Self control is a fruit of the Spirit with a definition that is the same for both people who are secular and Christians. The one twist is that a Christian’s self control can lessen the chances of temptations leading to sinful behaviors.
Did you know that a famous longitudinal study found that self control is a crucial predictor of success in school, careers and relationships? Have you noticed it seems to be less valued and practiced in our world today than even a few decades ago? (Or at least people aren’t trying as hard to hide their lack of self control).
Because of the current climate in our world, you will need to help your kids understand WHY self control is so important to God. Otherwise, they will get caught up in a world view that says it’s important to “live your truth” and express it loudly to anyone and everyone.
Samson in the book of Judges is a great example of a person who seemed to have real self control issues pretty much his entire life. God was able to use Samson in spite of his lack of self control, but one can only imagine what Samson’s life might have been like if he could have controlled his words and actions.
The Apostle Peter is another great example of someone who at times suffered from a lack of self control. Point out to your kids that as Peter learned some hard lessons from Jesus, God was able to use him more and more…to the point where he became an effective evangelist and author of two books in the Bible.
There are some fun ways to help your kids practice self control. It’s important to understand a huge part of self control is self awareness. What is my body getting ready to do? What does my mouth want to say? Recognizing the warning signs that they are about to lose control and walking away instead is huge. It’s much easier to stop ourselves from beginning a sinful behavior than it is to stop when we are already sinning.
- Creating awareness. You can start by asking your kids to show you how you act when you are happy, sad, mad, etc. Have they figured out the warning signs that they are about to get in trouble? Make this light hearted and fun. If you have trouble laughing at yourself, show photos of people expressing different emotions and see if your kids can correctly identify them. After you have had some fun, ask them if they can tell when they are beginning to get angry? When are other times they tend to get in trouble for not having self control? Have they noticed warning signs right before they make a bad choice? Give them strategies to use at the first sign they may soon lose control. Help them practice them and provide gentle reminders (like a secret hand signal) when you see warning signs, but they seem oblivious.
- You can’t eat just one. Is there a temptation your kids seem to have trouble avoiding? It doesn’t have to be food, but that is often more fun. How long can they walk past that chocolate chip cookie (or whatever) without giving in to the temptation to eat it? Who in your family can avoid eating their favorite treat the longest? At some point, you can declare a winner and allow everyone their treat. As you enjoy, talk about strategies they used to resist the temptation a little longer. Could any of those strategies help them in other situations?
- Baking and serving. Nothing is more tempting when cooking than fresh baked goods! Get your kids to help you make a dessert or bread that smells great when baking. Then take every morsel and give it to someone else. Afterwards talk about how hard it was to share and not keep at least a little for yourselves. How can they remember to deny themselves and serve others when they have the opportunity? (Putting other’s needs before your own is both scriptural and a way to practice self control.)
- Controlling words and thoughts. Controlling their actions is easier for some kids than others. For kids who seem to have self control, begin discussing the need to control our words, thoughts and attitudes in addition to our behaviors. Since much of this is between only them and God or can be easily hidden or justified in their minds, this is a deeper discussion for older kids and teens. Have them look for people in the Bible and in the real world who seem to have good behaviors, but their words and attitudes indicate their heart may not be as self controlled as their actions. What are things they can do to be aware of any issues they have in these areas and address them? Can they benefit from others helping hold them accountable in some way? (This is a great way to also point out some of the possible benefits of being in a healthy Christian community.)
Self control is so important to living the Christian life, you must spend a lot of time working on it with your kids. If they have poor self control, they will have a very difficult time obeying God.