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Raising Great Grade Schoolers Issue 1 2 3 4

Teaching Self-Control

How to Teach Your Child Self-Control

Every parent has experienced it: the temper tantrum. Whether your child chooses an embarrassingly public place or has become too comfortable throwing tantrums at home, preventing and halting this behavior can seem like an impossible task. This is especially true when you're feeling frustrated and drained from the latest round with your child.

Even if it happens infrequently, children must learn that negative, aggressive behavior is not acceptable because it's harmful to them and others. As a parent, you're charged with teaching your child how to maintain self-control and prevent tantrums, and we can help you do that in two easy parts.

Teaching Your Child Self-Control

Boys Town has developed an effective teaching method to help you calmly deal with your child  when they're upset and refuse to cooperate. There are two parts to teaching self-control:

  1. Calming down
  2. Follow-up teaching

Teaching self-control gives you and your child a chance to calm down when tempers flare. The first part, calming down, helps reduce the intensity of the interaction so you can resolve the situation together. The second part, follow-up teaching, gives you an opportunity to teach your child appropriate ways to respond when they are upset.

Helping Your Child Calm Down

There are three steps to calming down:

  1. Describe the problem behavior. In a calm, level voice, tell your child exactly what they are doing wrong. For example, you could say: "I can see you're angry right now, and your voice tells me that you are unhappy with what happened."
  2. Offer options to calm down. Tell your child what to do to begin calming down. Give simple instructions like, "Please go to your room until you are calm." Or, "Take a few deep breaths and try to settle down."
  3. Allow time to calm down. Giving your child time to calm down may be new to them, but if you remain calm and allow your child time to cool down, they'll calm down faster. Simply saying, "Let's take a little time to calm down; I'll be back in a few minutes," can make a significant difference.

    After a few minutes, approach your child and gently ask questions like, "Are you ready to talk about what happened?" or "Are you calmed down enough to talk to me?"

It's never easy to remain calm when your child is behaving defiantly and disrespectfully. But it's important that you focus on helping your child calm down and regain self-control before you address the original problem behavior.

Follow-Up Teaching

Just as with calming down, follow-up teaching has three steps:

  1. Describe the desired positive behavior. Explain what your child can do differently next time they feel frustrated or angry. Use "Instead of . . ." phrases, like, "Instead of yelling and running out the door, the next time you get upset, please tell me you're mad and ask if you can go to your room to calm down." This teaches your child the positive behavior to use next time they're upset.
  2. Practice. Give your child an opportunity to practice the positive behavior you're discussing. Ask your child to take several deep breaths with you, count to ten, or ask for more time to calm down (for example, "I'm really upset right now. May I go to my room for a few minutes?").
  3. Give a negative consequence. This is a crucial step in teaching self-control. When used consistently, consequences help change behavior. Giving an appropriate negative consequence will help your child learn that they can't blow up or throw tantrums whenever things don't go their way.

A Few Final Tips

It's easy to lose sight of what you're trying to teach as you practice these steps with your grade schooler. Stick with it, and don't give up. Don't use threatening words or gestures that might encourage physical retaliation from your child. Instead, try sitting when talking with your child or putting your hands in your pockets.

Another tactic is to think of appropriate negative consequences ahead of time rather than in the heat of the moment. Making decisions when you're upset can lead to giving huge consequences that you can't follow up with.

Teaching your child self-control is an ongoing process. It takes a long time. Don't try to rush your child's learning process. And make sure you pay attention to your child's small accomplishments and praise even the slightest bit of progress they make. (And, while you're at it, give yourself a big pat on the back. Teaching self-control is a tough job!)

Teaching Activity

Practicing Self-Control

  1. Sit down with your child and ask them to think of a time when they lost control and what circumstances could make it happen again.
  2. On a piece of paper, list the steps for how your child can demonstrate self-control.
  3. Write out the scenario your child chose, and explain how they could apply each step to the situation.
  4. Practice the steps with your child by role-playing.

Social skill

Showing Respect

This skill will come in handy throughout your child’s life, so it’s good to teach it early. Children will quickly learn they’re more likely to get what they want if they show respect to others. Here are the steps to teach your child:

  1. Obey a request to stop a negative behavior. When you obey a request to stop a negative behavior, you show that you can follow instructions, which is one form of showing respect.
  2. Refrain from teasing, threatening, or making fun of others. By choosing not to participate in these behaviors, you demonstrate that you understand they can be hurtful to others.
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