Does your child say or do naughty things without thinking? Most children do; but, did you know self-control can be taught? Try these games and activities to help your child along the process of learning self control – and watch how self-confidence and success in school follow.
PLAY BOOKS - The waiting game – toddlers – Pick a fun floor or table activity that you and your toddler enjoy. It could be playing with cars and trucks, building blocks, dolls, or playing dress-up. Make a three page book with a picture on each page for the three steps in the play activity. Show the pages to the child before play and then again before each new step (or just lay them in order on the floor so your toddler can pick each page up when that step is over)
Page 1 - The game (perhaps a drawing of a car, or a block).
Page 2 – Clean up (perhaps a picture of a hand holding the toy or a box with the toys inside)
Page 3 - The reward for finishing the game and cleaning up
a picture of a snack (like a glass of milk, or an apple), or
a picture of a new activity (like a book for story time)The goal is that your child begins to understand there are stages and steps to getting things done and to getting a reward - psychologists refer to this a delayed gratification
ORDER IN THE HOUSE – 3 years to 7 years – All of us feel better when we know the rules. Children are no exception. Establish simple but clear household routines that your child can take control of himself. You can remind if necessary but encourage your child to do them herself without reminders. Some examples of good situations for routines are:
1. Bedtime routines
· When undressing at night, put shoes against the wall (left shoe on the left and right shoe on the right)
· Toss dirty clothes in the hamper or basket
· Pick out a book to read together
2. Clean-up routines
· Clean up one group of toys before starting a new game or activity
· Have a routine and regular spot to hang coats, leave boots, umbrellas, dirty shoes
· After-school healthy snacks are a great reward for everything in its place
3. Meal-time routines
· Table clearing
· Turn taking in conversations
· Dessert is a wonderful reward for a meal where everyone pitches in
CLEAR RULES – pre-teens and teens – Limits are essential as your younster begins to assert himself and strives for more independence. It is important to respect and acknowledge your teen's appropriate choices but also to have clear rules so it is harder for her to make mistakes that hurt herself or others. Every house should have rules that require:
1. Homework is completed before there is any screen time – TV and computer games are entertainment – the reward for a job well done
2. Lists of safe places your teen may go without you and lists of places that require adult supervision
3. Keeping obligations – a promise made is a promise kept
WHY? Self –control is not something we are born with. It is an important part of the development of the pre-frontal lobe, the part of the brain that is very important for many skills we see in successful adults, like the the ability to set goals or the ability to focus and ignore distractions. So it is not surprising that a newly published 32 year study by Terrie Moffitt at Duke University in collaboration with colleagues in Britain and New Zealand found that self-control in children predicts success 30 years later. The team followed 1000 children from birth to 32 years of age. They report that regardless of intelligence or social class, children who had good self-control when they were young, had better health and made more money as adults than children with poor self control. And in 500 families, where they followed two children in the family, sisters or brothers, the child with the better self-control was more successful as an adult, even though raised by the same parents in the same home.
And the good news!, Mary Alvord, a clinical psychologist in Maryland has written a book that will help you teach children self-control strategies. In her book, Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents, she provides practical self-control strategies for your home like delaying gratification (used in my play book suggestion above) or having clear rules for teens.