The Importance of Teaching Children Self Control

By Reb Bradley


With the Columbine massacre awakening out nation to new depths of depravity, many wonder about the cause of our society’s condition. They ask, “Why is our society so out of control?”


The answer is actually very simple. Societies do not get out of control – the individuals in them do. The individuals who contribute to America’s present moral decadence are lacking what the Bible presents as the key ingredient of maturity – self-control. Any society which is out of control is obviously comprised of people who lack self-control. We as a nation have moral problems today, because our members do not have the ability to adequately restrain themselves. The bottom line is that our adult society did not learn self control as children.


How much better off is that home or society in which the members are self restrained! A child who learns self-control does not habitually hit his brothers and sisters when he wants his way, and does not grow up to lie, cheat, steal, murder, or violate his wedding vows. He may feel like sassing his parents, his Sunday School teachers, or his boss, but he is able to control himself-and speak with respect. He may feel like making an obscene gesture at the driver who cut him off, but he is able to restrain himself-and not escalate a conflict. He may feel like shooting his classmates, but he is able to not do it. He has passions and all natural drives, but he isn’t ruled by them. Because his passions are not calling the shots in his life, he has discretion and is free to make wise decisions. Because his craving for pleasure does not rule him, he is faithful and reliable in duties. Because he is not a slave to self-gratification, he has little to cover up with lies.


As parents we have our children at home during the most influential years of their lives, and we are the ones with the opportunity to do the training. We must stop elevating “self-expression” and “self-actualization” and seek to teach our children self-denial. Life does not give us everything we want, so we must teach our children early that they cannot have everything they want. One day their boss won’t view them as the center of the universe, so we must be careful now of accidentally sending them the message that the world revolves around them. Our country may be a democracy, but few employers will offer them a vote. Therefore, we must teach them to submit to authority while they are young.


Self-control is learned in small children by having to say “no” to themselves and “yes” to their parents. We therefore, must offer our children especially strong leadership for the first few years of their life, giving them little say in the decisions we make for them. They must not be included as a part of the “parental leadership team,” not only because they must learn the self-denial which comes from following parental leadership, but because psychologically, their small shoulders can’t handle the stress of running the home. Children, once relieved of such duties, ultimately become secure and happy.


The bottom line is that children gain inner controls by having to submit to outer controls. If parents establish firm behavioral boundaries for their toddlers, never offer a reason why they should obey, and limit their personal choices, by the time these children are 4 years old they will have learned self-denial and be well on the path to self-control. A self-governed 4 year old has accepted his parents’ authority to be parents, and is in the optimum mindset to begin hearing the wise reasons behind Mommy and Daddy’s directives.  If we offer our children reasons to obey before they have learned to obey without them, they will not learn the self-denial which is the very foundation for self-control.  A child who has learned self-denial is one who knows he can survive quite well without getting his way. He has learned that his happiness need not depend on getting what he wants in life.


Adapted from “What’s Happened to America?”



If you realize that you have not yet trained your children to be self controlled, you will want the help you can receive from Reb’s tape set “Biblical Insights Into Parenting” and from his book “Child Training Tips: What I wish I knew when my children were young.”