Developing Self Control - SELF-CONTROL

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					     SELF-CONTROL
       Why it’s important and how to foster it

                                                 Practica Program Newsletter
The Marshmallow Test                                 September 2008                                 www.practicaprogram.co.za
was launched in 1968 by Dr Walter                 by Lizette van Huyssteen                     e-mail: info@practicaprogram. co.za
Mischel at a preschool on the Stanford
University campus.

He put a series of four-year olds alone in
                                               Every Child needs Support                        While the two of them are doing various
a room and put a marshmallow in front of       Children start off with different inborn         practical things together, the parent
each child. He proposed that they could        temperaments, so some parents will find it       unknowingly models to the child how to
either have it straight away, or wait until    more challenging to train their children to      do things step-by-step, organise his
he came back from running an errand, in        develop self-control than others.                thoughts and actions, delay gratification
which case they could have two                                                                  and focus on a goal. The experience is
                                               Yet, early experiences play such a crucial       even more valuable to the child if the
marshmallows instead of one.                   role in this regard that no parent can sit       parent takes time out to describe
                                               back and leave this up to chance.                everything in words – both as it is
                                               Even though both a baby’s parents may            happening, as well as afterwards.
                                               be successful, self-motivated and highly         No child will learn these valuable lessons
                                               dedicated individuals, the child’s genetic       in front of the television or playing with his
                                               make-up only acts as a starting point.           friends.
                                               This may sound a bit frank, but given the        The good news is that the activities in
                                               wrong set of experiences during the early        your Practica Parents’ Guide were
                                               years, any baby can grow up to be a              specifically designed to make your life
                                               marshmallow grabber at age four.                 easier by supplying you with practical
                                                                                                ideas in this regard. Almost every activity
                                               So how can we help our children to               idea in the guide involves parent and child
                                               develop self-control?                            doing something together step-by-step.
                                                                                                And very few of them will take up more
One third of the children grabbed the treat           What to do                                than 10 minutes of your time.
within seconds, whist others were able to                                                       So, if it sounds a bit heavy to you to weed
                                                                                                the garden or bake a cake with your child
restrain themselves for 15-20 minutes,
                                                           Utilize your
until the experimenter returned and
rewarded them.

To sustain themselves in their struggle
                                               #1          Practica Program
                                                                                                when you get back from the office at 5 in
                                                                                                the afternoon, don’t despair. Open your
                                                                                                Parents’ Guide at your child’s age group,
                                                                                                choose an activity and get going.
                                               Most parents watch television with their
these children employed various tactics.       kids when spending time with them,               Or better yet, choose a few activities for
Some covered their eyes so they wouldn’t       instead of doing ‘old-fashioned’ things          the week ahead of time, take everything
have to stare at the temptation. Some          together like doing the dishes, doing the        you’re going to need out of your Practica
rested their heads in their arms, fidgeted,    laundry, baking or weeding the garden.           trunk and keep it where you can easily
talked and sang to themselves, even tried                                                       reach for it.
to go to sleep!                                Children, in fact, need these experiences.
                                               They need lots of practise in completing         Note: Each of the Practica activities focus
In follow-up studies when the kids were        practical tasks. Without these experiences       on developing one or more of the 50
teenagers, those who were able to ‘delay       it is very difficult for them to learn how to    school readiness skills, so while you are
gratification’ at four were far superior as    control their impulses and focus on a            training your child to do things step-by-
students to those who had acted on whim.       goal.                                            step, you’re not only developing his
They were also more socially adept,                                                             emotional intelligence, but his IQ and
better able to deal with stress, more self-                                                     sport skills as well!
motivated, confident, trustworthy and
better able to put their ideas into words.

As adolescents, those who had grabbed
for the marshmallow generally shared a
                                                                                               #2           Insist on Manners
                                                                                                I have recently heard of a mom who has
troubled psychological portrait. They were                                                      decided to no longer insist that her kids
more likely to be described as withdrawn,                                                       say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ to her.
stubborn and indecisive, easily upset by                                                        She will continue to encourage them to
frustrations, prone to jealousy and envy                                                        use these terms when speaking to other
and to overreact to irritations with a sharp                                                    people, but she’s dealing with 3 pre-
temper. And they were still unable to put                                                       schoolers and is sick and tired of nagging
off gratification.                                                                              them about this all day. She figures this
                                                                                                will lighten her load.
This is a good example of a modern-day          develops his own inner wisdom to steer         But many children aren’t this lucky. In his
mother who is pressured to the point            him in future. He is not your ‘project’.       book, “Raising Babies”, Steve Biddulph
where anything that saves time sounds                                                          describes studies that were conducted
like a good idea, even when it’s obviously                                                     over a number of years in the UK and
going to back-fire in her face!                                                                USA amongst children who spend their
                                                                                               first 3 years in impersonal day care.
We can probably all relate to this poor
mother, so let’s look at the facts.                                                            In a typical creche of this kind a number
                                                                                               of caretakers are assigned to share the
There are 3 things that every parent
                                                                                               responsibility of taking care of a large
absolutely HAS to do during the formative
                                                                                               group of children. The carer-child ratio in
years to instill self-control in a child.
                                                                                               these centres is typically 4 to 1, so 20
You need to: (1) teach your child to obey                                                      children may be grouped in a ‘class’ with
direct instructions from a parent (2) teach                                                    5 carers that work together as a team.
him to deal with frustrations in a socially
                                                                                               Although there are a number of carers,
acceptable way, in other words not to
                                                                                               there is typically no single ‘attachment-
swear, hit, bite or throw tantrums, and (3)
                                                                                               figure’ assigned to each of the children.
insist on good manners.
                                                With this in mind, the next step is to try     In such a facility a child literally spends
Obedience, dealing with frustration in a
                                                and catch your child doing things right so     the largest part of his day without the
socially acceptable way and good
                                                that you can praise him for it.                security of knowing that there is one
manners can all be desribed as the
                                                                                               specific caring adult around that is
‘seeds’ of self-control.                        Then, when he does make a mistake that         attuned to his needs, someone that
If you diligently plant these seeds during      warrants discipline, and he will, be           ‘belongs’ to him and views him as special.
the formative years, you can look forward       consistent as you let him experience the
                                                appropriate negative consequences.             These children seem to be surprisingly
to reaping the fruits later on as your child
                                                If he throws a tantrum, for instance, send     calm and compliant, considering that
will blossom into a confident, compas-
                                                him to his room to go cry until his ready to   being without an attachment figure is
sionate, positive and self-disciplined
                                                return to the social circle.                   about as scary to under 3’s as it would be
individual.
                                                                                               for an adult to be attacked by a spider.
                                                Do not confuse him by reacting differently
                                                from day to day, depending on your mood        Nonetheless, under their calm exteriors,
                                                or the company you’re with. He needs to        most of the children were found to be in a
                                                see his world as stable and predictable.       constant state of ‘fight or flight’. Tests
                                                                                               done on their saliva showed that many of
                                                                                               them were experiencing heightened levels
                                                  To learn self‐discipline, children           of cortisol (the stress hormone) during the
                                                        need to have stable secure             hours spent in day-care, often all day.
                                                 environments. This enables them               In an article on the toxic effects of cortisol
                                                    to trust that the future will be           Robin Balbernie describes the potentially
                                                                                               corrosive effect that prolonged high levels
                                                 predictable, that good behaviour 
            Give your child a                                                                  of cortisol can have on a developing brain

#3          r e a s o n to tr y
We parents often don’t notice when our
                                                  will be rewarded and adults will 
                                                                   keep their word. 
                                                                    Miranda Devine 
                                                                                               during the first years of life. (Please
                                                                                               Google ‘Cortisol and the early years by
                                                                                               Robin Balbernie’ to read this article.)
children do things right. Then, to add                                                         When the children who had spent their
insult to injury we totally overreact when a
child makes a mistake. It’s often because
we instinctively feel as if WE have failed
                                                #4          Make wise choices
                                                            about day-care for
                                                                                               first 3 years in impersonal daycare were
                                                                                               assessed at age 5, they were found to be,
                                                                                               on average, more defiant, more aggres-
as parents in these situations. It doesn’t                                                     sive and less able to control their
make much sense when you think about                        under three’s                      impulses. They struggled with self-control.
it, but frankly, we are basically emotional
                                                A child’s mother is usually his ‘primary       In response to these and other findings
beings and most of what we do when we
                                                attachment figure’, but he can form close      the UK is implementing a new day-care
act on our instincts doesn’t make sense!
                                                and secure relationships with other adults     model called ‘Sure Start’, which seeks to
The problem with taking your child’s good       as well. These special people are called       find ways that babies and toddlers can
moments for granted and overreacting to         ‘secondary attachment figures’.                form an emotional bond to their
his bad moments is that he ends up                                                             caregivers.
feeling powerless and insecure, without         Although a child will prefer to be
                                                comforted by his mother when he is             To be sure, all too many working parents
any motivation to try and please you.
                                                frightened or hurt, he will also feel secure   do not have the luxury of shopping around
Really, why bother?
                                                and loved in the company of a secondary        to find the ‘just peftect’ day care for their
If this is you, you need to wrap your head      figure when his mother is not around.          kids. But for those with choices, I’ve
around a few things. Remind yourself that                                                      attached a brochure that is distributed
your child is a separate person. He is on a     To summarize, if the child had the
                                                                                               free of charge by the UK government.
life journey of his own with special inborn     opportunity to form a secure attachment
                                                                                                               We are a creative bunch
strengths and weaknesses that may be            with his mother before she returns to the
                                                                                                               down here in South Africa.
similar or dissimilar to your own. It is your   workplace, and his caregiver is committed
                                                                                                               I’m sure we can use these
priviledge and duty to act as a coach and       to continue a relationship with him for the
                                                                                                               guidelines to each put
a source of security and encouragement          duration of the first 3 years of his life,
                                                                                                               together our own day care
to him on his life journey. He is his own       there’s no need to worry that her returning
                                                                                                               solution for our children,
person. You are supporting him as he            to the workplace will have a negative
                                                                                                               to ensure that they get the
                                                effect on the child’s development.
                                                                                                               very best start in life.

				
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