Children struggle to think before they act, mostly because it’s a difficult habit that takes a lifetime to learn and practice. Even as adults, it’s challenging to do and definitely something we will NEVER be perfect at. Have you ever impatiently snapped at your child to be patient? Yeah. All the more reason to have grace for kids as they learn to sit back and discern a thought before putting it into action. Whether it comes to reacting, speaking, or making decisions, all of these things have everything to do with self-control, trust, and patience.

Ultimately, learning to think before acting is an act of will — self-control or impulse control. When children aren’t taught to have self-control, those little things they struggle with as a child can someday turn into a big thing like addiction or more serious implications such as criminal activity. Check out my other post on teaching your child about self-control and addiction.

But don’t forget that all children are different, and having self-control is often an inherited trait or a part of their personality, so learning it will be different for each child. My first son has more self-control with his impulses than my second one, and many factors play into that. While my older son takes more after my husband, my younger one takes after me. And guess who’s more impatient and impulsive? Yeah. Me. He also has a more intense and lively personality while my older son is more laid back. So as you read this article, remember that teaching your child self-control isn’t something you can have one discussion about and be done with it or that one formula will fit all. It takes discernment and intentionality!

So now that we know that teaching your child how to think before they act is not only beneficial for their immediate life but in the long run, let’s delve a little deeper into the backbone of self-control.

The two elements of learning to think before we act – patience and trust

Patience:

Patience is usually the easiest to practice when everything is going our way, and we often find out whether we demonstrate it well when what we believe to be “our rights” are disrupted. But what usually happens when things DON’T go our way? We don’t think before we act!

Every person has a different trigger that sets off their impatience — when our children aren’t listening when they talk back, or when someone cuts us off as we’re driving, or even when our food order is taking too long.

And children, just like adults, have certain triggers as well. Those triggers become VERY apparent when they are toddlers. And because they haven’t quite learned how to rightly express their frustrations, their solution is to usually throw fits, but it’s our role as their parents to teach them how to control those impulses.

And guess what? One of the BEST ways to teach your little one patience is to have it for them.

Along with patience not being a natural occurrence in our personalities, it’s also not very well practiced in our culture. We are living in an age of getting immediate results whenever we want, and the repercussions make it very challenging to teach ourselves and our children the beauty of waiting for something.

You know the saying, “All good things come with time?” It’s true.

The ultimate problem is a heart issue

Being impatient is usually a sign that our hearts are not being grateful, whether it be for our current circumstances, what we do or don’t have, our health, our financial situation. Impatience, at its core, is a reflection of our heart posture and will make it harder to think before we act in any given situation.

“Therefore since we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1.

Patience isn’t necessarily about passively setting something aside or even waiting, it’s something that takes action on our part. This specific translation of the word “patience” in this verse is “endurance.” And what do we know about endurance? It takes a lot of training to have good endurance. It’s persevering through difficulties for a common and worthy goal, not avoiding them altogether.

And one of the best ways to persevere is to look on the bright side — BE GRATEFUL–whatever your circumstance. So easy, right?! Wrong. That’s why patience might be one of the most important actions we can practice throughout our life and teach our children. I can definitely attest that I have lots of work to be done when it comes to practicing patience, especially in parenting.

How can you practically teach your child patience?

Now that we’ve concluded we all suck at patience, I’d like to help parents recognize that they aren’t necessarily “better” at certain things than their children, they’ve just had more time to practice it, and their brains are more developed to understand it.

If you can see your child, not as a lost cause, but as a growing seed that needs special care, attention, intentionality, and patience, we will begin to have a LOT more grace for them.

  • So first things first, you need to first identify with your child and recognize that you are just as guilty of being impatient as they are.

This will help you come alongside them and show them empathy along the way of teaching them patience. It will help you have patience for them!

  • That ties hand in hand with modeling patience to your children. If you’re stuck in traffic, don’t show that you’re frustrated. Point out that you’re GRATEFUL for the construction workers who are doing their job so well. Or if there was an accident, say, “I hope whoever was in the accident is okay. Do you want to pray for them?” It’s turning frustrating moments where impatience can ignite into teachable opportunities. Again, I’m not saying this because I’m perfect at it! But take baby steps to shift your mindset, especially if your little ones are watching you!
  • When they succeed at being patient, reward it, even if it’s simply saying “thank you for waiting.”
  • Create moments where they can practice patience according to their age level. Let them know that it’s okay to wait for something and that it sometimes makes the thing they are waiting for that much more special.
  • Give them information – Children, especially the littles, do better when they know what’s happening next. So if you’re waiting for a Disney trip to happen, and your child keeps asking, “Are we leaving soon?” You can respond with specifics instead of answering with a quick, “Almost!” SO you could say, “We have 5 more times we go to bed before we leave. That’s 5 more times we eat breakfast!”
  • Make it fun! Never underestimate the power of fun when it comes to children learning something. You can make learning patience a game. Have you heard of the Dunedin study? A marshmallow experiment that Stanford did? Check it out and see how your child does and continue to have them practice patience as they get older.

TRUST and what it has to do with learning to think before we act

Now that we’ve covered the patience aspect of learning to think before we act, let’s talk about what trust has to do with it.

In our family, we believe in God. That means we ultimately believe that everything is in His hands, and He is who we put our trust in. Oftentimes, when we don’t trust, we are more likely to not think before we act. How? Because instead of sitting back and trusting that God has a certain situation in His hands, we take matter into our own hands.

I don’t care what you believe or whether or not you have a faith, I think all of us can admit we aren’t always in control. So how can we teach our children that not having control at all times is okay?

Practical ways to build trust with your child

Well, and I know I repeat myself a lot on this, but modeling your trust in God or letting go of the things you can’t control in front of your kids is the most important way.

But along with that, it’s good that we build trust with our children from an early age. That we become the most trustworthy human in their life. Check out this post on building trust with your teen.

Essentially, building trust with your child can be narrowed down into a few actions on our part.

  • Asking these questions daily
  • Allowing them to share their heart with you — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • Being the safe space for them to make mistakes.
  • Don’t expect perfection.
  • Let them make their own decisions when appropriate.
  • Don’t try to control them.
  • Set screen time and otherwise boundaries. (Boundaries are a good thing! We will talk about that later.)
  • Give them grace!
  • Tell them you trust them and give them second chances where appropriate.
  • Apologize when you wrong them.

Building trust with your child is about establishing a solid foundation in your relationship. One that isn’t governed by expecting your child to be perfect. But about expending empathy on a continual basis and expecting the best of your child. You won’t be perfect at it! But that’s okay.

Establishing boundaries to teach self-control

Even the most self-controlled individuals still need boundaries. Boundaries or rules are just a way to keep us all accountable. Check out the review I did for an incredible parental control app called Bark when it comes to healthy boundaries for screen time.

And the article I wrote all about setting healthy boundaries in the family, and when boundaries can become a bad thing. Essentially, boundaries may initially make kids feel frustrated, but overall, they give families a sense of security and stability in the home.

When a child has to practice boundaries, it gives them a safe environment to practice self-control. And we ALL need this!

To sum it all up, here are a few extra tips to help teach your child self-control and learning to think before they act.

  • Cause and effect – tell them stories of when you were little, and that one time you did something without thinking first. Be detailed on how it affected you or those around you. Children need to learn that their actions, whether good or bad, will always have an effect.
  • If they have the tendency to interrupt you when you’re speaking with someone else, have them wait until you’re finished and be respectful to others.
  • Practice the Dunedin study as mentioned above! Give them greater rewards for the longer they can wait.

I hope these tips helped guide you in your parenting journey when teaching your child self-control and learning to think before they act. Have grace for yourself and your kids. You’re learning as you go, and the fact that you care enough to read an article about teaching your child the beauty of patience and self-control is incredible in and of itself.


Positive parenting tools for every parent 

Games:

Check out this INCREDIBLE family adventure book, called THE ADVENTURE CHALLENGE, that will get your family thinking outside the box and doing things to create memories that last forever. The best part is, it’s a journaling book so you can document, clip pictures, and save your memories for years to come! Use the code BIRD at checkout and get 10% off your order.

a blue book with camera in front of it

Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment. 

We even offer an “Exemption Time” for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences. 

Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation

I’ve recently partnered with Bark, a software to supervise, manage, and protect your child’s device use on the go. Use the code WORDBIRD at checkout to get an additional 1-month free trial after your first initial 7-day trial!

Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids – FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below. 

Book List for Kids and Parents

Check out my recommended books for parenting

Journaling for Kids

When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid’s Printable Journals — created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark the imagination. 

Chores for Kids

Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge

Implementing chores and structure in your child’s daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks. 

If you’re looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option. 

Chore Chart Printable – Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer

If you’re looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly “missions.”

Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids

Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!

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Author

Hillary Gruener is a wife, mother, writer, and musician. If she's not at her desk writing content on family life, she's adventuring the world with her husband and two boys.

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