In a landmark longitudinal study, The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study of children, conducted over three decades, it was concluded that the level of self-control that young children possess is a huge predictor of their success as adults.
The children observed to have self-control at a young age were followed throughout their lives and into adulthood, and were found to be statistically healthier, more successful, and less likely to land themselves in trouble.
And while this all sounds great, the question is, how can we ensure children learn to master their own self-control?
Is it something that can be taught, or do genetics doom some children and favour the others?
Luckily, self-control is teachable. It is about being able to regulate a behavior in order to reach a long-term goal and by repeated exposure and experience this can, in fact, be learned.
Stay calm and in control
Stress can be a huge barrier to self-control. It messes with the brain chemistry of the same area that helps regulate self-control. So first and foremost, it’s important to ensure children are learning in a stress-free environment. Mindfulness practices can also strengthen that regulating center of the brain, so it can be very beneficial to teach mindfulness at an early age.
There is also (finally) a benefit to distractions. They help children take their minds off of whatever they are waiting for and increase self-control for that desire.
Play it out!
In the realm of fun, there are many games that help to build a child’s self-control and can be implemented into any lesson plan. As an added bonus while the children will unknowingly be doing something that will hardwire them for success, they will love it.
The “freeze” game is a great opportunity to burn extra energy and improve self-control. When the music plays fast, dance fast. When it plays slowly, dance slowly. When it stops, everybody freezes! The key is building their self-control to go from fast to slow to stopping all together. Similar concepts can also be implemented with many other games such as the “sleeping game” and “conducting an orchestra.”
Structure for choice
In the classroom and at home, boundaries are an already important concept. Creating boundaries allows children to learn to self-regulate so that they know when more or less self-control may be needed.
With boundaries and structures in place you can then create opportunities for children to take their fate into their own hands. An initiative parents can create is by “matching” whatever a child puts into their savings. This helps teach long-term goals and strays the child away from the immediate gratification of purchasing something right away.
Chores are a huge win-win. They help teach the importance of prioritising what needs to be done vs. doing something just because it is fun. A bonus tip would be to create an extra list of chores that they can complete when they need extra money.
Keep at it
While these are just some of the simple ways to implement the practice of self-control in growing children, just remember that it won’t always go as planned.
Self-control is learned through repeated exposure to an experience, so if things don’t always go perfectly, don’t stress… just breathe and keep working at it tomorrow.