Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Teaching Your Child Self-Control

by Marian Andrews, M.S.W., LCSW, Certified Parent Coach

Children are not born with self-control. In fact, as babies they communicate by crying and they learn to expect someone to know what their needs are and take care of them. As a child becomes mobile, he begins moving from dependence on others to care for him to ultimate independence with the ability to do things and care for himself. However the road to independence is paved with frustration. Children begin to learn very quickly that they frequently don't get what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Children often become frustrated very easily and they don't know how to communicate their feelings.

As parents, it is our job to teach our kids life skills that make them independent. Self-control and the ability to communicate their feelings appropriately are two of the most important life skills that we can teach our children. A child is naturally frustrated and often communicates that frustration in inappropriate ways. As parents, it is our job to teach our children what is acceptable behavior and how to handle his frustration. One of the concrete ways we begin that process of learning self-control is to tell our children "no" and "wait". As parents, we have to assume the job of being the one to say no or to say wait and then we have to enforce that we mean what we say. In this culture, we often become more concerned about not making our children “unhappy" rather than teaching them to handle the words “no” and “wait.” If we focus primarily on keeping our children “happy," we rob them of learning the critical life skill of self-control.

As parents we teach our children first and primarily by modeling self-controlled behavior. As our child's frustration level builds, we want them to take time to get control and express their emotions with appropriate voices and behavior. Therefore it is important that as we set appropriate limits for our children, we take a moment to be in control and speak in a calm, even tempered voice that communicates that we mean business. It is important that we give clear and concrete guidelines for what we want them to do and that we maintain control ourselves while we do that. We must be willing to follow through with consequences if our child's behavior is inappropriate so that they will learn to trust that we mean what we say.