“Mom, I just can’t stop thinking about Minecraft. My mind keeps wandering with the possibilities, what I can do with it, how I can build this house, what other structures I can build. I can’t think about anything else!”

So was the breathless excitement in my 9 year old’s voice this afternoon as he described his favorite new app that he had played on a friend’s iPad. After begging me to download it on our iPad countless times, I decided to have a little talk with him about having some self-control over his thoughts.

When our children's thoughts run away with them, here is how we can teach them to develop self-control over their thoughts and "take their thoughts captive" to Christ.

What Does Self Control Mean According to the Bible?

The word “self-control” sometimes seems misleading–after all, it is the Holy Spirit that works in us to “will and to act according to His good purpose.” But truly, this word is used many time throughout Scripture, it is even listed as a fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV

I am the kind of person who sometimes lets her thought run wild, uncontrolled and undisciplined. Not *usually* about anything horrible but thoughts that distract me from the task at hand or aren’t productive or encouraging.

Over time, I’ve slowly been learning the skill of “taking my thoughts captive” and am wishing I’d been disciplined in this way when I was younger.

There are Biblical exhortations for using self-control in regard to our thoughts. Take for example this verse from 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB):

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

This is a present tense, ongoing event, both as we defend the faith (the context of the passage) and as we seek to have self-control over our own thoughts (an application for Christians of all ages!)

Out of the heart, the mouth speaks. Whether good or bad, the things we say reflect the condition of our hearts. As the Spirit works in our children (and us), and as we take our thoughts captive, these very thoughts overflow into the way we speak, bringing our words into harmony with our thought life.

When we grow as believers, God transforms us into the “image of Christ” and we find ourselves becoming more self-disciplined and self-controlled in this area.

Teaching our children to have self-control over their thoughts

3 Tips for Helping Your Child Learn to Take Every Thought Captive

It’s character-building to teach our children this practice and so this is what we talked about with our son and are three good things to remember, I think, about having self-control over our thoughts!

Before I begin, let’s set the stage: We believe that if our children learn to bring their thoughts under control when they are young, it will help them to be self-controlled in their thought life when they get older and are tempted by a lot of thoughts that are not virtuous.

This is all a work of the Holy Spirit of course, so as you pray over your children be encouraged that God will work in them!

1) Encourage your child to turn their negative thoughts into a prayer.

When your 13 year old is standing in front of her mirror believing that she isn’t beautiful enough or good enough, teach her to “capture” that thought by bringing it to the Lord in prayer.

In this type of circumstance, your child’s mind needs to be transformed and renewed (Romans 12:2) so they can see themselves as God sees them: beautiful in Christ.

Your child can come to the Lord, asking for grace to not dwell on the negative thoughts.

2) Teach your child to discern what to do with racing thoughts.

Some people are more analytical in their thinking. It might be part of our child’s personality to mull over troubling or “pointless” thoughts. However, when we let our thought life run free, it can lead to unhealthy or destructive thinking as our kids get older.

Self-control of our thoughts is a discipline that adults are still learning, so don’t feel like a parental failure if your child spends lots of time dwelling on various distracting or discouraging thoughts (like not being able to quit thinking about a video game or a certain fear that keeps them up at night).

While constant discouraging or negative thoughts may reflect a more serious issue, these “runaway” musings are usually just a part of a child’s growing up.

They are learning in a broader sense to sort out:

  • what is important
  • what they can do something about, and
  • what simply needs to be left to the Lord

Try having your child identify why they are having certain thoughts. Is it because they’re worried? Excited? Frustrated with no outlet?

Once they identify the source of their thinking, they can then pray for God to help them handle those thoughts in the right way.

Our son, whose mind just runs away with him, learned that writing things down about what he wanted to do helped him stop thinking about it and move on to something else.

There is nothing wrong with prayerfully finding practical skills that help our kids learn to gain more self-control over their runaway thoughts.

3. Help kids have self-control over their thoughts by teaching them what IS good to focus on.

Thankfully, the Bible gives us guidance on what to think about. Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable, these are the things we are to meditate on (Philippians 4:8).

While we won’t think rightly all the time (after all, we are still sinners), this is a discipline that develops as the Holy Spirit transforms us in our Christian walk.

This is similiar to Tip #1 but works for younger children in a more simple way. It involves reminding your child that God helps us when we’re having challenging thoughts by giving us joyful and peaceful thoughts to focus on instead.

Talk with your child about some of these specific good thoughts (use the Philippians verse as your example) which can help them develop a habit of “making their thoughts obedient to Christ” as they grow.

Above all, pray for your children and encourage them to continue to pray that God will help them not to be afraid or think of other more peaceful things. This practice allows them to grow in wisdom and knowledge of what is truth versus what is a lie or simply unproductive thinking.

Step by step, it is such a blessing to lead our children and watch them being led by the Lord in a virtuous way.

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6 Comments on How to Teach Your Child to Have Self-Control Over Their Thoughts

  1. Jenn, what an important area of parenting this is! Thank you so much for this honest post. Teaching my children to control their thoughts has not been something which I have been intentionally doing (though it has been something that I have been struggling with as an adult). This post is encouraging me to start this training young and to be intentional in encouraging them to exercise discipline over their minds through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you and may God bless you and your family!

    • Thank you Anna, I so appreciate your comment. It’s true that I too, struggle with this as a grown-up and so I’m learning right along with my kids ;)

  2. I would love to teach my children this also, because my mind can go all over the place, too! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I really love this post! With a sweet but fiercely independent three year old I’m finding its time to start intentionally working on our thoughts and expressing emotions. Stopping by from the fb blogging community and glad I did! God bless!

    • That’s great that you are being intentional about this, Courtney! I have to admit I did not start doing this as early on with my firstborn and we are really only getting into the meat of this now (he’s 9). It’s been helpful for me to take notice of this with our younger kids too (we also have a 3 year old–fun!). Thanks for stopping by :)

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