Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Parenting Series (4/5) - Jab Self-Control ho Out of Control....

Aal Izz Well mantra, jab life ho Out of Control :) (Image courtesy: 3 Idiots movie)

Jab life ho Out of Control, toh hoton ko kar ke gol.............Aal Izz Well :)

A simple yet profound philosophy, told in the song 'Aal Izz Well' from 3 Idiots movie.

In a nut shell: Life in or out of control, is dependent on random events, on which we don't have direct control. Hence no point in fretting about it, instead let's have a positive self talk - Aal Izz Well... & face the challenges in life head on.

However, when we withdraw from the outward world & look inward, we can start singing a similar rhyming song: Jab Self-Control ho Out of Control...... but in our right senses, we will fall short of concluding the stanza - Aal Izz Well.


We can attribute life 'in or out of control', to random events which our beyond our direct control. Hence we can try to make peace with the situation at hand & deal with it with positivism (aal izz well).

However, the attribution of Self 'in or out of control', ends up only with self (ourselves). Hence, we can't pass on the buck & have a pep talk. The only two possibilities left for us are - self acceptance of our own flaws or to take ownership for self-improvements. All of us know, these are easier said than done.

Image courtesy: www.bobrichillustration.com 

Before we even embark upon the uphill task of dealing with the issue of our self-control, let's first evaluate the need for self-control, by exploring it's relevance & it's pervasiveness across various dimensions.

Relevance: (listing out few of the direct outcomes of lack of self-control)

  • Addiction
  • Hyper consumerism (impulsive buying, wants over needs)
  • Eating disorders (over-eating, imbalanced towards junk/fast food)
  • Inappropriate social behaviour (inability to manage emotions)
  • Delinquency (wasting time in unproductive activities)
  • Mis-management of personal finance (instant gratification - spending over savings/investment) 
  • Mis-management of self (inability for time management, discipline)
  • Lack of focus towards achieving one's goal (inability to avoid distractions, impulses)

On mapping the above list of relevance, it becomes alarmingly evident to us, the issue of lack of self-control is pervasive, i.e. percolates into every dimensions of our life. Health, Emotional well-being, Social life, Career (profession), Personal life (as an individual, in a family unit), Financials, Academics, Success & Failure.

When an issue has such high relevance & is all pervasive, it should be dealt proactively. 

The concept of self-control, it's dynamics, it's relative strength among individuals etc are a complex myriad of topics. With the objective of drawing one simple, practical lesson, this blogpost is focused on 'Parenting strategy for developing Self-control in children'.

Cartoon depicting Donald Duck's challenge as a parent, in instilling self-control in his child

Sharing from my personal experience as a father, in our home there are occasional instances of my son (now 8 years of age) overshooting his pre-determined screen time (half an hour per day). The typical scene would be, he will ignore our reminders, he will say "the game is almost over", "the game is just about to get over, wait", "2 minutes"! If pushed a bit harder, tears, tantrums & resentment are quick to follow. Last week, one such incident went a bit out of hands. He was not at all receptive, he refused to listen to us, was crying, showing frustration, anger & was desperate to take an additional 15 minutes of screen time. As a natural reaction, my wife scolded him & she stood her ground turning a blind eye to his tantrums & tears.

I am not debating on right or wrong approach, rather just speaking from my own personal experience from my growing up years: yelling, punishment, threats, supervision, external control do not yield long-term gains. These approaches produces temporary results, but it is associated with collateral damages: emotional drama, adverse affect on parent-child bonding, the foundation of self-control is not put within the child, rather the controlling is driven from outside supervision (parent/guardian).

Just look at the above mentioned list of relevance & pervasiveness - it spans across lifespan & percolates across all dimensions of life. Can we parents, all the time hover over our children supervising them?  The answer is obviously a Big No. 

So what is the answer, for dealing with our children, jab Self-control ho Out-of-control?

At the risk of sounding cliche, let me quote the answer "Responding & not Reacting".

Development of Self-control within a child is to be looked as an organic process & like any organic process, it takes time & takes efforts to nurture it. 

One of the practical tool for instilling self-control in a child is making use of 'Parent - Child Behaviour Contract'. (Google search will provide you lot of free resources (templates) for Parent-Child Behaviour Contract). 

The principles of contract as we know in adult world remains the same, when it is used in parent-child scenario. 

Let's ask ourselves why contracts works in adult world? Or why we follow contracts as an adult?
When I as an adult enter into a contract with another individual or an organisation, there are terms & conditions, which are jointly discussed, reviewed, mutually agreed upon. There are consequences (gains & penalties) attached with the contract. Since I am involved in the contracting process & I voluntarily agree & sign, I am internally driven to abide with the contract. 

This same logic translates to the child, when they enter into a parent-child behavior contract. The child is in discussion mode with the parent in a cold emotional state (when there are no emotional tantrums ongoing). Hence the discussions, questioning, clarification, mutual agreement etc are based on logic, mutual love, respect & understanding between the child & the parent. There is no upper hand, rather the child & the parent are equals. Thus the child is more likely to exhibit intrinsic self-control (desired behaviour), while in real time action (i.e. lives up to the spirit of the contract).

Coming back to the issue I shared about my son & his undesirable behaviour of over-shooting his screen time while playing video game. On that particular day, to avoid the reaction (tantrums) & to move towards a responding mode, I made a one time, brief behaviour contract with my son (image shared below).

Parent-Child Behaviour Contract (video games) between me & my son

I agreed upon giving him additional 15 minutes of screen time & we mutually agreed upon the consequence (if he does not stop after his allocated extra time, he misses out on playing video games for two subsequent days).

Since this approach is scientific in nature (behavioural science), the probability of it's success is high & it did work for us on that day.

The plan for us now, is to have a longer contract with our son on his video game usage - pre-determining the screen time/per day & incorporating some rewards (milestone based) & penalty (outcome based). Over a period of time, when his self-control grows stronger, the contract can be modified or scrapped. And as necessary, we can forge a new contract for a different problem at hand. I am sure, such problems will be in abundance, it's part & parcel of parenting :) but it's fun! It's a journey of learning & growing together.

Note: Images from internet search, no copyright violation intended.


  1. Dear Mr Abhishek,
    I saw this blog, based on recommendation of Sara. It is good, meaningful and useful information for parenting awareness. Keep doing it.

    1. Thank you Mr Girish, for your encouraging words.

  2. Thanks for sharing this wonderful and meaningful information

  3. Thanks for sharing this wonderful and meaningful information