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#152: Self-Discipline as a Family Value

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When it comes to effective parenting self-discipline and restraint have got to be core values—high on any list. When we think of self-discipline we think of adopting healthy eating habits, committing to exercise, doing work or homework in a timely manner. All of that is important to success in many endeavors. It is also another trait that we teach best by example. It is tough to ask children to do their homework if we are flaked out in front of the TV with work still to be done.
But I am talking now about self-discipline at a deeper and less obvious level and that is, in the way that we manage our emotions as parents. If we show restraint and self-control in the way we manage our emotions we do our children a great service. We may also pre-empt many of the “mysterious” behavior problems that our children exhibit. Allow me to explain by sharing a personal example. I was raised in a family that by outward appearances might be expected to produce happy and confident children. My father was an attorney and my mother was a retired school teacher. We had a comfortable lifestyle and even many advantages. But I grew into a frightened and anxious child. I feared the dark until I was almost a teenager and was terrified to go upstairs alone well into my married life.
My parents were puzzled. Why was I so scared of everything? They didn’t tell frightening stories and my mother even attempted to hide some of her fears of thunder storms for example. But she had an abundance of phobias and had no way of containing or restraining the emotions that accompanied them. Her fears ranged from the ridiculous to the absurd—bugs of all kinds, spiders, mice, syphilis (Yes. It was around then but you didn’t get it from toilet seats.), microbes and Sky Lab falling randomly on top of our house. Our home life consisted of one “tempest in a teapot” after another. I loved my mother and I wanted desperately to be close to her but that meant I felt her anxiety in all of its ramifications. I couldn’t escape it until I spent many years in therapy. In those circumstances the medium was the message. The way she felt conveyed much more to me than what she said.
Self-discipline and self-regulation of emotion provides a background of serenity that makes home life with all of its demands a great deal easier and more pleasant for everyone. As parents we want to create an emotional climate that is relatively calm and peaceful—a haven if you will. Of course, there will be periods of upheaval with stormy skies and all the rest. But too much “heavy weather” means that children and parents alike will grow weary and emotionally fatigued, often without knowing why. Teaching our children by our example how to feel and savor life’s experiences without being overwhelmed by them is a great and powerful gift.

#152: Self-Discipline as a Family Value

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2015). #152: Self-Discipline as a Family Value. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Jun 2015
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