I have discussed before how child researchers like Adele Diamond have shown that self-control, an essential ability for success in school and life, can be taught. And, you guessed it, there is no better time and place to start than summer at home. Summer provides a wonderful opportunity for parents to help build self control by developing written plans for unstructured playtime or even special events. And you can do this with children as young as four years of age.
This is how it works:
Written plans - 4 to 6 year olds - Before going to the park, a swimming pool, or a picnic, for example, ask your child what she plans to do there. If you are going to a park for example, your child might say "swing, go down the slide and play in the sandbox." You can write the words as a list and ask your child to draw a picture next to each word. You can make the plan more specific by asking questions like, "what toys will you play with in the sand?" Questions like that help your child think about what to bring and provide experience with planning ahead. This also helps build memory skills as your child can help you "remember" what you want to bring as you are getting ready to leave.
Camp/vacation lists - 7 to 10 year olds - Instead of planning a list of camp or vacation supplies this summer, ask your child to write his own list. Often organized camps have supply lists they recommend but you can work on an optional list as well. By helping your child think about things he might need you can make a game out of seeing how well you do at "guessing" what the camp might recommend. Try asking questions to generate the list instead of making suggestions. For example, you can ask, "Do you think the camp will have a swimming pool? What would you need to pack to go swimming?" Or, you might ask, "What might happen if it rains and you can't get inside before it starts? Is there anything extra you could pack to help stay dry?"
Back-to-school shopping lists - any age - Ask your child to start now making a list of school supplies for next fall. Keep the list in a common area like on the refrigerator door so it will get your child's attention each day. In addition to obvious supplies like pencils, paper, glue etc., encourage your child to think about things she might not need everyday but may need only rarely or would not be essential but might be nice like a special handmade bookmark that could be something she makes this summer or a few fun bandaids to use or give to someone else if an accident happens.
WHY? Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University of British Columbia in Vancouver has shown that when preschoolers are provided with planning activities and other games that build self control they score much higher on tests of executive function than children who just do ordinary Pre-school activities like learning color names. And Dr Diamond has also speculated, based on her research, that some of the increase we are seeing in diagnosis of ADHD may be due in part to fewer opportunities for children to take part in planning their own activities because so much of what children do after school or during summer is organized for them by adults.
Let's make a plan! Carefully made plans help build self-control.