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Friday, July 14, 2017

How to Teach Your Children Self-Control

We live in a "give me what I want and give it to me NOW" sort of culture. We expect instant results. Instant gratification. We don't want to wait for anything and feel entitled to everything our hearts desire.

I don't know about you, but one of my goals as a parent is to raise children who are the polar opposite of this current cultural trend. I want my children to be patient. To work hard for what they want in life. To respect others and themselves. 

Self-control is a crucial skill. It is not something we are born with the ability to do. We have to work at it and it takes a conscious effort, even as an adult. Self-control is actually something I'm personally striving to do better with in my own life. Having the self-control to say "no" to that snack I'm craving. The self-control to put down the phone and stop scrolling. The self-control to set aside the time each day to study God's Word. So many of our personal goals relate back to the ability to have self-control in a given situation. Why not train our children from an early age to have this important personal skill? 


Many people have heard of the book Babywise and associate it with sleep scheduling. Most people do not know that the Babywise techniques go above and beyond sleep and include many other areas of parenting. They also don't know that the author of Babywise, Gary Ezzo, has written a series of -wise books covering all ages

Tess is almost three and will be moving from the Toddlerwise book to the Preschool Wise one. I have been re-reading through it and man there is a TON of good stuff in here!!! 

It's easy to look at a three year old child and assume that they are too young to learn about self-control but the exact opposite is true. We should be instilling these lessons with our children as young as possible. Young children are more easily trained and we can prevent a lot of issues (and more work as a parent!) by starting as we mean to go on and instilling values at younger ages. 

Chapter nine in Preschool Wise gives a SIMPLE and easy fix to help children settle down/calm down while at the same time teaching them the all important lesson of self-control. 

We have ALL been in those moments and situations where we want our children to be well behaved, to be quiet, and to be calm. They are, instead, all amped up and crazy. We feel overwhelmed. We feel frazzled. It's in those moments that our normal parenting methods may fly out the window. We bribe. Or we threaten. Or we lose our temper and act in anger. 

Pausing is a useful tool for everyone. As parents, taking a moment to pause allows us to asses the situation at hand and have a better grasp over how we should best handle it. For children, that pause gives them a chance to gain the self-control they need in order to behave in the manner they should in a given situation. 

Taken from Preschool Wise (pg 174): When you begin to see those early signs that your kids are going to lose it physically or verbally, instruct them to fold their hands and work on getting some self-control. That is all you need to do. Teaching your child that self-control begins with the folding of her hands is a wonderfully concrete way for her to understand calmness. Her eyes focus on those peaceful hands lying still in her lap, and soon physical and verbal self-control is achieved.

Yes. It's a SIMPLE concept. But aren't simple ideas often the best ones? By instructing our children to fold their hands and get some self-control we are essentially instructing them to pause. It's a pause both for their benefit and our own and it is a beginning step to a life long skill of pausing and considering a situation prior to taking action. How often would we like to go back and insert a pause into a moment where we acted out of impulse? How many times in our day would we have better self-control if we were to fold our hands and purposefully pause? 

This simple idea of having our children fold their hands is effective because it's consistent and can be used anywhere, in any situation. Out to eat? Standing in a long line? Attending a wedding? Visiting the doctor? It is effective everywhere we go! 

Why does this work?

From Preschool Wise (pg 175): When a young child folds his hands to get self-control, it handles all the excessive body energy that makes self-control so difficult. It is also a quick-fix. It takes only 30-90 seconds of folding hands to gain self-control in that moment. Once that is accomplished, Mom can redirect the child's energy to productive activities. 

For example, I take my three kids to run errands quite frequently in the summer. We are at Target (of course) and they are getting rambunctious. Being silly. Being loud. Being disruptive. Rather than constantly getting onto them over and over, I simply say "everyone sit down and fold your hands and gain self control." Right in the aisle they can sit and follow my instructions. While they are sitting I'm able to consider the situation at hand. By the time they are settled down I have a task for each of them. Kye takes over the list of items we need to buy and is in charge of reading them out and marking them off as we go. Britt pushes the cart and has to be mindful of how she's driving by following me closely and looking out for others. I dig out a few toys from my purse and hand them to Tess for her to play with as Britt pushes her in the buggy. Having that pause gives me the ability to come up with a solution to the problem and allows the children to gain the self-control needed to finish running the errand. 

While it's a simple skill in practice, it needs to be taught at home in a situation where it's not needed. Practice at meal times. Or when waiting turns to brush teeth. Or even in the car. Make it fun and practice often, then it will become second nature to them. The more often you utilize this phrase ("fold your hands and gain self-control") the more easily it'll slide off your tongue and become another tool in your parenting tool box! Not only will it make in the moment situations easier to handle, but it will be a great way to instill the skill of self-control into your children's hearts from an early age. 



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