confident parents confident kids

Television, Navigating our Global Neighborhood

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Television takes our kids across the globe before parents give them permission to cross the street.

–          Joshua Meyrowitz

And those journeys through television can offer exposure to various cultures giving our children greater social awareness. However we also know that access to a vast array of imagery, ideas and stories in our homes can lead to pitfalls as well. Since the average American home has more televisions (2.73) than people (2.55) living in those homes, according to Nielson Media Research, television is an ever-present force in our children’s lives. It can be an invaluable resource when children are sick and need time to rest. It can also provoke interesting conversations and ideas about our world which could include travel in outer space, experimentation with robotics or learning about animal habitats. I reached out to an expert on television to ask the questions that parents might most want addressed.

My guest blogger, David L. Smith is the author of Television that Matters and Visual
Communication
. He is an Emeritus Professor of Communications and former Director Dave in DC-Editof the Television Center at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has a forty-plus year career in television as a teacher, writer, producer and cinematographer. He worked on two local children’s shows and has won numerous awards for his work including an Emmy and a Silver Cindy.

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I asked David to respond to questions on understanding the role of television and how much is too much, the focus of today’s post. Next week, he’ll return to respond to questions on how we can manage the content viewed.

What is the significance of television in our lives?

Because television is pervasive, it’s best thought of as an environment – like a neighborhood, a global neighborhood. Just as your kids are exposed to other kids, their parents and strangers in your neighborhood, they are also – and more frequently – exposed to the people who populate the electronic neighborhood. Exposure equals influence. What our children are watching is helping them shape their perceptions of themselves, others, the world and life itself. So television content is not trivial, it’s formative. Especially for young minds.

How does it influence us, particularly our children?

Everything presented on the screen is value-laden. As carefully prepared expressions of a writer or producer’s consciousness, television’s content and presentation techniques influence our beliefs, perceptions and values. It influences the perception of self (body-image for instance), what’s “cool,” what it means to be an American, our experience of the world, even what it means to be human. Public television certainly makes a valiant attempt to influence in more positive and constructive ways, but like any tool, a medium’s influence largely depends upon what the receiver does with it – the subject of next week’s blog. Regarding television’s output: What we see on the screen has been passed through the subjective filters of the producers, their upbringing, education, preferences, beliefs. Regarding the input: When the message reaches us, we filter it further as part of our need to validate what we know and believe as part of our quest for growth, meaning and success.

The message to parents is to never loose sight of the fact that commercial television is in the business of capturing and holding attention, delivering the maximum number of “eyeballs to advertisers.” It accomplishes this by providing content and images that have mass appeal, elements that stimulate emotions that may or may not be suitable for children. That’s obvious. But because the influence on a child doesn’t show up immediately or dramatically, and it’s so convenient to pass it off, parents do well to keep in mind that passing it off adds to the accumulation of influences. Moderation in all things – including television!

Personally, television has been a very positive influence in my life. I still yearn for the realization of its higher potentials – to educate, enrich, uplift, inspire and empower. Meanwhile, I try to make a good-faith effort to derive what I call the more nutritional influences from what’s currently available.  And you can do the same for your children.

How does a parent determine how much is too much television?

First Do No Harm

              The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages television

              and other media use by children younger than two years and encourages

              interactive play.[i]

Significantly limit television for children, birth through four years old and try never to leave the television on when not actively watching it since it can affect brain development. Because television entrains the mind along particular pathways and provides ordered (prepared) experiences, heavy viewing has been shown to retard the myelination process in the early brain, particularly from birth to age four (Pearce, 1992).[ii] Myelination is the process whereby nerve cells in the brain build up a fatty protein sheath that improves conductivity, enhancing the flow of information from one cell to another. If this process is retarded, there’s a loss in the ability to use the imagination and to generate personal fantasies and realities from within (Buzzell, 1998).[iii] Sustained exposure to language and images packaged to capture attention can stifle a child’s ability to imagine and create a rich inner world. Strengthen these connections instead through engaged play, music, art, dancing and reading, especially encouraging children to make up their own stories.

Below is my prioritized “short-list” of some of the more studied negative effects – consequences of “heavy viewing” (more than six hours a day) – related to children.* You can find more on the internet under the heading of “Television Effects.”

Television –

  • Displaces direct personal experience (play, dinner, reading, sports).
  • Makes aggression, violence, self-centeredness, materialism and greed seem normal.
  • Induces passivity and inhibits creative activity.
  • Generates, validates and maintains stereotypes.
  • Encourages cynicism, skepticism and a lack of trust in others.
  • Contributes to a negative view of life and living – referred to as the “mean-world syndrome.”
  • Can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity.
  • Has a desensitizing effect on empathy. Increased exposure to violence reduces sensitivity to it.
  • Invites imitation, notably in the areas of violence, crime, aggressive behavior and suicide.

*A caveat common to most studies on “television effects,” is that the medium alone may not be solely responsible for the effects documented, that the predisposition of subjects and other environmental factors could lessen or enhance the severity of the effect being studied. Cautious researchers often conclude that television was a (if not the) “significant” factor in their study.

Set and Consistently Reinforce Rules

        For older children, total entertainment screen time should be limited to

        less than one to two hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs 

        which should be supervised by parents or other responsible adults in the home.

– The American Academy of Pediatrics

Additionally, the AAP has identified a set of potential benefits to limiting children’s television exposure. These include: improved diet, lower risk of overweight, less exposure to violent content and improved sleep quality. Setting times when your children can and cannot watch television eliminates daily arguments. I don’t recommend using television as a reward, that makes it all the more desirable. And try not to vilify television either. That can also make it more desirable in a different way.

Examples of television “House Rules” might include (will vary with age):

• “One hour of viewing on school nights; three hours on weekends. There will be exceptions when something comes on that we all want to see.”

• “No TV until homework is done—and checked.”

• “The bedroom is no place for a television set.”

• “In our house kids never watch television alone.”

• “When friends are over, you can watch a video but not television.”

• “If there’s something special you want to watch (while you’re doing homework or chores, we’ll record it for you.)”

Let your children know the criteria for the rules you and your partner are considering. Have a discussion. Invite their input and listen to their objections. Seriously consider them in making your final decisions, and let the children see that their input was taken seriously. Indicate that the rules are likely to change as they grow.

Next week, David will offer tips on how to regulate and manage television content so the programming that children watch can enrich their lives and your conversations as a family.

For further reading, David recommends:

Van Evra, J. P. (1990). Television and child development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

More:

Better TV Equals Better Kids Check out the terrific graphics in this article that visually show the effects of television on children!


[i] American Academy of Pediatrics.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2002). Children and TV violence. Washington, D.C.: Author. Retrieved on July 12, 2006.

American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education. (2001). Children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics. Elk Grove Village, IL: Author.

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2002). Television – How it affects children. Elk Grove Village, IL: Author. Retrieved on July 12, 2006.

[ii]  Pearce, J. C. (1992). Evolution’s end: Claiming the potential of our intelligence. San  Francisco: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1992.

[iii] Buzzell, K. (1998). The children of cyclops: The influences of television on the developing human brain. Fair Oaks, CA: The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.

 

Unconditional Love: The Prequel

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Love yourself first and everything else falls in line.

–          Lucille Ball

There were so many interesting reader reactions to last week’s article on “Unconditional Love and Attention” that I felt it was important to take the issue one step further this week. One reader asked, “Isn’t unconditional love of self a pre-condition or critical foundation for loving our children unconditionally?” What a question! There is a body of research on self-compassion that answers with a resounding “Yes.” This research defines self-compassion as thinking about pain, suffering or failures in a self-soothing, nurturing and understanding way. Instead of allowing fear or guilt to motivate, the self- compassionate person is directed by understanding and forgiveness of themselves no matter what they are experiencing. Kristin Neff, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind[i] shows how the brain wiring sets a course for optimism, happiness and motivation to change when thinking about a bad situation (even if it’s a problem they cause) in a self-soothing way. There’s a common misconception that this self-understanding could lead to laziness or a lowering of standards. “If I go easy on myself, how will I become a better person, professional or parent?” the argument might go. Her research supports the opposite. People who forgave themselves were more compassionate toward others, were more willing and able to turn feedback into a learning experience and had greater motivation to change behaviors for the better. Dr. Neff found that people who were trying to change a particular behavior like overeating or smoking had greater success rates if they had compassion for themselves through the difficult process. In one intervention, researchers had individuals write a letter to themselves every night for one week about a disappointment or situation which challenged them. Some were to write self-nurturing comments. Others were instructed to express self-critical thoughts. As much as six months later, the ones with self-nurturing letters were experiencing greater happiness; the others, greater depression.

As parents, we know our job is the toughest in the world. If we are learning parents, reflective parents, the kind of parents who read articles like this, then we may be even more prone to self-criticism. This past week my dear friend and an amazing Mom was recovering from surgery and despite her pain and fatigue was jumping up and down to attend to her girls, who were acting out because it had been a stressful week. After being kind and firm with them as they fought as siblings can, she plopped down exhausted in her chair and lamented that she could hardly keep up with them. Later that night, I wrote to her about what a terrific Mom she is and will continue to be. She was grateful for the feedback. So we in the parent’s club need to support one another. I also received an email the next day from a mentor telling me I could be less hard on myself. And so it made me realize it’s so much easier to observe, be compassionate and be non-judgmental about others. But when we look in the mirror at ourselves so often we are critical.

The name “Valentine” means “worthy.” So in this season of love, Valentine’s Day, know that you are worthy. Remember that if you are striving toward goals of improvement in your life, it is self-compassion, forgiveness and nurturing that are going to get you there. Happy Valentine’s Day!

For two great articles that were released in 2011, check out:

Go easy on yourself, A new wave of research urges” by Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/go-easy-on-yourself-a-new-wave-of-research-urges/

The science of willpower: Secrets for self-control without suffering” by Kelly McGonigal, PhD in Psychology Today

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-willpower/201103/the-power-self-compassion


[i] Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion; Stop beating yourself up and leave your insecurity behind. San Francisco; Harper Collins.

Unconditional Love and Attention

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Accept the children the way we accept trees — with gratitude, because they are a blessing — but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.

–       Isabel Allende

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about our love for our children and their need for attention. Of course, all children have a need for us to acknowledge them frequently. Sometimes they seek our attention (“Mom, come play with me.”) in good ways. But sometimes children choose to misbehave instead. After all “the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease.” If our children are playing quietly, we often might leave them alone, happy that they are entertaining themselves. But if they get too loud or make a poor choice, they receive our full attention. Inadvertently we are rewarding the misbehavior. Parents can teach children to seek attention in appropriate and acceptable ways to prevent misguided behaviors. You can also identify attention-seeking behaviors when they are happening so that you can react in the moment in ways that will stop the behavior from happening again.

In addition, children need to learn that our love is not based upon their behavior. Though we may be disappointed or frustrated by how they’ve acted or reacted in a situation and we may not like them much that day, we always love them. It may seem obvious but unless it’s said, children cannot distinguish between love, approval and attention. Think about how devastating a child might feel when they are scolded for a poor choice if they think that your love is tied to their behavior. So first of all, be sure if you’ve had a challenging day that when you put them to bed you let your children know that you love them unconditionally – no matter what choices they have made.

And what about those difficult days? Is this scene a familiar one to you? Your child is playing really well all by herself on the floor. You think, “Now is a good moment to get in that phone call to the PTA President to prepare for our upcoming meeting.” You say, “Sweetie, I’m going to make a quick call. Please keep playing and I’ll be off the phone in five minutes or so.”  You make the call and no sooner have said “Hello, how are you?” when little sweetie is at your side tugging on your shirt. Or she decides that now is the time to practice the drums that have been left to collect dust. Borrowing from the philosophies of Linda Albert’s Cooperative Discipline[i], Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline[ii] and Marilyn Watson’s Developmental Discipline[iii], try the following.

Identify the goal of the misbehavior.

–          How do you feel when the child is misbehaving? If you are irritated, annoyed, worried or guilty, it’s likely an attention-seeking behavior.  If you are really mad, it’s likely gone beyond attention-seeking into a power struggle.

–          When you give your child attention (whether negative or positive), does the behavior stop temporarily? It’s likely attention-seeking because they have achieved their goal of gaining your attention. But it’s typically temporary and the behavior is soon to return.

Next time you might prevent this misbehavior by

–          Teaching your children to ask for attention in ways that are acceptable to you and your partner. “Mom, I could really use a hug right now.” “Dad, I really want to tell you about what happened to me today.” After practicing together what you want your child to say, work on recognizing when they are asking in appropriate ways and give them attention in response. Sometimes all it takes is five minutes of focused attention to help a child feel like they are getting what they need. After that five minutes, you may be able to get your phone call accomplished without your children competing for your attention. Practice this!

–          Specifically call out positive behaviors. All too often we get in the habit of calling out behaviors we want to change but when things are going smoothly, we are simply relieved and don’t say anything. When you see improvement, tell your child in the moment what they are doing well, particularly if it is a behavioral issue you are working on with him. Be specific. “I notice you waited until I was finished with my conversation to ask me a question. I realize that takes patience and I appreciate it.”Give me 5 illustr 001

–          Agree upon a signal. Create a signal just for your family that lets your children know that they need to wait. You’ll be with them when you are finished. The signal could be a high five, showing them that you need five more minutes. It could be pointing to your eyes and then their eyes with the intended message, “I see you need me. You’ll need to wait until I’m finished.” You could utilize standard sign language. Or make up your own. Practice and then use it regularly.

Stop the misbehavior.

–          Use your signal.

–          Put one hand on his shoulder and bring the other to your lips with your index finger indicating you need quiet for the moment.

–          Hand him a note with a number or “wait” message on it.

–          Redirect his attention to his own responsibility. “When you finish cleaning up your toys, then I will help you.”

If you spend time teaching and practicing what to do in a situation in which you cannot give your child attention, the intervention strategies under “Stop the misbehavior.” will be much more effective. This is yet another opportunity to allow your child to learn self-control. I’m always amazed that when I give my son focused attention first by playing with him for a short while, I am able to gain more time to complete my own tasks without interruption.  So in this season of love, be sure you let your child know that your love is unconditional, that we all make mistakes, and we all need and deserve attention.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your family! I so appreciate all of the readers of Confident Parents, Confident Kids.

 


[i] Albert, L. (2003). Cooperative discipline. Circle Pines, MN: AGS Publishing.

[ii] Nelsen, J. (2006). Positive discipline. Fair Oaks, CA: Ballantine Books.

[iii] Watson, M., & Ecken, L. Learning to trust; Transforming difficult elementary classrooms through developmental discipline. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Are Questions the Answer?

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Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.

Roger Lewin

What do you know about the biggest creatures on earth?

What nighttime dream do you remember most vividly? Why do you think you remember it?

What super power would you like to have?

When have you been most proud of yourself?

What ideas do you have for ways you could listen to directions so that next time you’ll remember?

Think, think, think,” Winnie-the-Pooh tends to say.[i] The use of open-ended questions, or questions that have no right or wrong response, requires children to really think. It engages children in the natural learning process. For example, your child may for the first time observe an older child playing basketball. The small child asks questions internally to start. “Could I bounce the ball like that?” “How does he throw it up so high?” Then as the child tries to throw the ball as he’s observed, he sets goals for himself. He might ask himself, “How far was he from the net when he threw?” “How do my hands and feet have to be positioned to bounce the ball as he did?” And then after the experience, the child reflects on it internally with questions. “How could I improve when I return to shoot hoops the next time?”

Questions have been the start of some of the most important inventions. What happens if chocolate is combined with peanut butter? The scientific method begins with a question. And faculty spend a significant amount of time helping doctoral candidates craft a good question to begin their research. Growing up, my Father, a college professor, taught me that the intelligent person asks good questions.

The Power of Our Words; Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn[ii] offers rich strategies for educators on connecting with children through language and eliciting their thoughts and feelings to contribute to academic growth. Some of those same strategies can be used at home in a family environment that values learning. One tip they provide is to use tentative words like “might,” “possibly,” “could” or “may” in questions to make sure children understand that there are lots of possible answers, not just one. “How might you use that ball in other ways in addition to shooting hoops?” Another way of asking an open-ended question to promote creative thinking might be, “How many different games do you think we could come up with using our basketball?”

Then, after asking the question, wait. Be patient. Allow your children to think. Some kids will come back with a quick response but others need some time to process and ponder. Waiting allows them time to problem solve and come up with multiple solutions.

The use of open-ended questions can

  • Inspire creative thinking and problem solving. When children are challenged and come to you for a solution, it’s an opportunity to allow them practice in problem solving. If your child is playing with a friend constructing a building on the floor and the building keeps falling over, don’t solve the problem for them. Ask “What are some ways you could make that building sturdier?” “How could you add strength to it to prevent it from falling down?” If children are disagreeing and pulling you in for a solution, respond with a question. “There’s only one ball. What ideas do you have for sharing the ball so that you both get a turn?” When they come up with their own solution, they feel empowered.
  • Assist with teaching discipline and improving behavior. After a poor choice is made and logical consequences follow, ask questions about the experience to promote reflection. “How did you feel when you made the choice to go to a friend’s house without telling us?” “When an opportunity to run to a friend’s house comes up again, what might you think about? How will you remember that you need to ask us first?”
  • Open the door for connecting and allowing for caring conversations. The implicit message with an open-ended question is “I care about your thoughts and ideas. I trust that you will come up with something interesting.”
  • Improve language and literacy. In school, children are often asked to predict what will happen in a story by looking at the cover page illustration or words they see.  When they read a book at home with a parent, asking open-ended questions will help them elicit meaning from the stories. Questions that require them to think creatively also require that their response utilize their language skills to translate their thoughts into words.

Children are also full of questions for adults. Curiosity about the world around us is part of the joy of childhood learning and development. It can feel overwhelming to adults when the questions keep coming, particularly when there are no simple answers to questions like, “Why do people die?” Children will feel validated and connected to you if you think and respond in a way that respects the question and their curiosity. But you do not always need to come up with an answer. Some questions can be researched, which is a great thing to do together. But for questions that are complex or have no obvious answers, you can respond with your own questions or mixed thoughts about the issue. Asking questions together shows children that all members of your family are learning together. How will you use open-ended questions in your family?

For more on this topic, here are a couple of additional good articles.

Top 50 Open-Ended Questions for Sparking Conversation with Kids by Lela Davidson

Open-Questions; Stretching Children’s Academic and Social Learning by Paula Denton


[i] Milne, A.A. (1926). Winnie-the-Pooh. NY: Dutton Children’s Books.

[ii] Denton, P. (2007). The power of our words; Teacher language that helps children learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Questions?

This week I am thinking about the value of open-ended questions, those that do not have a right or wrong answer. What questions have your children asked that have challenged you? How have they made you really think? How has it contributed to better conversations or connections in your family? Please send in children’s questions that have no right or wrong answer.

Strategies for Teaching Self-Control

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I think of discipline as the continual everyday process of helping a child learn self-discipline.

– Fred Rogers

The responders to the question “How do you teach children self-control?” provided lots of rich ideas. In addition to theirs, I have added some ways you can teach your children self-control in your day-to-day life. I’ve separated them into four ways that parents can teach any social and emotional skill: modelling, coaching, providing practice opportunities or experiences, and creating a supportive environment.

Model

Point out your own mistakes and ways you are practicing self-control.  We all have a need to feel control over our lives and sometimes that need pushes us into trying to do things perfectly. Although we know that learning requires mistakes, failures and missteps, sometimes it’s not apparent to children that we as adults make mistakes too. We tend to be all knowing in their eyes and sometimes we want to reinforce that thinking to have greater control over their behavior. However for children who are on a constant steep learning curve (meaning mistakes are a part of their everyday lives), it’s important to realize that all human beings make mistakes in order to learn. You, the seemingly infallible parent, can show that by naming it when you do. “See Mommy falls too,” was a recent comment I made when I fell in the hallway. Making children aware that it’s not only okay to make mistakes, but critical to growing and learning will only help your child become more willing to try new things and gain confidence. A powerful moment for your child can be when you are angry with them and you say, “I need to cool off so I am going to my room to be alone for few minutes.” Articulating how you are using self-control, particularly when it involves your children, can turn a difficult moment into a teaching opportunity for both of you.

Use logical consequences. Throughout childhood, boys and girls are learning about consequences. When I do this, what effect will it have on my environment and the people around me? Neuroscientists have found that the brain does not fully establish consistent rational, logical thinking patterns until the early twenties.[i]  An obvious logical consequence is “You break it; you fix it.” But sometimes logical consequences require a bit more consideration on the part of the parent. If a child has hurt another child’s feelings, then a sincere apology may be an appropriate logical consequence. But a child may also need to be encouraged to make amends by doing something for the other child instead of just apologizing. If a child in anger intentionally destroys an object that is precious to Mom, then replacing the object may be in order along with a sincere apology and some time to talk about and practice how to appropriately express anger with a parent. Logical consequences will help children practice reflective thinking and show how, if a child does not use self-control in one moment, they still have a chance to use their self-control and repair any emotional or physical damage they have done.

Coach

Help your child work toward his/her hopes and goals. What is your child excited about at school or at home? Is she challenged by riding a bigger bike? Is she learning a new musical instrument? Is she struggling to make new friends? Coaching her through the process of articulating, working toward and achieving her goal will require her to practice self-control with a more experienced adult so that she is coached and supported along the way. Here are the steps that you, as her coach, might follow so that you are guiding her toward successful achievement of her goal.

  1. Help your child articulate her goal. Helping a child specifically articulate her goal can assist her, and you as her coach, in determining the steps required to achieve it. It’s even more powerful if the goal is represented on paper so that it can be posted and seen regularly. Involve her in writing, drawing or cutting and pasting magazine pictures to represent her goal.
  2. Talk through implementation steps. What does she have to do in order to be able to play the flute? Obtain sheet music and an instrument. Attend lessons. Practice three times a week.  It’s easy to have a goal but learning and following through on the steps needed to achieve it can be challenging. Provide supportive coaching for these steps along the way and she’ll have a better chance of success. Also, provide reinforcing feedback and encouragement particularly when the goal becomes challenging and success requires repeated attempts.
  3. Talk about the rules or expectations to be followed in order to stay safe and act responsibly while pursuing the goal. If her piano teacher expects that she will practice a certain number of hours a week, then that becomes an expectation that can guide your child to meet her goal.
  4. Celebrate the small steps along the way. Call out when she reaches various milestones along the way. “Celebration” of the steps can be as simple as just giving an encouraging word and pointing to how far she’s come since she began.
  5. Celebrate and ritualize goal completion. Completing a goal is a big deal and should be properly celebrated. Does your family have a way that you typically recognize achievements? If not, then create a ritual. Go out for a special dinner or dessert. Take your children to a coveted place they usually do not get to go to. Allow them a leadership role in the family that is special because of their achievement.

Create Practice Opportunities and Experiences

Practice waiting.  “Mooooommmm, I need a snaaaackkk!” you may hear from a distant corner of the house. Do you jump to get a snack when you are knee deep in organizing the closet or communicating with your spouse the logistics for the evening? Being a responsive parent does NOT mean jumping at every request. In fact, though it may seem counterintuitive, giving your children practice in waiting is doing them a favor. A family is made up of individuals with needs, all of which are important. If you are in the middle of a task, you can let your child know that they need to wait until you’ve reached a fair stopping point and then you can attend to their wishes. Of course, I’m not suggesting you make them wait if they are hurt or have an emergency but most situations during the day are not those kinds. Children can have daily opportunities to practice self-control if you allow them to wait. It also gives you the chance to respect your own needs and others in the family by not dropping everything to respond to your children’s desires.

Initiate cooperative games, learning or other activities.  Cooperative games and activities require children to work out how they are going to play together. It gives them practice in setting rules and expectations and reinforcing those with others. That practice helps them internalize those rules and along with them self-control so that they begin to use the rules themselves. Playdates, school time, birthday parties and outdoor play are all opportunities to introduce cooperative games. You don’t need any special materials to encourage cooperative games. Recreating a story in dramatic play is an excellent way to spur children’s creativity while practicing cooperative skills. When I was young, we turned our backyard into a haunted “house” experience every Halloween and all of the kids in the neighborhood worked together (without adult intervention) to create it. We also cooperatively created imaginary commercials and video recorded them being performed (Thanks, Dad for that great idea!). “Simon Says” is an example of a game that encourages turn-taking in being a director or rule enforcer. This will give children practice in regulating others so that they can work on their own self-regulation. For more terrific cooperative games, check out the book Adventures in Peacemaking.[ii]

Reframe tattle telling and attempts to control others.  If you watched a video tape of me as a child playing with the neighborhood kids, you might call me “bossy.” Many did. But in reality, I was developing self-regulation skills. All children begin learning self-regulation by first, watching others making mistakes and breaking rules. Children can see the mistakes made by other children much more clearly than they can recognize it in themselves. A child who “tattles” on another child is actually working on regulating others to help himself internalize and learn self-regulation.[iii] Often children are scolded for this behavior because many parents don’t realize this is an important part of their learning process. Parents may worry that their child is becoming a household dictator rather than practicing understanding and following rules and expectations. Instead of reprimanding a child for “tattling” on a sibling or friend, you can respond in a way that respects their learning process. Your child might say, “Becky just ripped a page out of the book and that’s wrong.” You might respond with, “I’m glad you understand that that’s not an acceptable thing to do but I’m guessing Becky is just learning that rule. Let’s go talk with her and see how we can help her repair the book.”

Try something new for fun.  Introduce your children to a new experience or activity and then help them through the learning process. Recently I took E ice skating for the first time on his day off of school. I had forgotten how difficult it was to find balance on the ice and get into a rhythm. He fell a lot. He clung tenaciously to the side wall and to my hands as I tried to gain my own balance to support him. With gentle coaching and occasional words of encouragement, he kept going. And when I asked him if he wanted a break, he didn’t. He was determined to get better and not fall. And he did, of course.  A new sport, craft, musical endeavor or other activity that requires some skill will offer a fun, low pressure way for your children to experience the process of using their self-control to persist in learning a new skill.

Create a Responsive Environment

Be consistent with rules and routines. “I’m so tired. We don’t need go through the whole bedtime routine with books tonight,” might be an idea that’s rattled around in your head from time to time. Or “If I say no, he’s going to throw a fit. Am I up for the fight I know is coming?” It’s challenging in parents’ busy lives to be consistent with rules and routines. It’s even more challenging to create consistency between two busy parents who are on different schedules and have little time to talk more less coordinate rules and routine enforcement strategies! It makes sense to revisit rules and routines of the household periodically involving all members in the conversation (family meeting?) to ensure that all are in agreement.

Ultimately rules serve the purpose of helping all family members achieve their individual and collective goals. Adults need boundaries just as much as children. If children are allowed to enter into a conversation about the rules beginning with their own articulation of their goals for themselves, they come to understand that the rules help them achieve their dreams. As participants in the creation, children will be more willing and responsible participants in upholding your family’s expectations.

One of the standards in our household we reinforce daily is that all toys must be picked up and put away before bedtime. Does E always like that? No. But it is critical that the routines of the household are consistently upheld so that children are learning and practicing expected behaviors (and not confused by changing expectations). Children are also watching parents model their own self-control when they are tired and do not want to, yet again, say no or reinforce a limit.

Toilets overflow and flood the bathroom. Children get the flu but deadlines for blog articles must be met. And in the midst of it all, it often seems we have to focus on our own self-control to get through the day. A sense of humor helps. And an awareness that as we are talking with our children about their hopes and dreams, assisting them in trying something new or helping them mop up the bathroom floor, we are giving them practice in a skill that will serve them for a lifetime.


[i] Giedd, J. N., Blumenthal, J., Jeffries, N. O., Castellanos, F. X., Liu, H., Zijdenbos, A., et al. (1999). Brain development during childhood and adolescence: A longitudinal MRI study. Nature Neuroscience, 2(10): 861–863.

[ii] Kriedler, W., & Furlong, L. (1995). Adventures in peacemaking; A conflict resolution activity guide for school-age programs. Cambridge, MA: Educators for Social Responsibility.

 [iii] Bodrova, E., & Leong, D.J. (2007). Tools of the mind; The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education. (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Readers’ Responses to “How do you teach your children self-control?”

Shannon illustration 001Lots of pretend play! If they pretend to be someone with self-control (like a mom in a long line at the grocery store)….they are practicing having self-control!

– Shannon B. Wanless, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Program of Applied Developmental Psychology, Department of Psychology in Education, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh

Heather illustration 001I make my kids save and use their own money whenever they want something that isn’t a “need.” If they don’t think it’s important enough to work and save for, then why should I work and spend MY money? I get a kick out of my kids saying they can wait till Christmas when it’s only August.

To combat eating junk food, I’ll tell them to have a healthier choice first. This helps take the focus from junk food just because we are feeling hungry.
 
– Heather, The Helpful Counselor

Kimberly illustration 001

Modelling!

– Kimberly Allison, Co-Owner, Table 365

 

 

Even beforeJeanne Illustration 001 I knew about it (back when our kids were in preschool) a very intuitive pediatrician spoke at our Montessori school and made a point of making your kids wait, deliberately. It seemed so counter-intuitive to me then, but I came to understand it and use it. She said NOT to immediately grant our kids’ requests but to say, “I’ll get it for you in a moment.” Then to pause, finish what we are doing, and provide the requested item or help. If kids are confident that you will get them what they need (have trust in the parent), they can wait. That was one of my first parenting lessons and it sunk in.

 I recently wrote a webpage for the school district I am working for and it was posted last week. See our SEL@Home. It includes this message about waiting!

– Jeanne Osgood, Consultant, Community Consolidated School District 181, Hinsdale, IL

The Power of Self Control

self control illustr 2 001

We are the hero of our own story.

– Mary McCarthy

In the hero’s journey, an ordinary person is called through extraordinary circumstances to sacrifice a part of him or herself in order to serve the greater good. In doing so, the reward or victory is self knowledge and a demonstration of character that the hero must then use in the world from which he or she came.[i] To be a Jedi Knight in the classic story Star Wars, the means through which Luke Skywalker defeated the darkness was by learning self discipline. Yoda teaches, “To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.”[ii] The modern day hero in all of us must defeat the dark forces of fear, ignorance, greed and ego. Listening to and following our truth when faced with difficult decisions requires practice and repeated trials. Temptation to stray from the hero’s path is part of the initiation. The hero typically fails in his attempts numerous times but persists in striving toward greater self control and self knowledge.

Though the conditions and circumstances differ dramatically, we are all working on our own hero’s journey. And in that process, we are all learning self control. From resisting unhealthy foods and drinks, to messaging or email checking, exercising, watching television, committing to social engagements, working, sleeping, investing ourselves in relationships or taking incremental steps toward a larger goal (home improvement, going back to school, or advocating for a cause), we have multiple opportunities daily to practice and model self discipline for our children.

We adults have problems with self control. So it no surprise that our children also need to learn to control their impulses and become self disciplined. Yet they are faced with a more challenging environment to learn this skill than we ourselves ever had to deal with growing up. The media alone competing for their attention has heightened the level of self discipline required to pursue goals. However despite the difficulty, if there is one skill to be sure and teach your child, it’s self control. Why? At the most basic level, when children are really mad, practice in impulse control will stop them from lashing out at someone through words or fists. But also for our children’s future, learning self control will help them achieve even their most challenging and meaningful goals. It enables a person to put off the temptations of the moment in order to work toward a larger cause that requires persistence and hard work. It also enables a person to be self reflective and make choices that are based upon a sense of ethics, integrity and an awareness of the impact on the greater good. The teaching of self control is character education. Pursuing higher education, being successful in a career, sustaining a marriage, raising confident children or making a contribution to the community all require setting long term goals and investing the time, energy and hard work necessary to achieve them.

In addition to those challenges however, there is an intrinsic personal motivation to learn and practice self control. That’s because all people need to feel a sense of autonomy, belonging and competence (the ABCs of motivation).[iii] Children often say in one way or another, “I can do it myself.” as early as they can communicate it. They want to exert their independence, take responsibility and demonstrate they are competent. Practice in self control will support them in achieving even their most challenging goals.

Because it’s so amusing and demonstrates the importance of self control, here is the story of the Marshmallow Experiment originally conducted in the 1960s by researcher Walter Mischel.[iv] It was popularized in the 1990s by the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence,[v] Daniel Goleman. Researchers at Stanford University studied four year olds and their ability to resist marshmallows. One mouth-watering marshmallow was placed in front of each child and they were told that if they could wait until the researcher ran a quick errand, they could have TWO marshmallows. If they could not wait, they could eat it, or could ring a bell while the researcher was gone. The researcher would come back and they could eat the one marshmallow. Of those four year olds tested, the group divided up fairly equally into one third eating the one marshmallow immediately, one third ringing the bell for one marshmallow, and the final third waiting the full time with the reward of two plump marshmallows and a grand future. All of the children were followed through their school years into their twenties. Those who couldn’t wait were more likely to do poorly in their academics, have discipline problems and not go on to higher education. The group who waited for the two marshmallows scored an average 210 points higher on SATs versus their marshmallow-popping comrades. They had higher GPAs, went on to university education, and generally experienced greater success. If you have five minutes, enjoy watching a news story in which they recreated the experiment.

What does this really mean for me and my family? If I conduct this experiment on my child and he eats the marshmallow, is he doomed? No! Of course not. But it does mean that you need to find opportunities for your children to practice self control in everyday life so that when the big choices come around – like taking or not taking recreational drugs, getting into healthy or dysfunctional relationships or working hard to get into good colleges – you will be confident that your children are ready to make those decisions responsibly. Becoming a skilled practitioner of self control can give your children more power and control to be the hero in their own lives.

So now that you are convinced it’s a critical skill for your children to learn, how do you make sure they learn it? The best way is to give children plenty of practice. No, I’m not proposing the marshmallow experiment in your home which could lead to a full scale meltdown since you would be a parent withholding treats and not a researcher. The experts of the Responsive Classroom program write, “If we want children to get better at piano, what do we tell them? Practice! If we want them to get better at reading or math or spelling, what do we tell them? Practice! But if we want them to get better at developing self control and responsibility, then what do we tell them? Be good! The step we too often miss is practice.”[vi]

I’ve asked the question of you – how do you teach self control at home? Next week Confident Parents, Confident Kids will list a series of simple strategies and also post your responses. You can send your response to confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com and if you include a photograph of yourself, I’ll include an illustration of your picture with your response.


[i] Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen, Switzerland: Bollingen Foundation.

[ii] Lucas, G., Gilroy, H. & Takeuchi, A. (2008). Star Wars: The Clone Wars, “Lair of Grievous.” Lucasfilm Ltd.

[iii] Ryan, R. M., Lynch, M. F., Vansteenkiste, M., Deci, E. L. (2011). Motivation and autonomy in counseling, psychotherapy, and behavior change: A look at theory and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 39, 193–260.

[iv] Mischel, W., Ebbeson, B. E.,& Zeiss, A.R. (1972). Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 21 (2): 204–218.

[v] Goleman, D. (1994). Emotional intelligence; Why it can matter more than IQ. NY: Bantam Books.

[vi] Brady, K., Forton, M.B., Porter, D. (2010). Rules in school. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

How do you teach your children self control?

The purpose of the blog is not only to send out helpful strategies and ideas for parents on ways to teach social and emotional skills, it is also to promote dialogue around those issues so that parents are contributing to this important conversation. To that end, please respond to the following question. Send your response to confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com. If you attach a photo of yourself, I will post your response with an illustration of your picture. Here’s to a rich dialogue!

How do you teach your children self control?

Dinner: Delight or Disaster?

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A smiling face is half the meal.

–          Proverb

Food is inherently social. Often mealtime can be a source of great stress with children. Each family members’ unspoken goals for the meal can differ. Parents want kids to sit down with them, eat a healthy meal and not waste food. Children are excited about seeing their parents and want to play and not sit and eat. It can also be a chaotic time. Sometimes one or both parents are coming in the door from a full day of work and needing a little space to transition. Children are eager to see the parents they’ve missed and share something about their day.

Dinner together has posed a great challenge for our family. Jason and I value our time together to sit down for a meal. We know it is important to connect after our busy day of work and play. E, our son, has always had a sense that he could control his food intake and make us crazy. Add to the mix a more formal setting (sitting down at the table together) with a need for manners and dinnertime became a veritable pressure cooker.

There are specific, simple ways that you can shake up the dinner dynamic and improve the tone of mealtime to create a more positive dining experience for all. Since we began applying these strategies, our mealtimes have been better. We enjoy each other at the dinner table – which, at one point, we thought might be impossible with a small child. Try one or all of the following and see if you don’t create some positive results.

  1. Involve children in the planning, shopping, preparation and clean up – all aspects of the meal. Children will feel a sense of ownership over the meal and be more invested in making it a good experience. They may even take pride in contributing to the cooking and preparation. You may not have time to involve children with every aspect of every meal  but consider just having them set the table and help clear the dishes. Maybe once a week you could involve them in the cooking process. Even very small children can assist by throwing vegetables into a pot of water or washing green beans in the sink. mom son cooking together illustr 2 001Also, children can get excited by selecting recipes and providing ideas for what they want to eat. Involvement in menu planning can go a long way toward them eating and participating at mealtime. Be sure and highlight their involvement when you are sitting down to eat so that all members know and can appreciate how the meal was planned and prepared.
  2. Take a moment to connect with your child before sitting down at the table particularly if you are coming from work and haven’t seen them for a while. Sit down and ask what they are playing with or about their day prior to the more formal setting of dinner. This provides a sense of calm and connection instead of bringing chaos and stress to the table.
  3. Adjust your seating. Take a look at where each member is sitting. If you and your partner are typically seated at either ends of your table, try repositioning yourself on the side of the table opposite your child or place a child on the end instead. Children are particularly sensitive to power dynamics since they have very little control over much of what happens to them. They are looking for opportunities to exert independence and control. Moving your seat across from where they are seated might give them a sense of equality.
  4. Give thanks. You don’t need to be a religious or even spiritual family to appreciate what you have. Take a moment before eating to appreciate each other, the day you’ve had, the good food and drink before you, and the people who put time and energy into shopping for, preparing and planning the meal. This can also help children learn about and appreciate where food comes from originally and how it ends up on our tables.
  5. Focus on being together and not on how much or what is eaten. Set a timer or point out a time to children on the clock. We set it for ten minutes for our five year old. Give them the responsibility of knowing when their minimum time to sit with you is up. E likes to prove that he can stay longer than the timer and we love his presence. This gives the child a sense of control and helps prevent a power struggle over sitting at the table and eating.
  6. Let go of worries about what is eaten. Make sure that the nutrients you care about your child getting are spread out through the day. Then, let go of your worries about finishing food. Also, serve small quantities that are more likely to get eaten. If you find that there is a lot of waste from dinner, continue to reduce the amount you serve letting children know the reason is to reduce waste.
  7. Focus your conversation on the children and then, when they go to play after their time is up at the table, you can connect with your partner on adult issues. Lead off with a statement – not a question – about something you know they did that day. “I saw Mitchell on the playground today. That’s so fun that you got to see him.” If you ask, “How was your day?” first, you may get a “Fine” followed by silence. Or if you ask, “What’d you do today?” you’ll likely get the “Nothing” response. Enter into a conversation about the child’s life without putting them on the spot and see what emerges.
  8. Set clear expectations for behavior. Boundaries for what is acceptable and unacceptable should be discussed at a time when it’s not dinner. This could be an easy conversation to introduce after dinner is over and the family has moved away from the table. For example, the “yuck” word is just not allowed at the table. The cook doesn’t deserve that kind of negative feedback. If your child uses a “yuck,” “blech” or “poo-ey”-type word or sound, tell them directly that your family does not use that word. Be sure you replace their comments with appropriate language so that they have something they can say. “I don’t like this, Mom. I’m not going to eat it.” Or “May I have something else?” If you are concerned that your children have developed a bad habit of using that kind of language, don’t worry. You can introduce a new rule or routine. Just do it. Announce it is a new rule and enlist their support in moving forward. As long as you consistently reinforce it, it will soon become a part of your family’s expectations for mealtime. Other expectations might be to turn off or not bring devices (cell phones, music or gaming devices) to the table.
  9. Give reminders and reinforcements for good manners before you are seated. If you are concerned about manners – using a fork, not using fingers for example – it’s best to give a reminder to just that child before you are seated at the table with the whole family. Then, you are not correcting them in front of the full family. If you need to remind them during dinner, make it quiet, direct and gentle. They will learn through your modeling and reminders but making a big deal of it can backfire and turn into another power struggle.
  10. Prepare your children for restaurant meals and for meals with other people. On the car ride to dinner, use the time to remind and reinforce. This is not the time for nagging or scolding. Here’s how it might go: “Remember, when we are at the restaurant that we all stay seated at the table through the whole meal. Last time, you ordered from the menu yourself and I saw you make eye contact with the waiter and tell her clearly what you want. That was great. Keep it up!” Keep it short. Give one reminder and one positive reinforcement so that it makes an impression and your child remembers your comments.

When in doubt, ask “What message am I sending or what am I teaching to my child through my words and actions?” As Jim Henson said, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”[i]  We know that modeling is one of the most powerful teaching tools so, at mealtime be sure that you are modeling the positive behaviors you want to see.

For more, check out the following terrific resources!

David, L., & Uhrenholdt, K. (2010). The family dinner: Great ways to connect with your kids, One meal at a time. NY: Hachette Book Group.

The producer of An Inconvenient Truth, Laurie David’s new mission is to help America’s overwhelmed families sit down to a Family Dinner, and she provides all the reasons, recipes and fun tools to do so.

Rosenstrach, J. (2012). Dinner: A Love Story: It all begins at the family table. NY: Harper Collins.

Part cookbook, part survival guide, Dinner: A Love Story has all of Jenny’s favorite meal ideas, suppertime tips, and cook’s secrets (read: cocktails) that help make dinner fun again.  – Everyday Food

Also, check out the article, The ABCs of the Family Dinner Table on the blog, Connecting Family and Seoul for lots of creative ideas for mealtime.


[i] Henson, J., Lithgow, J. & Muppets and Friends. (2005). It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider. NY: Hyperion Books.

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