Kids Learning Self-Control
Kids who learn self-control are more successful adults.
Can your son resist reaching for that cookie that is supposed to be saved for his brother? Can your daughter say no to the child enticing her to cheat on a test? If the answer is yes, your child may well be on the road to adult success.
According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the ability to display self-control as a child is one of the best indicators of success as an adult.
“Self-regulation is a better predictor of success in school and in life than IQ,” said Karen King, M.S., L.P.C., mental health specialist with Family & Children’s Services. “If I can sit and focus to a task, I’m more likely to learn it.”
Fortunately, self-control is something that can be taught. When I asked King when parents should begin teaching children about self-control, I was surprised at her response of “The younger the better!” And no, she didn’t mean putting babies in Time Out.
“You can start when they are infants by making eye contact with them, rocking them, and picking them up when they cry,” she said. “Soothing them teaches them self-regulation. It teaches them, ‘I can get upset, but I can also calm down.’”
King says that toddlers can learn self-regulation through interactive games, such as Simon Says, that teach them that they can run, but also tiptoe; they can yell, but also whisper.
Self-control isn’t just about correcting children when they are not practicing self-control. It is also about teaching a child that, just as he can control his voice from loud to soft, he also can control his impulse to hit when angry, run from mom at the grocery store, or take a toy from a playmate.
According to King, another way to foster self-regulation is to create a “safe place” in the home (or classroom) where kids can go when they are upset. At home, it can be a corner of the kitchen or a small table in the family room—somewhere where the child can have a few minutes to herself to calm down.
King suggests that the safe place or quiet spot have paper and crayons or pencils for the child who might want to draw how she is feeling, or books to read about handling emotions, such as “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” She even suggested that frustrated children have something to destroy, such as paper that can be torn. The point is that children learn that they have a choice in how they express strong emotions.
When disciplining a child for misbehavior, King encourages consistency and follow-through.
“Have your rules clearly stated,” King said, so children understand your expectations. “Stay firm, calm and neutral if rules are broken, and always remember to praise good behavior. What you praise, you get more of!”
Finally, King encourages parents to spend quality time with their children, and to teach by example.
“Kids tend to feed off their parents’ emotional energy. If a parent is not self-regulated, the child will have a hard time with it as well.”
Here are King’s tips for fun activities that promote self-regulation:
The Activity: Structured group activities such as team sports, 4-H, scouts
How it Helps: Teaches children to use energy in a structured way. Also teaches teamwork, increases confidence, and strengthens social skills.
The Activity: Yoga
How it Helps: Teaches children how to breath, focus and be calm in their bodies. These skills can be generalized to times when they are upset.
The Activity: Simon Says
How it Helps: Child must slow down to focus on what is being said before acting.
The Activity: Scavenger Hunt
How it Helps: Organizes the brain to think before acting. Also increases math and reading comprehension skills.
The Activity: Sequencing Games
How They Help: Improve brain “wiring” to work more efficiently and effectively, which in turn increases self control and learning