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Principles and Practices of Biblical Parenting

– Raising Godly Children –

Paul and Linda Bucknell

Sesssion #4

Developing Self-Control in our Children


Develop a scriptural perspective of the need for and the means of cultivating self-control in our children from an early age in order that they may live good and godly lives pleasing to God and focused on serving others.

One of the most frustrating points of parenting comes about when parents discover their child is out of control, and they do not know what to do. Self-control, however, remains to be one of the most needed areas of development for a child, and yet it is rarely ever mentioned. In fact in many circles, the need of self-control is even scoffed at. We will be looking at this claim by simply illustrating the difference between the demanding and the self-controlled child. Then we will continue on and show you how simple it is to train them self-control and avoid the big toddler wars.


This is a challenging topic. There are numerous reasons for this.

1) We do not think self-control is very important.
2) We as parents lack self-control and wonder how a child could obtain it.
3) We are ignorant as to how self-control is learned.
4) We do not want self-control. We enjoy the excesses in certain areas of our lives.

Our challenge then for this session is to share the importance self-control plays in our daily lives, to show you how self-control is developed, the advantages of building self-control into our children. First, let's look at what God says about self-control in the Bible.

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A. The Important Role of Self-Control

Most parents don't think about the necessity of self-control until they get exasperated with their child's wild behavior. Even then, they may not realize that it is a self-control issue. The typical parent thinks that they are suppose to put up with their out-of-control child, perhaps thinking "that's just the way he is." They believe this is part of what parents are supposed to do.

One main problem with this approach is that the parents start panicking once they see how stubborn and selfish their child can be. When 'veteran' parents see a couple with their new child, they smile and take joy in the parents' joy. Nevertheless, down deep, they also might be thinking about how that sweet little child in not too long will become his parents' terror. After all, this is what many parents have experienced. This is why terms like 'terrible twos' are common.

The fact is self-control plays an important part in all of our lives. We can't live without it. Quite a few Proverbs highlight the importance of having self-control. If we lack self-control, then we will run into all sorts of problems.

The one who is not able to control his time will not be a diligent worker.

The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway. (Proverbs 15:19)

The one who cannot control his words will ruin his own life.

A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul. (Proverbs 18:7)

The one who lacks self-control often falls into terrible habits like drinking and gluttony.

For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty. (Proverbs 23:21)

The foolish man does not control his anger.

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11)

The one lacking discipline follows his desires rather than God's principles. He lives by lusts rather than God's principles

For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life, To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart, Nor let her catch you with her eyelids. For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life. (Proverbs 6:23-26)

We do not need to read many of these proverbs to see how important self-control is in our lives and in the lives of our children. Self-control is easily developed when the child is small, but as adults we know things are much harder to change.

Pause for Reflection
Do you want your child to exercise self-control? Have you thought about what would happen to him or her if you did not train it into them? Do you know what self-control is? What does it looks like in a two year old?

What is the definition of self-control?

Self-control is that ability from God that enables a person to supress his natural selfish inclinations and control ones thoughts, words, attitudes and deeds so that he can serve God, society and others.

God has called each set of parents to teach self-control to their children so that they may carry out His commandments. Modeling this principle is very important.

My son, observe the commandment of your father, And do not forsake the teaching of your mother; them continually on your heart; Tie them around your neck. you walk about, they will guide you; When you sleep, they will watch over you; And when you awake, they will talk to you. For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life,

God has called each set of parents to teach self-control to their children so that they may carry out His commandments. Self-control is the tool by which people can be responsible to God, society and even themselves. Self-control describes the ability of a person to govern his desires in such a way that they serve him to accomplish what he knows is right. Most of the character qualities that a society respects such as faithfulness, attentiveness, loyalty, diligence, patient, all depend on rightly governing ones body. The opposite of self-control is seen in Samson who was manipulated by his desires.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control (Galatians 5:23)

Self-control accepts that others are more important than self. They learn how to put off fulfilling their own interests so that they can serve others. A free and orderly society can only be built with this quality. Without it, man is unable to follow his conscience or the rules of a society. There is no freedom without self-control for uncontrolled man is convinced his desires are more important than the needs of others and oppress others to fufill those desires.Principles and Practices of Biblical Parenting

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Do you know where all quarrels and conflicts come from in personal relationships? The Bible tells us from our selfish desires. Again we see that desires rule the person.

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing." (James 3:16).

"You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:2).

Pause for Reflection
Review the goals that God has for your children from session one. Pray through them right now for each child.

Just a moment!

Before moving on, let's think about those people who question whether self-control really is good and necessary. They believe that self-expression is important and that it lies at the source of creativity and happiness. They are very deceived. The opposite is true. The greatest writers, painters, sport figures, and speakers are highly disciplined. They pay very careful attention to how they use every moment of their time. Let's look at three differences between self-expression and self-control. We will call the first group the demanding (permissive) child and the second group the contented child (one trained by self-control).


(1) The Child's Attitude toward Self

He gets what he wants.

He respects the needs of others.

The demanding child learns that it is easy to get whatever he wants. If he wants to be picked, up, he gets picked up. If he wants to watch a program, he gets to watch it. The child only needs to cry or fuss and those around him cave into his desires. He is trained to think that his opinion and needs are more important than those around him.

The child with self-control learns that he is just one of many people around At times he needs to wait. This is okay. He will keep busy doing something else. He learns that those around him haven't forgotten him. They love him. In time, they will come and meet his needs.

(2) The Child's Attitude toward Authority

He has no respect for authority.

He respects authority.

This demanding child is consumed with his own way. The child will think his own opinion is as important if not more important than his own parent's opinion and judgment. He disdains his parents' authority and is convinced that they are there to meet his every whim.

The child with self-control learns that there are many times when he will not get his own way. He is content with that even though he might not know why. He respects his parents' authority. He stays under their protection and is better able to learn from others.

(3) The Child's Attitude toward the World

The world revolves around himself.

The world is a place of exploration.

The demanding child becomes so intent on getting his way that the world becomes a place to serve his desires. The child becomes a manipulator of others to get what he wants. The child is not content unless he gets it and still is not really content after he has it.

The child with self-control is content to be by himself and will naturally and curiously learn from his environment. He is able to concentrate. The child learns to be happy even when his wishes are not met.

Self-control is the ability to constrain what one does so that he might accomplish some higher goal. Have you ever seen modern art? Modern art is very undisciplined. One artist swung a paint bucket with holes in it over a canvas and called that art! Real control, however, comes from training. Training calls for self-discipline and the resulting concentration, sacrifice, determination and perseverance. This results in wise and principled children filled with joy and love. God wants us to be able to obey Him so that we can serve Him and others.Garden of Protection

We can use the garden surrounded by four walls as a good example of the importance of having self-control. The four walls stand for the parents' command. As long as they obey, then they stay within the garden. Parents are to compel them to stay within those walls to protect them. If at any time, whether because they are being sneaky or because the parents do not care, then a bridge that leads out of the garden is formed. The boy can go out where it is dangerous or dangers can come in.

Pause for Reflection
Do you encourage or tolerate self-expression, which is just another word for selfishness, in your child? If so, repent. Confess your sin and ask God to train you to properly develop a contented child.

B. The Development of Self-Control

We might be asking, "How does self-control develop in a person's life?" Anyone who has tried to break a bad habit will think that it is virtually impossible to develop self-control. This is not true, however, at least with God's grace. We do admit certain areas are more difficult to overcome than others. Different people have different weaknesses. We all desperately need self-control trained into us early on. Let's note some aspects of the development of self-control.

The Problem

The need for self-control stems from two problems: 1) Sinful tendencies and 2) the lack of training.
Sinful tendencies

Since we are born with a sin nature, we all have a tendency to live by our own selfish desires. We have a bent toward evil like a plant that bends toward the light. These desires tend to overrule us in one or more areas. If a person is covetous, then he will be willing to use his words, actions and thoughts to obtain some object. He might steal or lie as a result. The desires will keep pulling him into situations where he compromises his convictions about what is right or wrong. The life of Samson shows us the consequences of not lining up our desires with God's purposes.

The child has these sinful inclinations too, but they are undeveloped depending on how old he is. He cannot fully coordinate the parts of his body to get what he wants. He frequently gets caught.

Pause for Reflection
What evidence do you find for your child's sin nature? Have you agreed in your heart to control the expression of that sin nature? Pray for yourself and your child so that it may be done.

Lack of skill training

We need to be honest and acknowledge that a child does not naturally acquire the experience and knowledge needed to perform certain tasks. Training is this passing over the confidence, knowledge and skills to do some certain task.

For example, a child might not know how to pick up his clothing and fold them – a simple common task. He does not see the importance of it, nor does he know the way to actually do it. He has not trained his hands and eyes to move the clothes in certain ways that please his mother. That skill has never been taught to him. As he gets older, he will have the physical capacity to fold the clothes but not the training.

On the good side, the mother probably does it for him. She shows her care for him that way. On the bad side, he probably won't ever make his bed. This makes him a messy and inconsiderate roommate.

The Motivation

We control our selves because we want to. We do what we desire. The motivation for self-control, then, is from both outward an inward sources.

Outward motivation

This is important to understand. Most people, though, have some form of self-control only because of outward pressures. Without this outward force, they would not do what they do. They do not realize what benefits they gain from having these pressures on their lives.

I just heard a speaker say that the further away from home a child gets, the less the values and instructions of home influence a person. As long as the parents are around, then the child tends to conform to their wishes. Acceptance by his parents are important to the child and therefore is willing to comply to his parents' rules.

Police or supervisors help produce self-control. The presence of a policeman instantly slowsOutward and inward  motivation traffic down to its proper speed. The driver fears that he will get a ticket. Therefore, he is able and willing to cause his feet to make him drive more slowly. The speed limit road sign just doesn't sufficiently motivate some drivers to drive at the right speed.

A supervisor walking down the hall brings alertness to his colleagues tending to their work. The colleagues are concerned about their job and pay. If the boss sees them as highly productive, then they might be able to get a raise. If however, the supervisor sees them as not working hard, then they might be fired. Their desire for higher pay and security causes them to put their hands and minds hard to work whenever the supervisor is near.

The presence of these shaping influences are called 'outward' because the motivation comes from outside the person. In each case, there are outward reasons that the person is motivated to perform. They cause the person to control his behaviors. We might not think they are 'self' controlled because really they are 'other' controlled, but in fact they still do govern their lives.

Inward motivation

Inward motivation speaks of the motivation that comes from within. This might be God who works through the conscience or the internalization of the guidelines for these behaviors. If a person can internalize the principle behind the behavior, then they will in many cases carry out the same level of control over their lives as if another person was overlooking their shoulder. This is true self-control. When no one is watching, what is it that you do? The one that is motivated from within by principle will work diligently and in this example drive within the speed limit all the time.

We have spoken of the 'fear of God' in lesson #1. The scriptures list many positive factors stemming from the fear of God.

The fear of God shapes a person's thinking because they know of negative consequences that will happen. We might look at this negatively, but there is no need for this. God helps us by shaping our lives. He knows our sinful tendencies and because of this has established negative consequences to reduce bad behavior.If He wanted to eliminate our evil deeds, He would just take away our lives. The fear of God keeps us doing the right thing and avoiding doing the bad. Since God is present all the time, this approach to life is easily internalized.

This is how it should work. A parent brings consistent training and modeling to the young child so that they learn to obey. As they get older, they begin to understand God's ways as they see how their parents' live by God's ways. The 'fear' of the parent becomes a healthy 'fear of God.' When this happens, even when a child is far from his parents, he will still obey them. The process on developing this fear of the Lord is very important, and the scriptures have much to say on it. This will be discussed more in another session. Let's look at an illustration.


These inward and outward 'shapers' influence what we want and therefore influence the very decisions that we make.

It is true, a boy might want something that belongs to another, but because of pain associated with taking a friend's toy in the past, he has a greater desire not to suffer that pain. He decides not to take it this time. Once trained, he can come to realize that another person's toy is not so important. He can be content without taking something from others. He might even notice that his sinful desires have deceived him.

Motivation plays a key role in making decisions on how we will use our lives. When we are aware of the negative consequences, we are much more able and willing to refrain from some bad behavior. When we learn that we can avoid certain bad behaviors, we discover the blessings of obedience.

Many Biblical proverbs tell us of the negative consequences of the foolish but positive rewards for the one who does right. Control becomes real self-control when a person properly governs himself to do what is right. The understanding of what is right or wrong has been so embedded in them that they just 'naturally' do some certain action.

Feelings are not to guide the child but the standards in God's Word. The child is expected to speak kindly, be truthful, humbly, and focus on others. Biblical standards are enforced on the outward until they are incorporated inside and bring about the needed self-control where the child himself decides to carry out God's Word.

C. The Training of Self-Control in our Children

Note God's goal for young men and women is to have self-control. We need to start implementing self-control in our children when they are little so that as they grow up, they will be well-trained.

Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no-one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. Titus 2:4-6, NIV.
The big question, then is, "How does one best teach self-control to his child?"
#1 Honor parents

The key to developing self-control in our children is to have them honor and respect their parents' directions. It might seem counter intuitive to make our children do what we say, hoping that they will do it later on, but this is how we train self-control into our children. Listen to the scriptures.

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

The things we train our sons and daughters to do now will be the things they tend to do later in life. This is what they become familiar with and are most comfortable with. The opposite is true too, of course. If we train them in some bad response - such as blowing up in anger, then this will also be how they will respond when they grow up.

In order to develop self-control in our children we need to keep them doing the right thing (what we say). Perhaps it will help us to think of a garden. The child is safe playing in that protected area. Outside the walls, we do not know what dangers hang about. The parents' rules form the boundaries to that garden. They do all they can to keep them in the garden. Maybe the child will fuss and cry to go outside the walls, but the wise parent does not cave in to their child's foolish request.

We help the child stay within our rules and guidelines. We need to take two kinds of actions to accomplish this: positive and negative actions. Remember the goal is to protect the child. We are not living for the rules; this is authoritarianism. Neither are we living for 'freedom' of choice for that leads to danger. The children do not know what is good for them. Instead we keep them within the confines of parental judgment until they have internalized set rules.

#2 Chastisement: Associate pain with things you do not want

A parent must consistently compel a child to stay within the boundaries. They must use all their resources and energy to make it unpleasant for the child to disobey. We dare not reward their disobedience or bargain with them. We simply make it unpleasant. This is the purpose for chastisement in general. We will speak more about this in another session.

Our goal is to help the child associate his disobedience with pain and grief. We are in fact telling them the truth: whenever they choose to disobey, then it will not be well with them. This will later internalize the truth that whenever they disobey God then they will suffer bad consequences. Make it very unpleasant to disobey. Make it so that they do not want to repeat that experience. Children are fast learners!

#3 Proactive: Instruct them on what you do want

Parents must think ahead as to what they do want their child to do. Don't wait until the child does it the wrong way and needs correction. Teach him the right thing to do, and he won't need as much correction. We must also train our child to stay within the perimeter of our rule. We must be specific to show them how to do different tasks. We need to be clear on what we do want. We should lavishly reward their obedience with encouragement, and smiles.

#4) No choice: Don't give them a choice on important matter

Our goal is to be clear and concise. 'Choice' or 'Suggestion' language confuses the child. Did you ever hear a parent ask a child, "Let's go, okay?" That is suggestive language. If the parent really desires that to be done, they should just tell their child of the fact and not give them a choice in the matter.

Let us explain why this choice method does not work. We hope that by supplying information on the importance of doing something, that they will agree with us and like to do what we want. This most often does not work because the self-will is involved. When we give them a choice or suggestion, we are giving them the right to say no. The child sees it as an opportunity to have his or her own way. We are in authority and should use our position to make important decisions.

Our goal is not that they stay in the parental 'garden.' Some parents have done this, but the child is never released into his or her own maturity. The parents' goals are helping cultivate God's good goals within them. If a parent rightly does this early on, then the child will mature very quickly and the parent can extend the area in which the child can function. More will be said about this in the next lesson on freedom and boundaries.

Pause for Reflection
Some parents are critical. They only come out with negative words which damage their relationship with their child. If you are this way, do repent from it and ask God to do a special work in your own heart where you can encourage each child that you see.

Developing Self-control

Self-control or self-discipline is developed from lots of training. The most important area to tackle first is for the child to honor the parent's word. When the parent speaks, the child should obey. If we start when our babies are but tiny little infants, they will know of no other alternative and much frustration of the parent and the child is removed. In any case, the training takes time and repetition.

Some parents fight against this idea that a child always needs to obey the parents and that this pressure will somehow hurt the child. In fact, the opposite is true. Let's assume most all parents will instruct their child in some things. Most parents are held back by not always carrying through on each instruction or command that they give. Every time we as parents are inconsistent, we are sending mixed messages to our children. Inconsistency in training communicates a message that training is not that important. So the child disobeys more. This in turn causes more disobedience, more chastisement and a longer time to train the child. The caring parent can avoid this by being consistent.

The earlier a parent starts training, the better. We should think about our training as something that is always going on. From our child's earliest days, we are always training them something. If we establish our goals early on, then we can have a relatively peaceful and quiet home where parents have wonderful relationships with their child.

Christ's Example

How did Christ show this quality of self-control?

Jesus consistently and regularly showed forth this quality of self-control. He only spoke what His Father wanted. He only did what His Father in heaven willed. Everything He did was according to the will of His heavenly Father. He spoke some truths only to some people. Others He spoke in parables. He did not get carried away with miracles nor did He let the crowd name Him king.

He did not take revenge for people's mistreatment. He was willing to sleep little and work hard for good purposes. He stayed up late praying. Jesus was willing to go without comforts to better discern His Father's will and minister to the people.

On the cross Christ most clearly showed self-control when the pressure was at the highest. He persisted in doing what was right when it was very difficult to do so. He did not compromise but spoke only the truth.

Self-control leads to strong and wonderful men and women. It is our job as parents to make sure they get it. We first constrain our wills to do the will of our Father in heaven. Each thought, word, deed and attitude needs to match what my God would want. Our child will follow on in this glorious path!

Pause for Reflection
Do you desire to be like Jesus and have children that are like Him?


Self-control is an essential building block to the creation of great men and women. To the degree that we have areas that are out of control, we model unrighteousness. We train children to do what we tell them. We use lots of positive words but must use the switch to enforce our words. When they get older, they will internalize these rules in the sight of God. They will also be more easily convinced that they need a Savior for their sins. Start early. Be consistent. Follow Christ. The rest just works out as God says in His Word.

------- Parenting Principles --------

Developing self-control in our children is an essential part of caring for our children.

Training is necessary to develop self-control.

Self-control is necessary because of the sinful nature and a simple lack of skill training.

Self-control is learned quickly when parents consistently combine positive encouragement with chastisement..

The earlier we start training our children, the better it will be for all concerned.

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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