Self-control, ugh! Who invited that party pooper? Honestly, wouldn’t you love to say anything, do anything, just let your emotions win? The trouble is, if we all did that there would be chaos 24/7. This is true in your home as well. If your child could say or do anything, just let his or her emotions rule the day, well, you would be living in total chaos. Here are four preventative suggestions and four restorative suggestions for dealing with self-control issues.
Four Preventative Ideas for cultivating an attractive environment for self-control.
- Five-minute warning. No one likes to be told to stop what they are doing. Children tend to be very focused on their activities. Demanding they immediately quit and follow a new instruction often exasperates them. However, if you tell a child that he has five more minutes to finish whatever he is consumed with at the moment, he will often be able to finish his activity and move on while maintaining self-control. READ: No temper-tantrums. Score two points for Mom!
- Predictable schedules. I can already hear those of you who are free-spirits groaning over this one. Sorry, I guess I am the party pooper now. A predictable schedule allows the child to understand what his or her day is going to look like. A predictable schedule will reduce anxiety in the more uptight child (aka not-a-free-spirit). A predictable schedule will reduce the number of questions asked about the day as well. I know you want to be the cool mom that goes with the flow, who finger-paints one day and goes hiking the next. Please, do those things, just have a predictable schedule of when and where. Self-control is much easier to maintain when you know what the day will hold.
- Being consistent. You know when you said yes to that sugary snack yesterday? So does your child. She is going to ask you for the same sugary snack the next day and the next day and the next day. If you have no problem with sugary snacks every day, well, then you have no problem. If you do have a problem with sugary snacks every day, you need to make that clear to your child. Do not say yes one day and no the next day without a reason why. This is confusing to the child. She will try to figure out what she did that made you say yes the first time. This applies to almost anything in your child’s day, not just sugary snacks. That means you free-spirit moms who are eating the sugary snacks with your child, well, you still have other areas where consistency needs to happen just like the rest of us. Where there is consistency, self-control is cultivated.
- Avoid exasperation. The dictionary defines exasperate as “irritate intensely; infuriate”. I am confident that you do not wake up in the morning and set out to infuriate your child. I am also confident that all of you have infuriated your child at some point in his or her life. I know because I am a mom. It is easy to understand why a child would not exercise self-control when Mom or Dad has exasperated him. We do the same thing as adults, right? That guy that pulled in front of you the other day. The toilet that keeps overflowing no matter how many times you have fixed it. The trashcan that no one ever seems to empty except for you. Exasperating a child will quickly lead to an embarrassing display of what a lack of self-control looks like. I am not saying you should avoid conflict with your child. You are the parent and you need to behave as such. I am saying you need to consider context of the moment, and not say or do things that will only infuriate your child. Infuriate and frustrate are two different things. Frustrating your child is going to happen, because one of you is the parent and one of you is the child. Infuriating your child happens because you have decided to also act like a child. Ouch!
Four Restorative ideas for helping your child gain self-control:
- Fold your hands. I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous and is just too easy of an answer, but I am telling you from my own experience that this actually works. When you see that your child is getting ready to lose it, tell him to fold his hands. This allows him to focus his negative energy into one place and get control of his emotions. If I were to ask my children how many times they have had to fold their hands over the years, I would imagine they would say something like, “I can’t count that high.” They did not fold their hands a lot because it does not work. They folded their hands a lot because it does work! The best part about this technique is you can do it any place, any time, and with any age. Hint, hint, that means adults too.
- Provide a quiet space. Temper-tantrums are only temper-tantrums if you have an audience. A quiet space, a space without siblings or parents watching, can allow the child some grace and dignity to submit to self-control again. Think about this in your own life as an adult. When you have those moments when you want to flop down on the floor and scream and kick, would you really want someone watching you? If you actually did that, you would feel silly and embarrassed. However, if you had some privacy to let out your emotion and gather yourself together without anyone watching, you would feel better and not have embarrassed yourself in the process. The same is true of your child.
- Sit down. Depending on your child, this suggestion either seems completely reasonable or completely ridiculous, but it works for both types of children. Sitting down is similar to folding your hands. When a child is out of control, she needs help focusing that energy. Sitting is a great way to help her calm down physically and emotionally. My son spent a lot of time sitting on the stairs and getting self-control. Some kids do well with sitting on their beds, especially those introverts who want to be alone, but other kids, like my son, need to have a parent nearby to keep him…sitting. J
- Alone time. This is a little different than a quiet space. A quiet space was for giving the child the privacy to submit to self-control without an audience. Alone time is for the purpose of giving the child time to be alone without having to interact with siblings or other people. Self-control can be restored by getting away from others, especially when others are what led to the meltdown in the first place. I am an introvert and I covet my alone time. I am more self-controlled and pleasant to be around when I have been able to be alone with my own thoughts. Our kids need a chance to be alone too.
Despite how I started this blog, self-control is not a party pooper. The book of Proverbs compares a lack of self-control to a city whose walls are falling down. That does not sound like a party to me. Self-control is actually the life of the party, as it is part of the Fruit of the Spirit. This is why we do not say and do whatever we want. Self-control is not a restraint, it is freedom. Freedom to become more like Christ. So put your party hats on and show off your self-control.
Tricia McDonald is the wife of SGM(ret) McDonald and four adult children. She is learning to adjust to civilian life now that her husband has retired. She is also learning to adjust to life without homeschooling, as all of her children have graduated. Tricia volunteers her time teaching U.S. History to local homeschooled high schoolers, and coordinating music for a local semi-professional youth theatre. She enjoys blogging from time and time and is trying to figure out what she should be when she grows up. She wants to encourage all the young moms to hang in there and enjoy the moments, as they will pass far more quickly than you ever thought possible.