My little one will be turning 10 months old this month, and I am already observing his need to exercise independence and of course impulsive behaviors. However, most children to varying degrees are impulsive by nature right up until their teens. Parents can help improve that by equipping them with self-control and discipline. This has a number of self-affirming benefits, that go beyond a parents need to control or limit a child’s penchant for throwing tantrums.
Studies have shown that children who are supported in cultivating emotional intelligence, whereby they work towards taking charge of their own behavior, become better listeners with good focus. Much of the initial onus lies with the parents. By first avoiding the following, parents can work towards helping their children better understand their emotions, people, and the world around them:
Try not to be a dismissive parent: dismissive parents disregard, ignore, or trivialize negative emotions – “You’re a big boy now. No need to cry.”
Try not to be a disapproving parent: disapproving parents are critical of negative feelings and reprimand kids for emotional expression – “We don’t sulk in this house. Go to time out.”
Try not to be a laissez-faire parent: parents who accept their children’s emotions and empathize with them, may feel this is the most open and loving approach, but this method will lack impact without being partnered with offering guidance and setting limits on behavior.
Now, that you have the above in check, use the following tips to get your kids on the right track to developing self-control and emotional intelligence:
Communicate often about behaviors
“What did we learn about sharing today?”, “Please use your words so mommy can understand you”, “Remember to help mommy put all the toys in the toy box”. Cultivating self-control in your little one simply starts by conveying household expectations in a loving and clear fashion. Use gentle reminders and try not to develop an association between undesirable behaviors and anger. Instead, create an environment where the family is solution-oriented so that improper attitudes or behaviors are remedied without a child left feeling scolded without guidance.
Encourage delayed gratification
We live in an increasingly ‘microwave world’. In most instances, we can all get almost instant access to anything and everything, and so there is little wonder as to why many children find it a challenge to exercise patience. A productive way to teach children self-control is to engage them in activities that do not offer instant reward.
Activities that expose your child to the concept of delayed gratification can help them practice and prepare for unwelcome ‘need’ tasks such as doing their homework, tidying their room, eating their vegetables, and saving money. This can help kids to see things through while showing them that delayed benefits are worth the effort.
This can be a challenge even in adulthood (raise your hand if you’re still working on consistency in your life!) and self-control is an ability that develops over time. I would go as far as to say that this thread of development continues throughout our whole lives. In order to help a child in this practice, parents must first display the kinds of behaviors they would like to see, and secondly, the parent has to be consistent in their expectations. For example, establishing household routines for children can backfire if not consistently enforced.
Encourage your child to assume age-appropriate tasks such as putting away their toys, completing bedtime routines without having to be told, doing their homework without being prompted, or even making a school packed lunch for the following morning. Lots of praise to encourage repeat behaviors and recognition of your child’s efforts, which are affirming and instill positive self-esteem, should accompany this.
Regulate your own emotions
This has come last, however, it may be the most important task in all of this. You are your child’s role model and gauge for appropriate behavior, and how you regulate your emotions in front of your child (and privately) indeed do play a part. Think and reflect upon the way you react to your child’s temper. Do you lose control and yell, or calmly soothe them when upset? Watch the kind of behaviors you display when out in public, for example when stuck in a queue. Although he is only still a baby, I was showing Lux signs of impatience when waiting in line in the supermarket the other day. As he gets older these behavioral cues will inevitably be picked up and will signal to him how to act.
When thinking about all the above, remember that love is the key to all things. You can discipline and guide all in love. Be slow to anger and watch how your little one blossoms.