Character Corner: Forbearance/Self-Control — musings, quotes, and parenting tips from


Jan’s first son, Anton, is an amicable, even keeled little guy.  In group situations he tends to spend time on the edges observing before he joins in.  As a toddler he was oddly self-controlled.  After a simple explanation or two, he gave up his attempts to explore the china cupboard, the toilet, and other objects that were intriguing but off limits.


Jan’s second son, Lee, caught her by surprise.  He is passionate and impetuous.  He wants what he wants and when he gets thwarted it feels like the whole neighborhood can hear his shrieks.  Jan knows her husband was similar as a child and she loves the way he has channeled his passion into political activism and his graphic design business.  But she is on unfamiliar ground when it comes to parenting Lee.

What is Forbearance?

Forbearance or self-control is the ability to exercise restraint, to stay in balance. It is disciplining yourself to be measured and temperate in your response to trying circumstances. It is being patent and even keeled while enduring hardships. It is having the ability to constrain your own worst impulses and allowing thoughtful, wiser aspects of yourself to govern what you say and do.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Forbearance protects us against doing harm on impulse in the throes of anger or fear. Since so much of virtue is about finding a balance point between two kinds of excess, forbearance helps to keep us close to the center of our better selves.

Five Quotes to contemplate, discuss and share.

Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.
–Abraham Joshua Heschel

The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer.
–Marcus Aurelius

Just because something is true doesn’t mean you have to say it.
–Katherine Triandafilou

Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power, that is not easy.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Bringing it home to your kids

1.    Children begin life lost in their own sensations and desires.  They learn restraint from the outside world and you.  Part of your job is to be their self-control when they have none.

2.    Use words to explain this.  Say, for example, “If you are not able to stop yourself from hitting sister, then I will stop you until you are big enough to stop yourself.”

3.    Think in developmental terms: your child isn’t deficient, but developing.  This perspective says, “It’s ok for you to be where you are at, but not to stay there.”  If you have a growth orientation, your child will pick up your perspective.

4.    Help your child put words on feelings like frustration, anger and disappointment.  The more able they are to express these feelings in words, the less they will need to act on them.

5.    Using your child’s current vocabulary and level of understanding, process blow-outs after they happen (when everybody is calm).  Talk about how your child will handle those situations when they are bigger.  Give them a vision of the target behavior and let them know it will get easier.

Photo by Lars Plougmarin


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