What do you think the most important thing might be that your child needs to succeed? My answer to that question is that self control is essential to classroom success. It’s the single most important factor in helping children succeed in every aspect of their lives as well as becoming well adjusted adults.
In a groundbreaking study by Walter Mischel, children were put in a room with 2 marshmallows on a plate in front of them. The researcher told the child that they could eat one marshmallow now, or try to wait. If they were able to wait, then when they came back they could have 2 marshmallows. Then the researcher would leave the room for 15 minutes.
Many children would wait but many could not.
The children who were able to wait and were able to delay their gratification were followed throughout their young lives. These children were found to be more sociable and more academically successful. They had better SAT scores, were less likely to use drugs, a lower likelihood of obesity, and were better able to cope with stress.
Why is Learning to Wait so Important?
As adults, so many good life decisions are contingent on us waiting. In order to reach a goal, we have to work hard to attain it and that means hard work and sacrifice. We so often have to put off pleasures in order to meet that goal. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, if you hold off on having that extra snack, you’ll move closer to your goal. If you get out of bed when the alarm goes off instead of snuggling back under the covers (there is nothing more gratifying then that!) you’ll be more productive that day.
For kids, they should understand that if they put off watching TV or video games so that homework gets done first, they’ll get better grades.
Self control is one of the most important character traits that your child needs to succeed.
Talking to Your Kids About Self Control
Practicing self-control isn’t easy, even for adults. It’s hard for anyone to wait, and for kids who developmentally have poor impulse control it’s even harder. Ironically, when let children know that it’s hard to wait, it makes it easier for them. We can also help them think of other things to do while they’re waiting, to make the process easier and also teaches them coping strategies on how to manage the waiting in a tolerable manner. In essence, managing the waiting in pleasurable ways is the secret to learning self-control.
For younger kids, it might sound like this:
“I know it is so hard to wait for our pizza to be ready. Maybe if we play with our legos for a bit, it will make the time go faster…”
It is so hard to wait for your play date to come over! You wish Eli was here right now. What can we do to keep ourselves busy until he comes?
For older kids:
“I know your expecting the team list to come out any day now. The wait can feel really frustrating. Sometimes it helps to keep yourself busy with the things you like to do. That can sometimes ease the stress!
Help children problem solve
Children with good self-control have learned to make decisions. Decisions require us to make sense of lots of information, so show them how to keep their emotions in check as they review their options, and then come up with a plan. This will take a lot of time and practice.
You can give your child what he needs to succeed by engaging in some constructive dialogue.
For younger kids, it might look like this…
“Oh no! Both of you want to play with the trains! How can we work it out?
“Oh no! We have a problem! There are 3 cookies and 2 children. How can we make this fair?”
For older kids, it might look like this.
“Both of you need the bathroom at the same time! How can we work this out?
Help children plan
Help children make their own schedules. When children are in control of their schedules not only are they learning self-control (If I don’t get started on my homework now, I am not going to be able to make it to baseball practice), they become responsible and dependable.
For young children:
“Okay, we have been having trouble getting to school on time. Let’s figure out a way to make our mornings go smoother. Any ideas?
For older children:
“Okay, it’s the beginning of the school year. Have you given some thoughts as to how you want to schedule your evenings, to include homework and those extracurricular activities you signed up for? Let me know if you need some help!”
The Key to Success
Although self-control is serious stuff, it can also be taught through games. Making it natural and fun will be less laborious for both of you. Anytime children need to inhibit their reactions, stop themselves from doing something, they are learning self-control. Some ideas to get started are Simon Says, Red, Light, Green Light, Freeze game, and musical chairs.
What your child needs to succeed is positive input and reinforcement at home to teach the important character traits that he’ll need for classroom success.