Self-Control is Taught

Have you ever watched children playing and noticed that a situation was escalating? The responsible adults, who are observing, often struggle because we do not know how long we should wait before getting involved. How long do we let them try to work it out? What about allowing them to build problem-solving skills?

Then it happens…and we find ourselves pulling the children apart and forcing them to take time to cool down before they can even think about going to the “peace table” or the “talk-it-out corner” or whatever method has been established to restore peace. How did it get out of hand so fast?

If you have a child who is showing signs of a quick temper or being easily frustrated, I suggest that there are great methods of teaching him to notice when things are escalating inside his own body. I also suggest that this must begin early. Eventually, he will have the self-control to know when to walk away on his own, but he will need your help to identify these triggers. Observe the early warning signs. When you see the first signs of frustration, help your child understand what that feels like and suggest that he take a deep breath, take a short rest, walk away if it is appropriate, stretch, or make some brief adjustment that relieves the pressure. In the beginning, you will make this adjustment for him. You can say, “Hosea, would you like to take a brief stretch”? You might even walk over and take both his hands in yours and take three deep breaths with him. Again, you will need to teach him how BEFORE it reaches that critical stage. This will let him know that YOU see the early signs that he is getting frustrated. Later, discuss what you saw and teach him to notice it, too.

It is our role to teach our children to become self-regulating, and we want to do it in the most positive manner. Teaching them that we can only be responsible for our own actions begins early. Redirection is such a positive way to keep children focused on positive behavior…reward what you want to see repeated. The first time you see them practicing self-control, offer specific praise.

Often children act out because they are stressed and just need to be soothed. Great soothing activities are sensory experiences: water play, sand play, playing with silly putty, playing in a sandbox, blowing bubbles, finger painting, etc… So often we resort to discipline when redirection is all that is needed.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” If that is true, we must begin early to teach our children how to self-regulate, so that they can become successful in every area of their lives.


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