Friendships and Self-Discipline: A Two-Way Street
In our book Raising a Self-Disciplined Child: Help Your Child to Become More Responsible, Confident, and Resilient,” published by McGraw-Hill, Dr. Sam Goldstein and I describe the impact of self-discipline on our lives. In this article we address the essential connection between self-discipline and friendships.”
Self-Discipline and the Demands of Our Society
In our previous article we emphasized that the need to develop and effectively harness self-discipline at any age, while critical in all societies, takes on greater relevance in a society replete with complex demands, challenges, and stresses. The possession of and ability to effectively utilize self-discipline paves a successful road into adulthood. Thus, it is not surprising that in our fast-paced, seemingly chaotic world children capable of implementing self-discipline at a young age appear to negotiate the maze of family, school, friends, and community more successfully than those who struggle with self-control. Effective self-discipline implies that a child has internalized a set of rules so that even without the presence of a parent or other caregiver the child will act in a thoughtful, reflective manner. Self-discipline can be understood as a vital component of a sense of ownership and responsibility for one's behavior.
A lack of self-discipline impacts all areas of our lives, not the least of which are our interpersonal relationships. This impact is demonstrated by the experiences of nine-year-old Alex who wanders the playground during recess. Intermittently he makes rather forceful attempts to join the activities of others. He approaches a group of boys playing soccer, runs up to the ball, and kicks it away. One of the other children pushes him and tells him to go away. He wanders off, feeling confused, angry, and sad.
Alex experiences this type of scenario repeatedly on the playground, in the classroom, and even in his home with siblings. In our clinical work, it is the rule rather than the exception that impulsive, poorly self-disciplined children struggle with peer relationships. Interestingly, many of these youngsters often know what to do but don't use this knowledge in a consistent, predictable, and independent way. After the fact, many of these youngsters can identify more effective ways of interacting with their peers, but unfortunately, their impulsivity and limited capacity to reflect upon the details of the social situation eventuates in behaviors that are counterproductive and lead to peer rejection rather than peer acceptance.
For years we subscribed to the view that the source of their socialization problem was what might be termed uni-directional—that is, the child's poor self-discipline was at the root of his or her behaving in ways that precluded the development of satisfying friendships. However, we now believe that this uni-directional perspective is too narrow and does not capture the full picture. Social rejection as described in Alex's situation often elicits negative emotions and a negative perception of self. In turn, this negativity may trigger angry, aggressive, and out-of-control behavior, setting in motion a vicious cycle of poor self-discipline, rejection, loneliness, and anger. This broader view, which has significant implications for intervention strategies, suggests that the relationship between self-discipline and appropriate social interaction is a two-way street with each influencing the other. In fact, it is our opinion that loneliness in children quickly leads to sadness, which then sets the foundation for angry, poorly self-disciplined actions.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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