3 Ways to Teach Your Child Self-Control (0 to 2 Years)
It’s hard to believe that such a big sound can come from such a small little person when his or her tantrum begins. It’s amazing how our children’s lack of control can render such incredible control over their much larger, much more “mature” parent. The dreaded tantrum is something that every parent tries to prevent and avoid. During the first couple years of life, your child establishes a mental perception of how people interact and what it means to control yourself. The expression “a work in progress” comes to mind when we address teaching children self-control; because if we are honest about it, we ourselves are still a “work in progress.”
Normal Development and Limitations:
Remembering that our children’s and our own self-control is indeed a work in progress is the first step to teaching self-control. It’s important to recognize limitations and that our kid’s lack of self-control is normal; but that does not mean we do not lay the foundation for impeccable “impulse control.” The Center on Brain Injury Research and Training suggests that, in the first couple years of life, children begin to display some inhibition for their responses and will shift to a new response. They also begin to self-monitor their actions and recognize some personal errors. Although children’s developmental capacity for self-control is limited, what parent do and how they interact with their children in the first two years of life will significantly affect their future capacity and development.
What They Need to Learn and How to Teach It:
1. What: Responsive and predictable environment
How: In counseling, I frequently remind the parents of kids with major behavioral disorders that “The true sign of great parenting is not the behavior of the child, but the behavior of the parent”; and “When we identify a behavior in our child that we would like to change, it is important to first ask yourself if you model that same behavior. If not, that’s what you need to fix first.” Infants need a responsive and predictable environment, and an example of what self-control looks like. They need to know they are cared for and loved, and that they can count on you for the things they need. This predictability also includes reasonable limits on behavior and consequences. They need to see Mom or Dad respond in appropriate, controlled ways when they are upset.
2. What: Things have order
How: Children can start to learn that all things have order in natural ways. The most natural method of communication or expression for young children is play. Many games, such as “Simon Says,” or “Red Light, Green Light,” teach simple rules, as well as mental and physical restraint. Parents can use these patterns and sequences to teach order.
3. What: My actions affect others, and other’s actions affect me
How: It’s important for parents to express feelings – in calm and controlled ways – about how they feel when their child does things that cause them to hurt physically or emotionally. Parents can also verbally recognize, empathetically, how their child is feeling. For example, if your two-year-old runs in crying for some unknown reason, a parent might say something like, “It sounds like you are sad about something?” rather than first exclaiming, “What’s wrong with you?!” Teaching this concept to your child can help build his or her self-control. The Illinois Early Learning Project suggests that even infants and toddlers can and should be aware of the consequences of their actions and how they affect others.