We see more and more children who struggle with staying focused on homework, who battle parents to always take the easy path, and seem to lack the ability to sustain effort in any arena (except perhaps video games). They generally seek a path where the results come quick and easy and are unwilling to sustain effort on the more valued skills and strengths that must be developed over time.

Many parents wonder where they went wrong, and are confused about what to do next. Some become hopeless, and simply stop trying.

Why This Is a Failure of Self-Discipline!

If we focus on this child, who is now struggling, and ‘diagnose’ the result of years of poor choices, we can get lost and overwhelmed. We might see only the result: low motivation, lack of passion, negativity when faced with challenges, no initiative, and even sadness. All of these are almost inevitable if months or years of poor choices have accumulated to the point of a crisis.

However, looking back over time, we can see the obvious failure to instill self-discipline. Self-discipline is the ultimate buffer or protector of your child’s future! It eliminates the constant battles with the small stuff of life, and effort consistently expended inevitably produces results…both intangible outcomes and self-esteem.

How could we possibly ignore the importance of this critical trait? I believe we are simply missing the important early cues.

What Poisonous Patterns (Cues) Are We Missing?

Many of us are lucky. Our children are bright, talented, and capable. With these wonderful traits also come certain tendencies, which will undermine their long-term success. These are poison to the growth of self-discipline! Here are a few of those patterns we must look for:

  • Little effort put into homework (perhaps because it comes easy)
  • Good results (grades) despite the poor effort
  • Disdain for school or academics or chores or any responsibility
  • Procrastination of homework or projects, but still completed at last moment
  • Offering excuses (that we believe or allow) so effort delayed
  • Letting them ‘off the hook’ when they complain or resist their ‘responsibilities’
  • Putting sports, play, video games, or TV BEFORE homework or responsibilities
  • Expecting them to get it done because they said they would
  • Believing that it is the teacher’s job to educate about discipline
  • Great grades come easy, so little effort is practiced.
  • Sleeping in till the last moment before the bus
  • Lies and deception over work assignments
  • Great kids and great relationships, but poor efforts.

What Can We Do If We See These Patterns?

First, we must recognize that self-discipline usually needs to be taught. And the first way that we teach is through what we model. Just this week, one of my coaching clients complained about her daughter who was often missing the bus. Yet, when we discussed how to change the morning routine, Mom refused to consider getting up just 15 minutes earlier so Mom could model being prepared. Without a change by mom, there is no way to set up a system that will correct this behavior.

Secondly, self-discipline is predictable if we have a clear system that requires effort before getting the good stuff from life. Discipline does not evolve from lectures or discussions or ‘good relationships with our children.

The system must not be complex, but instead, the system should reflect how the real world works. In other words, the system should reflect reality. In the world of reality, we are rewarded not for our IQ. Not for our talent. Not for our charm. Yes, these are all huge advantages, but ONLY when combined with sustained effort does life give us the full rewards. Therefore, the system we adopt must hold our children accountable for their best effort! Not provide rewards for little or no effort. If we do so, we will sow the seeds of thinking that I deserve it all, even though I give very little. You can more about my systems for teaching self-discipline at www.TerrificParenting.com.