We don’t expect children to exhibit Gandhi-like calmness during upsetting situations, but we do expect school-aged children to be able to exercise a reasonable amount of restraint during lessons or at home. It’s a key element to learning (enabling them to pay attention and retain) but also to adhere to a societal code that will allow them to adapt and progress. Self-control enables children to cooperate with others, to cope with frustration, and to resolve conflicts… and yes, many adult lack this ability. However, here are some important keys to nurture this essential aspect of their emotional development.
Identify a place or technique to help your child calm down:
Pay attention to your child’s natural calming strategies. For example, he or she might naturally look for comfort in a pillow or blanket, or might try to walk away from upsetting situations. Some children may feel better simply by making silly faces or noises until they calm down (unfortunately, some naturally resort to kicking and screaming). That’s ok. As long as these behaviors are observed and modified within reason, it’s possible to understand their natural tendencies and effective shape those behaviors. Parents and teachers should identify a special place for him or her to calm down (for example, the “safe place” or the “peace corner.”) Teaching your child that it is ok to take some time to collect him or herself will encourage to do it on his or her own.
Set the example:
Most parents have moments when they are upset, but taking a moment to apply our own mechanisms of restraint (or simply leaving their sight while we’re uncontrollably angry) is key to modeling your child’s behavior. Take your time to think about how to come back to the situation in a positive manner. Children who see adults taking these steps to calm themselves will be more likely to use this technique. You can also talk with your child as you calm yourself down.
Limit the screen time:
Try not to give your child a phone, tablet, or any electronic device every time you find yourselves waiting for a doctor’s appointment, picking up a sibling from school, or waiting for food to arrive in a restaurant. There’s value for your child in learning to control himself in situations where he’s not entertained.
Use art to showcase routines:
On a large piece of paper, poster or dry-erase board, work with your child to outline getting ready for bed or school. You can cut pictures out of magazines, like toothbrushes or backpacks, to add to the paper. Map out what is done first and what is done last. Do you start with brushing teeth and then getting dressed? Clearly labeling what is expected of your child helps him act accordingly. He will likely need reminding and reinforcing at times, but showing him what is expected is a good place to start. If your child has difficulty with routines, try breaking them into smaller steps.
Try role-playing with your child:
For example, play grocery store and have him pretend to be the cashier. As he pretends, he is learning self-management by acting like the cashier. Instead of doing something he might have a sudden urge to do, like pet the family dog, he continues to scan your pretend groceries.