A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Proverbs 25:28
Self-control seems to be a lost virtue in our culture of “whatever I want, whenever I want it”. But as you read that verse from Proverbs, the Bible portrays a sobering picture of how vulnerable we leave our children if we don’t train them in this important character trait. Not only is the heart able to be penetrated by outside influences, the child is without protection from further attack.
Since this is found in the Bible, we know that from the beginning of time, humankind has struggled with self-control. But never before in history has there been such an availability to everything, everywhere, at any time, as now in this digital age. Not only are we as adults assaulted constantly to give in to our every desire, but our children are targeted by the culture even as infants to have their every want fulfilled instantly.
Is there any hope for the future? Yes! Fortunately, we know that with Christ there is ALWAYS hope, and we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide, direct, and convict us in every area as believers. God has also given us a framework for understanding how to live within healthy boundaries and how to grow in virtue.
Before we get practical, let’s examine what makes self-control a virtue. As outlined in Chapter 14 of the Parenting from the Tree of Life series by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, self-control is:
- The ability to effectively govern one’s emotions, desires, or actions.
- The internal ability that allows us to say “No” to immediate wants and desires, when deferred gratification is the better option.
- A mechanism of the heart and mind that empowers a person to “consider” rather than “react”.
- The ability to refrain from doing things we might regret.
- A habit of learning that allows a person to focus, concentrate, and pay attention.
- A foundational virtue on which all other virtues depend in order to function properly
That is a list that I not only want to be mastering myself as a parent, but I definitely want to be using it as a guide to shape my kids to swim upstream as believers in Christ in this broken world. Studies have even been done which prove what we already knew: children who possess strong self-control grow up with character traits such as being highly self-motivated, dependable, trustworthy, emotionally stable, and able to adapt to change. God wants us to train our children to have self-control for the furthering of His Kingdom. Those who possess strong self-control will be most effective in promoting the Gospel and will be sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and obedient to God.
The good news is that if you parent your kids intentionally, self-control is not only achievable at a young age, but it will actually reduce the amount of correction you’ll have to give along the way. That is GREAT news, in my opinion!
So how do we achieve this lofty goal? It won’t happen by itself, nor can it be taught like a subject at school. You must be providing opportunities for your kids to PRACTICE self-control. These are found in structure and routine and in moral training. Here are some beginning principles to help you get started:
- For little ones with lots of energy, self-control needs to be specific and concrete. The energy has to be redirected and asking the child to “fold his hands” is a simple but VERY effective way to begin training in self-control. I can personally attest to this. All three of our own children caught onto this quickly. The usefulness of this principle is unlimited: from church services to grocery stores and from car trips to restaurants.
- When training in self-control, be sure to stay engaged so that you can stay on top of the behavior BEFORE it gets OUT of control. This is one way that you’ll have to correct less. By staying ahead of the behaviors, you can quickly regain self-control before it is totally lost.
We started the discussion with what happens without self-control, but just a few chapters earlier in Proverbs, we see the life-giving perspective of this principle. Look what is possible when we make the effort to train in self-control: Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32) Not only will the heart be impenetrable, but they will be more prepared for the battles ahead, even more than one who “takes a city.”
Julie Bame is wife to Rich, mom to three beautiful girls, a Contact Mom for Christian Family Heritage, and Worship Coordinator at North Clinton Church. Rich and Julie are passionate to see the Kingdom come in all of life, but especially so in marriages and families. They count it a great privilege to walk the journey of parenting with anyone who will join them.