Self control and the growing child

Self control and the growing child

Your freshly baked cherry cheesecake is on the dining table. You have to go into the kitchen and finish the final preparations for dinner. Would you trust your four-year-old to guard the cherry cheesecake (his favourite) till the guests arrive? Your answer is more important than you think!

In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel and his graduate students conducted an experiment in Stanford University. The children of ages four to six were given a choice between two rewards. There was one reward (like a marshmallow or cookie) on the plate that they could eat immediately after the researcher left the room. But, if they controlled the temptation for another 15-20 mins, they would get a larger reward (two marshmallows) when he returned. Years later, when Mischel and his team followed up with the children, they found that children who had waited for the second reward fared better in their lives. Studies showed that they had higher SAT scores, a lower BMI (body mass index) and other similar achievements, 30 years after the test. It is not about marshmallows, a piece of cake, a gift or anything that your child is fond of. It is about the ability to control your impulses and feelings from being a deterrent to success in your personal and professional life.

Research suggests that people with self-control are not only successful but also happier than their peers who do not possess this trait. Children are known for their impulsive and enthusiastic nature. While some people have good self-control at an early age, others develop it as they mature. Irrespective of whether your child has the ability to control his impulses or not, self-control is a valuable asset that can be developed with practice.

Build a foundation of trust

When you make a promise to your child, make sure you abide by it. If you are responsive to the needs of the children, they learn to trust people which eventually soothes their impulse and anxiety. On the other hand, if they have a had bitter experience where they learnt that promises are easily broken and people are not to be trusted, they become impatient and find self-control a difficult trait to build. Parents can help their kids develop this mind skill by fostering a sense of security and soothing their anxiety. Play fun games that teach self-control You cannot expect a preschooler to understand the importance of self-discipline by motivating him through words of wisdom. Speak to the kids in their language. Play fun games that inculcate a habit of self-control in them. You can try out interesting games like Red-light Green-light, Freeze game, Colour matching freeze, Drum beats and many more. But, how do the games encourage your kids to develop self-control? For instance, during the freeze game, children dance when you play the music and stop when the music stops. In the same way, they dance quickly for peppy songs and show slow moves for the softer ones. This is the natural impulse of the child and not a difficult task for them. But in the second part of the game, you reverse the cues.

This becomes a challenge for the child as he needs to act against his impulse and practice the habit of self-regulation. Encouraging the children in sports is also a good way to inculcate self-discipline in them. React positively to corrections In most cases, children do not like to be corrected for their behaviour and act in a defensive manner by being aggressive or stubborn. As a parent, this is an excellent opportunity for you to teach them self-discipline. Life is not always a bed of roses. Things don’t always work the way we want them to. Hence, it is important to teach your children to respond positively when they are corrected on their mistakes. This might not be an easy task because it will require them to control their natural emotions and feelings in order to behave in an appropriate manner. But the skill once developed, will help them find a way out of complex situations without being trapped in further chaos.

Teach obedience  

The act of obedience such as coming on time when they are called by the parents or grandparents is also a measure of self-control. If you teach them to come to you instead of shouting across the hall, this is the first lesson to self-control that they can learn. This is because it teaches them to stop what they are doing in order to come and listen or do something else. Encourage activities that build self-control When your child plays with other children on a school team, he needs to manage his impulses and emotions in order to coordinate. Learning music, playing soccer or any activity that requires you to master the art till you excel at it; helps you develop self-discipline. Any activity which requires their time and patience is a step towards developing self-control. Though you might find innovative ways to teach your child self-control, the best way is to be a role model yourself. Help your child by being a calm and compassionate parent in trying situations. If you can handle the stress and anxiety in your life without being impatient, you are likely to pass on the same quality to your child.