3 steps to helping kids develop self-discipline

Will power, self-discipline and productive habits are the buzz words for the summer Olympics in 2016.  Ask any of the  Olympic gold medal winners  to what they attribute their success and I guarantee these words will come up over and over.  No one is going to say they won the gold by having a lackadaisical attitude, following a random practice schedule and doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.

So how do we encourage our students and children to develop similar habits?  Are they just born with a competitive spirit and a desire to win?  Were they genetically endowed with their athletic skill?  While certainly body type and personality style are factors in their success, studies have shown that these qualities are not something that the character fairy flits about in the night and bestows upon us magically. Instead they can be systematically developed and nurtured.

Over ten years ago a longitudinal study by Angela Duckworht and Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania measured self-discipline in adolescents through self-report, parent report and teacher report.  They then followed up later and were more accurately able to predict final grades, class attendance, standardized test scores and even selection into a competitive high school program the next year.   Perhaps not shocking to any educator who has been teaching for a while, self-discipline was a better predictor of these positive results than IQ.

How Do We Cultivate Self-Discipline?

To help our kids develop self discipline and willpower we need to teach them to employ the following steps.

  1. Complete tasks even when you dislike them–We live in a world with an emphasis on doing what you love, when you love to do it.  However, willpower is developed by recognizing and doing those things that you don’t love, maybe even dislike, on a regular basis.  Maybe its studying math when your real gift is drama or reading a book when you’d rather be shooting baskets. It could be running sprints when you’d rather lift weights or vice versa.   Maybe it’s taking out the garbage and flossing your teeth when you’d just as soon skip it altogether.  Helping students recognize the power of creating daily routines and following through with consistency will develop self discipline.
  2. Find an accountability partner— We all need a push at times to keep going, whether it’s gearing up for the big game or the big test.  Developing an encouraging and challenging relationship with  someone, be it a coach, a parent  or a teammate  can be the magic motivation when we are at our lowest point. Maybe you play that role in your child’s life or maybe you can help them find someone that they can develop that special relationship with.
  3. Know the why behind the action— Do you need a good score to get in the school of your dreams?  Do you need to have an amazing athletic history to make the team? Do you need to be the shining star in the school play to snag a career on stage? Knowing your why and the steps involved in getting there will see you through the tough times and the times when you experience failure and setbacks in accomplishing your dream. As parents and educators we can help kids not only dream the dream but also determine the practical steps involved in getting there.

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