Impulse control is one of the most difficult, yet most important concepts to teach your children. It is what gives them the time to think about what God would want them to do in a situation before they act and possibly sin. It is a critical skill necessary to live a life of godly self-discipline. Yet, it is a skill most of us will have to work on for our entire lives.
So what do we teach our kids about impulse control? How do we train them to think before acting? What do we teach them about how God factors into the process? There are a lot of things to consider, but here are a few to get you started:
- Teach your children when they feel a strong emotion to pause, pray and think before doing or saying anything. Strong emotions tempt us to give an immediate strong reaction in response. It’s what they often call “passion” in court. Although anger is probably the most common strong emotion which can cause your children to be tempted to sin, don’t stop there. Other “feelings” like love/lust and loneliness/sadness can also cause your kids to stumble. Even happiness (think celebrations that turn into property damage) can tempt your children to make poor choices.
- Train your children to decide ahead of time they want to always choose the godly option for behavior. Studies have shown, for example, teens are much more likely to remain pure if they have decided before given the opportunity that they will choose purity. Making a moral dilemma decision in the heat of any emotional moment rarely ends well.
- Prepare your children with godly coping strategies. When a child is furious is not the best time for a discussion of godly ways to release that anger. Discuss with your children on a regular basis what they think will keep them from making poor choices when various emotions happen. Instead of floundering for godly options, they will have a well-prepared list in their heads of better choices.
- Teach your children, if all else fails sometimes the best reaction is no reaction at all. Some children do not think well on their feet. They need time to think about and process all of their options if they are given any sort of choice (which is why the earlier suggestions are so important). Teach your children that when they feel a strong emotion and are confused – don’t say or do anything, just walk away. This will give them time to cool the emotion down and think about better choices.
- Train your children to pray about everything. Often we give the unspoken message that prayer is only for meals and bedtime or for really important stuff like saving someone’s life. In reality, God wants us in constant conversation with Him. Training your children to pray about everything, means hopefully their first response to strong emotion will be to pray to God for help. Good choices are a lot easier to make when you have God helping you.
- Create an atmosphere where your kids can ask for your advice even when what they are tempted to do scares you to death. As we all know, sometimes strong emotions may tempt us to do very scary and ungodly things. The temptation is not a sin though – only obsessing about it or carrying it out are sinful (See Matthew 5-7). You want your children to feel like they can come to you for advice and even admit their temptations without you having a meltdown yourself. Remember the temptation isn’t a sin – yet. Take a deep breath and pray before responding. Ask lots of questions. Suggest godly ways to make better choices than the temptation. Share the blessings of choosing God’s way and the consequences of choosing satan’s way.
It will take a lot of hard work for you and your children, but teaching them to have strong impulse control will equip them to better handle temptation when their emotions are strong. It is a gift worth giving your children.