Funner, Part 3 – Emotional Control

IMG_7713Emotional control is just another way of saying self control – but it brings something to the forefront. It might be easy to consider self control as pertaining only to actions – like you didn’t eat that brownie, so you exercised self control. But the self is a many faceted thing, and even though controlling your actions can be difficult, controlling your emotions is no small task. Often losing control of your actions comes a long time after you lost control of your emotions. Think of a woman committing adultery – long before she lost physical control she lost emotional control.  We do not usually lead with the body, but rather with the engine behind it.

First of all, the Bible has a lot to say about self control, but this one is so short and potent. Proverbs 25:28

Whoever has no rule over his own spirit
Is like a city broken down, without walls.

Often times people think of themselves losing control as an offensive move. Like you go out with your flags flying to tear down someone else’s defense. But the truth is that losing control of yourself leaves you defenseless – it tears down your own walls. Of course you can do damage to others too – but not without damaging yourself.

Now take this metaphor, and apply to a whole family. Living in one place, with no defenses against anything. Like a bunch of looters, and a bunch of broken windows. Life without boundaries, life without security, life without joy.

So exercising emotional control in our own lives is hugely important. Not only are we are honoring God in our self control, and we are teaching our children to do the same. We want our children to value the protection of self control – and it really is a monumental protection. Right now, your sons may be little and self control may only mean not hitting your sister, or not biting. But in a few short years, self control will be all about not clicking on links, not listening to the Proverbs 6 woman at the street corner, and not following her down to death. Do not let your sons become practiced at tearing down their own defenses now, if you want them to be able to resist destructive sin later. Walls built up now will stay with them forever as a foundation, and walls destroyed in your youth will never be a refuge.

And our daughters – we want them to be like columns, like cornerstones sculpted in the palace style (Psalm 144). Strong, stable, secure, beautiful, unmoving, foundational. What may now only be a struggle to get dramatic and cry over something tiny, or to lose control if made to wear an outfit she doesn’t want to – that will not grow up suddenly into great stability and strength. Right now these sins are little enough to not be destroying lives – but they will grow, and they can destroy.

Teaching our daughters to control themselves now prepares them for life by giving them great strength, giving them great confidence. Popular wisdom today often tries to equate feminine strength with not being told what to do – as though it takes great strength to tell people off, to use foul language, to take nude selfies, or to just demand everyone treat you a certain way all the time. But this is like saying “Be strong, girls! Like a turtle without a shell! You don’t need that wall! Don’t control yourself, just let us all come in and rob you of everything!”  There is no hope here for strength. True feminine strength is seen in the strength of the walls around her – because it is self control that keeps them in place.

Now this is all well and good – but how do we practically implement this at home? Here are a few examples – a few principles that might help as you work on self control with your children.

1) Be self controlled yourself – do not yell, discipline in anger, get crazy emotive about little things. Mothers especially need to guard themselves from using their emotions to manipulate your children. When sin happens, as it will –  be quick to the walls with repairs. Confess, own the sin, seek forgiveness, move on.  Let God repair the walls as soon as you mess them up. Be honest and forthright with your children about what you should not have done – and tell them that you know it doesn’t please God and you have asked him to forgive you.

2) Emphasize taking responsibility. When our children get in a fuss or a tangle with one another, we ask them to each give their side of the story, only telling us what they themselves did. You may not tell on each other, but please, do tell on yourself. Occasionally there are exceptions to this. But the rule in our home is that if two people are fighting, two people are in trouble. If they are having a trouble with a sibling, they are supposed to come talk to us and ask for help.  But if one child begins drama flopping about the wrong they have suffered at the hands of the other child, they will also have to explain the lack of self control. There are no rewards for losing control. Obviously, this takes the initial investment of following through on these things and talking through it every time. But it is so, so worth it! Your children will start to see and correct their own impulses to lose self control.

3) When your children deal with people who are unkind to them – do not show them that your method is to lose control yourself. We try to handle bad behavior from others by taking responsibility for ourselves. So, for example, one of our daughters was having a hard time with an exclusive group of little girls. We talked about how we cannot control them, but we have to control us. This was a wonderful experience for her to see what it is like to be excluded and to look at how she might be doing that to others. She came away from that little problem with a deeper understanding of herself, and a softer heart towards others. And in the course of talking her through that I found a childhood friend on Facebook to apologize for the way we excluded her back in the third grade. Had I gotten on the phone to honk the horn to all the parents about the situation we would never have learned the things we did – and I would not have thought of someone who was owed an apology.

4) Do not use entertainment as a band aid for bad attitudes. I know and you know that sometimes the easiest thing to make everyone quiet would be to turn on a show or let them play video games or something like that. But you cannot fix a lack of self control by indulging it. If your children aren’t controlling themselves well and are bickering and being unkind, dial up the requirement. Dial up the opportunities to control yourself. If a muscle is weak, exercise it.

5) Related to that, practice! When our little people mess up with something, we often give them a chance to try it again. Just this morning I told Blaire to go get on her play clothes and she cast a weary eye and raised her voice in sorrow. So we dealt with that, but then I say something like, “Hey! Let’s try again! Go out of the room and come back in. I’m going to tell you what to do, and this time you are gonna do it right.” This way whatever discipline has taken place, we end on a note of success. “Good job! That was perfect! I love it!” is a much better ending than, “Let that be a lesson to you – I never want to see that kind of thing again – that was a bad job.” End by building up the wall that got broken.

6) Remember that all of our efforts are weak, but that the Lord Jesus knows all there is to know about resisting temptation. He is our ultimate rock and refuge, our strength in weakness, and our hope. We try to imitate him in controlling ourselves, but we can never replace his work in our lives. His sinless obedience is the perfect wall around us – so that we are free to live in joy with one another. Hebrews 2:18 says, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” And amen!


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25 thoughts on “Funner, Part 3 – Emotional Control

  1. This is so helpful. Self control is such an issue with my three year old, especially, and #5 is a good reminder to end on a note of success. I had to go back and do that with her this morning, and it was so encouraging for her to receive praise for obeying right away with a cheerful heart (the second time around)!

  2. Good post, Rachel. Thank you!
    Would you be able to elaborate a little on Principle #2? Maybe I haven’t had enough coffee, but I’m not sure what you mean by “But if one child begins drama flopping about the wrong they have suffered at the hands of the other child, they will also have to explain the lack of self control.”

  3. Sure Bess – I just mean that losing control when wronged is also a problem. So if someone goes around the bend screaming because someone else did something bad to them they will probably be in trouble themselves.
    This applies also to injuries – we tell our kids to blow it out a lot – if it is a minor thing (skinned knee, bonk, etc.) they have to blow it out before we have hugs and such.
    Basically it just isn’t ever ok to lose control of yourself – even when someone wronged you first – or if you have a marginally good reason to. Make sense?

  4. Wow… I began reading this thinking it would be great to apply to my kids, but the further I got the more I realized that this is exactly what I need to apply to myself. Thank you so much for everything you write, no matter the topic I am always impacted by your words.

  5. great post–convicting (oh especially the TV point–ouch!). any further advice on teaching young toddlers (14mos) self-control, as far as not tantrumming when they are not getting their way?

  6. I love this soo much. Actually, I was just talking to my husband about this very thing, this morning.
    My comment to him was something to the effect of, “I know that I need to exert more self control, but in real life, how does that work? I’m often frustrated and acting on it before I realize that I’m frustrated.”
    For example (partially made up story with very true-to-our-life like examples): I’m trying to cook breakfast for my two littles. Pancake batter is running down the front of the stove, and the scrambled eggs are scorching. Little #1 choses that moment to spill a quart of water on the carpet and stands there watching it sink in rather than picking up the super-sized glass before it all empties, and Little #2 is riding his tricycle madly around the kitchen and scratching the cupboards as he zooms past.
    Quite frankly, I was already feeling harried when the pancake batter spilled down the stove. I’m not sure who I’m angry with, but I immediately snap at my eldest to, “Pick up that glass. Grab a towel. Use your head!”
    And to my youngest, “Get that tricycle out of here, and if I see it back in here, so help me.”
    ….I feel badly immediately. I love my kids. I really truly want to be the best mom ever. I pray for wisdom. I have a lot of good theories about being a mom, but in practice, …well, let’s just say, I lose my patience so often.
    All that to ask, do you have any thoughts for a wanna-be super mom? Super patient mom, that is.

  7. I liked your Blaire examples too. I was wondering, what do you mean by “dealt with it”? I have a lot of this from my 5 year old, and I’m never sure whether it is a smack-able offence or just a “talk about it” offence. I know that you are not running a discipline recipe book, but I have been wondering for ages what would be the best way to “deal” with that kind of behaviour.

  8. What a great post! Thank you muchly. This verse is always helpful to me when I deal with these issues.

    Proverbs 25:28
    A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

  9. This is so good. I just love your stuff (books, blog posts). I read this to my husband too, to get his thoughts. 🙂

    Thank you so much for listing some practical applications along with the Biblical advice!

  10. This is so very good, and so relevant to my household…as in, me MYSELF, and then the rest of my household. With three little boys, age 5 and under, I especially love the comment about sons and self-control. Having grown up in a house full of sisters (with a couple of brothers who were not girls and who, as a result, we just thought were “weird”), and now watching my own boys, it strikes me that it’s so much easier sometimes to see the emotional walls come down with girls; boys certainly CAN and do give way to whining/temper/insert other exhausting emotional outburst here. Just because it’s not so often on parade for all to see, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. My initial reaction to the difference is that so often for boys, I feel like I’m teaching them to construct a good wall–articulating when, how, why it’s important–and not so much just keeping them from knocking it down over a hurt feeling with a good temper tantrum. But there’s a difference, don’t you think?

  11. I love all your posts! Thanks for sharing your inspiring thoughts with all of us.

    I thought you would appreciate one of my favorite scriptures from the Book of Mormon, Helaman 5:12, And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

  12. I read this post in shifts and my pregnancy brain forgot you had quoted Prov 25:28 by the end of my reading. Thanks for sharing this wisdom and application, Rachel. So helpful.

  13. I so love the practical advice! I have read WAY too many child-rearing books, and it’s hilarious how my little library vaccilates between no-nonsense discipline strategies and the whole gentle discipline/guidance strategy. Because that is me, constantly wavering between two very different strategies and mostly just perplexed. That being said, my oldest is now 4 and I have found a few things to be true that I was so happy to hear you reiterate…because I need to be reminded about what works, too! For me, really taking the time to work through sibling issues (currently between a 4 and 2 year old, but #3 will be here in a couple months so hopefully we’ll all be a little more mature when she starts really changing up the dynamic) has been so helpful. For awhile I tried to let them figure it out on their own, but that looked like it might go down the road of Lord of the Flies, so when I really took the time to model and teach and train…wow, I am really seeing it pay off. And the idea of do-overs, of letting them build up the wall that got broken as you said, that works really well for us too. And avoiding the tv bandaid, well…guilty I think!
    As usual, the biggest problem in my house is mommy’s self-control. Any strategies for that problem? Some of us were not the beneficiaries of wise Christian parenting and we are kinda sorta floundering!!!

  14. Rachel- Kinda off topic, but like Evelina, I have a practical question about discipline…when do you think is the appropriate age to start spanking? I have a 4 month old and suspect he’s too young to really know what he’s doing…but I feel like 1 years old is probably too late to start as I have seen kids of that age be willfully defiant. Not really sure, as my parents never disciplined me as a child.

  15. I too would love some advice for helping young toddlers control their emotions. I have a 19 month old and we struggle daily with fits. It’s a hard battle for me as I’m not sure the correct way to handle it. Thanks for this great article though!!

  16. This was a huge encouragement and challenge…thank you for the sound advice built on God’s Word. I can see my own weaknesses in this area and pray that God will help me to start building my walls, so that with His help I can help my son to build his too!

  17. I have a question – I have three girls ages 8, 6, and 2. The 8 and 6 year old go at it all the time and one has a problem with hitting. I like your suggestion to “only tell on yourself.” We get a lot of the “but she!!!!” attitude around here, but at what point do they get to tell? I mean, if she’s hitting it needs to stop.

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