(5th in a series on building godly character in your children)

Our youngest son has always been curious and adventurous. As soon as he learned to open doors, he had trouble controlling his curiosity and desire to go outside.  We had to install a “Jonny-lock” (named after him) to keep him from heading outside when we weren’t looking (he was fast, and also the youngest of four, so life was busy)!  As he grew older, his curiosity caused him to wander away in public places… we lost him briefly once at the Mall of America and also at the State Capitol building!  He needed self-control regarding his curiosity!  Thankfully he became more self-controlled in this area before I was completely grey-haired at an early age!

As a child, my brothers and I had a hard time not overeating on Thanksgiving day. My mom says we would eat two Thanksgiving dinners (one with each of the grandparents) and then go home and be sick all night! We either needed to learn to eat less at each place, or we had to change our traditions!

Self-control isn’t an easy thing to learn!  Especially when it comes to food, but anything we enjoy or desire can tempt us to lose control and overindulge or do things we regret!

Thankfully self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so we don’t have to develop it completely on our own!   God helps us to have the self-control we need in life. Self-control is essential in our struggle against our sinful nature and desires, and God knows we need His help!Galatians 5 22 23

The Blue Letter Bible defines self-control as: “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites.”   Some synonyms of self-control are self-discipline, self-constraint and strength of character.

As parents, we need to teach our children about having self-control.  If we let them have all they want whenever they want it, we’re creating an out of control monster that no one will want to be around!

How can we help our children learn self-control?  Here are some ideas that might help:

  1. As always, the first thing we need to do is pray for our children!

Self-control is an important character quality to God! There are many scriptures that speak about it. And, because it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit, it’s God who will ultimately be the One to develop this quality in our children as they grow in their faith in Him. We need to seek Him help!

  1. Use games to teach self-control:stop go
  • Red light/Green light is always a favorite! Have the children start at a line telling them they can only move forward towards you when you call out “green light”. The second you call out “red light”, they must stop. Those who don’t are out of the game. (this works on obedience too!)
  • Freeze tag is another favorite. There is one child who is the “tagger” and the other children are free to run. Once the “tagger” touches a child who is free, they must freeze and stay there until someone who is free touches them and releases them from the freeze.
  • More games for working on self-control can be found at
  1. Talk about the importance of self-control beginning at an early age.

I think a child in their twos can begin to understand this concept, but don’t expect them to master it that early! You’ll see some of the biggest changes from ages 3-7.  It’s important to explain why self-control is necessary and to use examples throughout the day where it’s good to have self-control: with food, with emotions, or anything that might cause a child to act impulsively and inappropriately.

  1. Have clear expectations.

You’ll need to remind younger children of them often.  Be proactive! When you’re going into a situation where a child might be tempted to lose control, coach them and remind them of how you expect them to behave.  For example, if you’re going to a playdate with a large group of kids, beforehand talk about situations that might arise.  Give them ideas for what they can do if someone takes a toy away from them or hits them.  Talk about how they can handle it without losing self-control themselves. For Jonathan, prior to field trips, we often talked about the importance of making sure he could see where I was at all times!

  1. Use teachable moments.

If your child loses his temper because he isn’t getting his way, calm him down, and then talk about what he could do differently next time he feels frustrated so that he can express himself in a way that would exhibit better self-control.  Teaching him how to express himself in a controlled manner is something that will help him well into adulthood.

  1. Teach your children about delayed gratification

Maybe you’ve heard of the “marshmallow test”?   This test was done with preschoolers who were given the option of eating one marshmallow or waiting for a period of time and getting two instead.  Interestingly, these children in the study were followed into adulthood and the children with the ability to delay gratification and wait ended up doing better on scholastic achievement tests, were more likely to finish college and less likely to develop substance abuse issues.   Developing this ability to delay gratification is basically working on self-control and is a great idea to do with our children.  One way to do this would be to encourage your children to save their money for something bigger rather than spending it the minute they get it.  Or tell your child if they can wait till later, they’ll receive something better than that cookie they want! But, if you promise something better if your child will wait, be sure to follow through.  A child who finds out it doesn’t pay to delay gratification will be less likely to be willing to delay their gratification in the future.

  1. Memorize scripture together related to self-control

Proverbs 25:28: Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”

I Peter 1:5-6:  “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness,”

Galatians 5:22-23:  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

  1. Use Bible stories to teach about self-control.

There are many great stories of people with self-control in the Bible.  Daniel and his friends were able to control their eating in order to be obedience to God’s laws even when the food before them was very tempting.  Joseph had great self-control in difficult circumstances. Ruth was a godly woman who controlled her desire to stay where it was comfortable in order to help her mother-in-law instead.

Self-control is something that takes a long time to develop! Honestly, I doubt anyone has perfect self-control. I know I haven’t mastered it yet!  But if we can help our children to understand the importance of it and help them begin to develop it when they’re young, they’re more likely to have self-control as they move into adulthood.  Remember, God wants to help, so ask Him to develop this quality in your children!

If you have any other suggestions as to how to teach your child about self-control, please share them here! I’d love to hear your thoughts!