
The other day my not quite two year old granddaughter was getting frustrated about something. I watched her mom (my daughter) simply say to her, “Take a deep breath.” Immediately that little girl took a deep breath and instantly was calmer. You should try it sometime… it works for adults too! But my granddaughter at 21 months of age was learning self-control. It is still early in the process. There will be many more lessons and lots of conversation around the character quality of self-control. But why wait until they are twenty, only to wish you would have started years before. It’s a process, to be sure, but it’s a process better started sooner rather than later.
The bible speaks a lot about the importance of self-control. In my experience self-control is the character quality on which all the other biblical qualities hang on! We can teach our kids about honesty, integrity, kindness, serving and the list goes on. They may agree with these qualities. They may even be trying to live out these values. But it’s self-control that gives our children the ability to live out the other character qualities. So when is the right time to begin teaching your child self-control? Twenty years ago. Unless of course your child is in your home today, then the answer is today.