The key to school readiness is self-control It is not about knowing your letters or numbers. Sure, it’s fine to teach kids their alphabet and how to spell or even to read if your child enjoys that. But it is way more important to teach them self-regulation. Self-regulation promotes school success both academically and socially.
A child’s ability to self-calm when they are distressed improves learning It enhances your child’s ability to sit still, pay attention, follow directions and stay on task. Referred to as Executive Skills, these abilities turn your child into a good CEO of themselves. By teaching self-control parents are directly contributing to their child’s Executive Skills.
Self-control also improves social relationships Kids who develop techniques for emotional self-control are more likely to be able to share, take turns, cooperate and collaborate with others.
Self-control is like a muscle; repetition and effort strengthen it I mean repetition and effort on your part and your child’s. Fortunately your daily routine offers plenty of opportunities for you to teach your child how to strengthen this muscle.
- When you set a limit or ask your child to do something it is like a good work out.
- If your child cooperates, it contributes to building your child’s self-control muscle
- If your child cries, protests and wont’ cooperate DO NOT despair or panic.
- Turn their emotional outburst and refusal into an even better learning experience.
The process of being upset that you can’t have your way and calming down on your own repeatedly, over and over is what really strengthens a child’s self-control muscle. It will take effort on your part as well. You will need to be really patient and firm. When you set a limit or expectation, no matter how upset they are or how angrily they protest, they will eventually calm themselves down and most likely also cooperate. The key is that while you are waiting do not criticize them, judge them, complain about them or threaten punishment for being upset. Your teaching will be more effective by waiting it out as patiently as you can. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect at this. No one can be. But try to react this way as much as you are able to.
They want you to be in charge and no child stays upset forever Keep both of these in mind while you are waiting for them to calm down.
When they calm down praise them “You did a good job at calming yourself down. I can see you really know how to cooperate.” Or “Wow. You really calmed down and got yourself to cooperate so well.”
Remember they are just a kid. Sometimes we all can have difficulty self-calming. There is nothing wrong with offering your help in calming down if it seems like they need it or want it. But the point is helping them to calm down does not mean giving in. It just means help with soothing.
It helps to give them some self-control language. For example, if the limit is they must wait before you can help them, you might say empathically, “It can be so-o-o hard to wait.” Or if the limit is they must share a toy, you can validate them by saying, “It is hard when we don’t want to share but we still have to.” If the expectation is they have to brush their teeth and they refuse, you can reflect back, “I know you don’t want to,” and then gently and firmly reassert the rule, “But you have to even if you don’t want to!” They internalize your words of empathy, validation and rule setting, into their ‘self-talk-library’ that assists them in the process of self-control.
You can make it a game. It is serious business but you can make it fun. In fact, games like ‘Simon Says’ or ‘Red Light Green Light’ are wonderful and playful ways of developing self-control. You can make up your own games too, if you like. Here are a few examples. “Let’s practice waiting our turn. I am going count and see how long you can wait.” You want them to succeed, so make the wait short. “Let’s play the follow the directions game.” You can come up with some silly directions for them to follow. Get their ideas of what directions you should give them to follow.
This is one of life’s most important lessons. And you are the best person to teach it to your child. You can be upset when you can’t get your way and you can recover on your own. Wow! What a great positive sense of mastery it gives your child afterwards. Even your willingness to help them calm down if need be, is also an important lesson. It’s healthy to recognize when we need to turn to others for help. These lessons give a boost to school readiness now when they young. If you keep teaching these lessons as your child gets older too, it better prepares them for life later on as an adult.
Pat yourself on the back. Give yourself an Oscar for your performance, every time your child is upset about having to obey a limit or follow a rule and you patiently give them the opportunity to self-calm. It will give you a greater sense of mastery too!