It’s that time of the year when teachers around the world write the end of year report cards and parents always ask on receiving them, how they can help their child’s grades improve.
The answer lies not in ‘doing more’ but rather in ‘how things are done’.
The comment, ‘Timmy needs to show more self-discipline,’ is not just a phrase pertaining to playground behaviour, or impulse control; it is a teacher encouraging parents to support and develop in their children a mind-set that implies that a child has internalized a set of rules so that even without the presence of a parent or other caregiver, the child will act in a thoughtful, reflective manner. The reason this is so encouraged at school is that self-discipline is the greatest predictor of high attainment.
Dr Sam Goldstein and Dr Robert Brooks wrote:
“The need to develop and harness self-discipline at an early age, while critical in any culture, may take on greater importance in a society filled with complex demands, challenges, and stresses. When self-discipline is effectively learned during childhood, there is a greater likelihood of successful coping and accomplishment in adulthood. Thus, it is not surprising that in our fast paced, often chaotic world, children capable of implementing self-discipline at young ages appear to negotiate the maze of family, school, friends, and community more successfully than those who struggle with this ability.”
Further studies, such as the work of Amelia Duckworth and Martin Seligman, published in the Journal of Psychological Science, found that:
“Each student’s capacity for self-discipline was twice as important as his or her I.Q. when it came to predicting academic success. Self-discipline was also the most powerful variable in predicting high school selection…”
So knowing that self-discipline is a key in our children’s development, how can we as parents and teachers help instill it in our children?
Children need guidance as they grow up. They need to be shown ‘how’ to think about their actions and learn to reflect upon their choices and approaches to challenging situations. As the old adage goes; monkey see, monkey do, so your children will imitate your own approaches to life, and the ways you handle and solve problems that arise in it.
Children quickly realize different consequences follow from their various choices, but the failings in building up self-disciple and resilience come when their role models (us the parents/teachers) are inconsistent in what those consequences are.
Sadly, some parents are hesitant to set limits for fear that their children will be angry with them; some children take advantage of this fear by telling parents they don’t love them when consequences are enacted. Equally, children will struggle to develop self-discipline when parents impose unrealistic expectations for behaviour, resulting in children becoming increasingly frustrated and angry.
We then, as parents and teachers need to work together to set a balance, and form an agreed set of rules and consequences in order for our children to succeed.
So this Christmas, instead of handing out a load of toys, give your children the gift of time. Play a game with them, set the rules and the consequences clearly. The win is all more satisfactory when you know you have won fairly and not cheated your way to the end. Equally valuable lessons are learnt in loosing and should be seen as opportunities to grow and do better in the next round, creating adaptive thinking!
When hosting the dinner party, don’t play slave to your guests and family, give everyone a role and responsibility, in that way everyone feels involved and valued and no one feels overworked and under appreciated when everyone has contributed to the end product. Encourage your children to talk to your adult guests, discuss their favourite books over the dining room table and fun facts that they have learnt that term, equally guests can share their own experiences and again, everyone will feel engaged and mutually respected over a shared interest. Conversations with adults are extremely rewarding for children as they have to adapt their answers to their new audience and pick up other ways of thinking which greatly assists in their abilities to craft points of view in the classroom.
Children function best when they have a clear routine, waking up and doing chores may seem harsh during the ‘fun festive season’ but if chores are handed out equally among the house hold it gives the day a good structure and develops appreciative behaviours when they see others doing ‘more than their share’.
Delayed gratification and the ability to hold off from ‘fun’ until the ‘work’ is done is a defining element of self-discipline. It is no wonder then that it is the key to getting good grades.