Monday, May 9, 2011

Teaching Self Control

In my short experience as a parent, I have found that the most difficult character trait to teach is self control.  In my observations the reason this is so hard to teach, is because when it is needed most the parent often doesn’t have it either. 

We’ve all had those times I think.  We came off of a 12 hour shift only got four hours of sleep, and had to begin the weekend routine of shopping, and cleaning with kids who just want to play on the weekend.  The day grows hot heat is coming from the blacktop of the parking lot at the grocery store the 4 year old gets tired, and bonks his head trying to get himself in the car because he’s at that age of independence.  He breaks down, cries and screams while you’re struggling with the keys, groceries, and cart and now you have to make sure your child is okay which you’re sure he is, but he wants the nurturing attention. 

You’ve checked him out he seems fine and he notices that you think he seems fine, and screams louder.  Is he crying because his head really hurts?  Is he crying because he’s tired?  Is he crying because he’s missed you all week from working those 12 hour shifts and today on your day off you were more concerned with your grocery list, the laundry, the bills, and all the plans with family and friends you are trying to accomplish this weekend than you were with his immediate and demanding needs.  By this time your frustrated and the screaming is becoming an annoyance, and then it can grow into something more. 

It is now that it is time to teach self control.  His buttons have been pushed and now yours have to.  This is not something to fear.  This is a rare instance when you and your child feel the exact same way and can relate to each other immediately as long as you can control your emotions.  Now controlling your emotions doesn’t just mean resisting the urge to smack him, or scream at him and walk away to calm yourself down,  in this case, controlling your emotions means using this situation to teach the child self control by exhibiting it yourself. 

The child is screaming and crying, but even this is happening it does not mean that he won’t recognize attention in the form of love and discipline.  Here some tips on what to say to him, or her.  Position your self directly in front of him/her come down to their level and look them in the eye as you would any adult.  Say his/her name firmly, but do not yell.  Do not make fear an emotion that they have to feel on top of everything else.  Place your hands on their shoulders, or in any place that you know your child feels comforting or soothing, and tell them exactly what you want them to do, and why.  “Control your emotions.”  “I know it hurts.”  “Take 5 deep breaths.”  If they start to do what you are saying, then great.  If he/she is not, repeat everything again and finish with “We can’t go anywhere safely until you calm down.”  If this does not work you can get a little firmer make, your child stand straight and put their arms down at their sides.  This actually will cause the child to breath deeper and easier.  No matter how stubborn your child is, for his/her own comfort he/she will take the breaths and stop crying even if he/she doesn’t want to.  Now you can explain to the child why it is important to control his/her emotions.  This simple instruction could save their life one day.  It will also instill trust in your child for you and he/she will be more likely to openly talk to you about their feelings and their thoughts. 

You and your child have now both exhibited self control, and courage.  Emotions feed off of each other the same is true for self control.

“Self control is the chief element in self respect, and self respect is the chief element in courage.”  ---Thucydides

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