Teaching Kids Self-Denial


I recently attended a symposium which featured a presentation by a childhood behavioral “expert.”

Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about so-called “experts,” but this guy had a host of impressive credentials, not the least of which included raising eight children into incredibly successful young adults. Plus, I was very interested in his topic: “Teaching Kids the Art of Self-Denial.”

According to the expert, one of the most important “gifts” you can give your child as he develops into an adult is to teach him or her to “routinely deny himself immediate pleasures to achieve future good.” In other words, teaching your kid to say “no” and giving him the tools to resist daily temptations will go a long way to ensure your child’s future success.

The speaker’s words especially resonated with me as I am the mother of a singleton. My daughter is a classic only child, and I, by all accounts, am the classic parent of an only child in that I have a tendency to do everything for her. As I learned, this habit prevents my daughter from developing self-discipline.

To avoid further damaging my child I have been trying to implement the tips I gained from the “expert.” For starters, I created a set of written house rules versus simply verbalizing them when they weren’t being followed. In addition to making house rules perfectly clear, I also established concrete consequences should they be violated. For example, if my daughter doesn’t complete her job of setting the table for dinner, then she loses dessert that night.

Obviously, you would modify the consequences accordingly, as you know your child best and are cognizant of the type of punishment that will be most effective. The trick is to maintain consistency and follow through with penalties.

Once your child understands you expect him to behave a certain way and that there will be consequences to endure should he fail to do so, he will be more likely to control negative impulses of one kind or another. For instance, if you establish a rule that your child needs to be home for dinner every night at six or lose TV privileges for a week, he then has incentive to say no to friends who urge him to play another game of soccer that’ll make him miss curfew.

While this method of behavior modification may seem harsh, the expert noted that the concept of self-denial actually appeals to children, as it represents a challenge for them. Over time, a child who learns to practice self-denial will be better prepared to resist greater temptations as adults.

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.