Friday, March 18, 2011

Teaching Self Control

I wanted to take some time this morning as my kids are running around playing outside to write about self control and ways to teach your toddler and preschool self control. I know I have encountered some mom's that have given me some strange looks while for example at the grocery store when I say to my almost getting out of control kids "you need to fold your hands and get some self control." I'm sure they are thinking there is no way such little kids can have self control but I have seen it with my own eyes! I also believe the sooner you start teaching your kids what it means to have self control, the sooner they will get it. Irconically I just picked up the book "Nurture Shock" and it actually had a chapter on a preschool class that had learned through their school program self control and they actually behaved better than the older class children -- can you believe that the preschoolers were behaving better than the older students?

Anyway, here are some ways we've taught self control (and continue teaching self control) in our home. I have actually created a scrapbook that we use during our training times. It covers different topics like first time obedience (or obeying quickly -- whatever you want to call it but it's the same principal), some games we play that teach moral excellence, some Bible verses on particular behavior we are working on and ways we are learning that best way to be...basically it helps me and the kids have something to look at and keep consistent with.

For teaching a child self control, it helps that when they start getting to that point of no longer being in control, that you can say to them "you need to fold your hands and get some self control". Something magical happens when you tell your kids to fold their hands -- the energy in their body all of sudden goes to focusing on keeping their hands folded and this gives them time to calm down and get control back. Of course you can't expect your kids to fold their hands to get self control if you have never taught them your expectation in the first place -- and what better way to do this is during non-conflict training, or what we call "training time".

During our training time for self control, we practice what it means to get self control. For us that means "no talking or making noise, sitting still, and hands are folded". We practice what it looks like to have self control, what it looks like to get self control (folding of hands...) and what it looks like when we don't have self control -- this happens to be my kids favorite! Acting all silly and wiggly and goofy. This helps me so I know that the kids truly know what it means, feels like, and looks like when they have self control and when they don't have self control.

We actually take 5 to 10 minutes of practicing sitting on our stools with our hands folded, mouths are quiet and we are sitting still. I have a timer for each child and if someone is having trouble in one of the areas, I'll restart their timer until they are able to complete the time necessary. Some of you may thinking this is harsh but let me ask you, how many of your kids are able to sit quiet and still for easily 30 minutes while watching a TV show? By being able to train them to sit quiet and still when I need them to has been very helpful in so many different situations. For example when I'm driving the car and they start hitting on each other - I can say "Owen, Anna, you need to fold your hands until mommy sees that you have self control". And since I've trained them in this, they do it and the hitting and fighting is over and I can continue focusing on driving. Another area I have found this especially helpful is when we are shopping in a store and little hands like to start touching things. I either tell them they need to put their hands in their pockets or fold their hands to help them resist the urge to be touching everything thing we walk by in the store. Or what about when you are a the doctors office and you have two of more of your kids with you and you are trying to talk to the doctor but your 4 year old is running around going crazy and being loud that you can't even talk to the doctor. Having them sit quiet and still until you are done has been very helpful.

There are many different ways you can teach your children self control through play as well. One easy game is to play "Simon Says", kids have to listen to the diffent things called out and do them only when Simon Says. Another game is "Red Light / Green Light" which also helps children have self control to stop and go and the correct times. I also have found just practicing and role playing the areas that you are struggling self control with. For example, if your child is struggling with self control when it comes to say sharing toys with another child and not just statching them (yes, this is a form of self control!) then role play and practice what is looks like, what the child can say, and what the child can do to show self control and what it looks like when they don't have self control.

In the book "Creative Family Times" they dedicate a whole chapter to sit time, which is a time the child sits and reads books quietly for a predetermined amount of time. We do this in our home as well, but call it "reading time". This also teaches a child self control. But just remember however you want self control to look like in your home and with your children, then you need to teach them that way and practice, practice, pracite. For our family, I have seen great benefits in teaching our children self control in all these areas: folding of hands, sitting quietly reading books, sitting quietly playing with a predetermined toy, sharing toys without snatching...You won't be able to expect your child to fold their hands to get self control if you have never practiced it. WIth small children, you could even help hold their hands for a short amount of time so they know exactly what you are expecting until they are able to do it themselves.

What ways do you teach your toddlers and preschoolers self control? Have you seen positive results in your training?

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