Self control is learned. And, while there are always exceptions to the rule, children can be prepared, well in advance of entering kindergarten, with the self-control skills they need in order to get the most out of such an important time in their lives.
It isn’t easy
As is most often the case with parenthood, it isn’t easy to model great behavior and to prepare your kids with the skills they need to be successful and happy. It is possible though. And, there is enough expert advice available that you don't’ have to guess. You don’t have to struggle with self-doubt about your efforts.
At each stage of your child’s development, you have opportunities to prepare them with this important skill. Here are some ideas to help you through this unarguably tough time as a parent.
Learn your child’s natural tendencies
In their first year of life, children can teach us a lot about how we can help them. Understanding your child’s response to stress and noticing what works best to calm and soothe them will be your best early guides. Some babies respond strongly to your state of mind. If they are distressed, but you remain calm, they quickly respond to your behavior. Other babies require a lot of physical interaction to help regain their equilibrium. Pay attention to what your child needs, and remember what works as they continue to develop and engage with the world in new ways. Reinforcing their natural tendencies for self-soothing is a step toward learning self control.
A one year old can learn. And, they can learn fast. If your child is doing something that is not acceptable, they can learn without stress or strain or pain, how to change that behavior. If your child is drawing on a wall, for instance, set aside a place for drawing and move them to that space. Praise their artwork when it is done without damaging the house. Immediately paint over the walls. Provide them with a vertical surface to draw on, other than a wall. Encourage the correct behavior, and they’ll learn that it is easier to draw how and where you want than to fight to get their way. The path of least resistance is a great motivator. This learned behavior will translate when they get to the classroom.
Immediate gratification is something children understand. Delayed gratification is something they have to learn. This critical step in learning is another piece to the self-control puzzle that they’ll need when they enter a classroom setting. Playing and sharing toys can help children learn to wait. Not giving in to tantrums, and giving them something else to focus their attention on, helps them learn to wait. Make sure you are teaching this in a positive way. Ignoring a tantrum that results from delayed gratification probably isn’t going to help a child make positive connections about the potential benefits of waiting.
There is a lot more you can do to help your child prepare to be a happy, healthy and productive kindergartener. Here are some additional resources to check out.
Six Seconds, The Emotional Intelligence Network has some good tools for families.
The Edutopia Educational Foundation has a lot of good information about social and emotional learning for children of all ages.
If you’d like to learn more about our pre-k and kindergarten programs, and how we prepare your children for the next steps in life, give us a call and schedule a visit.