When a child is out of control, parents get controlling. But this reaction does not teach your child self- regulation. In the long term, an over control style can trigger resentment or rebellion in the child and does not create an internal locus of control.
The 1960’s Stanford Marshmallow Experiment has been the gold standard for impulse control.
The original experiment offered young kids a marshmallow but if they could wait 15 minutes they would be rewarded with a second treat. Children who could hold out for a 2nd treat went on to lead productive lives. The apparent conclusion seemed if you could teach a child self control, they would be successful.
Stress Alters Impulse Control
According to the book, Self Reg by Stuart Shanker professor at York University and former president of the Council of Early Childhood Development, “If the child is hungry, tired or over stimulated, you can change the results of the marshmallow test.”
There is a difference from stress behavior and misbehavior. What are the signals when your child suffers from stress behavior?
Cars come equipped with dashboard messages to tell them when their engines are hot, fluids are low or gas is running out. We need to learn how to monitor our internal dashboards when stress occurs.
The emotional engine is working too hard if the child is:
- Chronically irritated
- Can’t calm down
- Constantly anxious
Inadvertently, in our attempt to gain co operation, we can push children to their stress point and the result is often shut down; the engine is off. Children who seem to lack motivation are chronically hypo-aroused.
Ask yourself, “Why now?” Is your child:
- Clothing Texture?
- Too busy of a schedule?
Cope by teaching how to Self Regulate:
- Read the signs and reframe the behavior
- Identify the stressors
- Reduce the stress
- Become aware when you’re overstressed
- Figure out what helps you calm, rest and recover.
1. Deep Breathing
Older Children: Breath deeply like Darth Vader
Younger ones: Pretend you are blowing out birthday candles. Deep breathing can shift brain activity from a negative bias to a positive one.
Read this out loud teach your child breathing techniques:
There is a path from your nose to lungs. Underneath your lungs is a big muscle that draws the fresh air in and pushes the stale air out. Your ribs are around the lungs to protect them; they expand and contract with each breath. When we breathe in, we get a burst of energy that makes us alert. When we breathe out we feel calm.
Can you feel the cool breath inside your nose as you inhale and the warm breathe inside your mouth as you exhale? Can you feel your lungs filling up like a balloon?
Take 10 slow deep breaths.
Can you feel your worry lessen as we do the breathing?
2. Name it and Tame it:
Teach your child how to describe feelings their feelings. Research shows if you describe and talk about your emotions, it lessons the emotion in your body. Read more here:
Place glitter in a jar to represent angry feelings. As you watch the glitter slowly drop to the bottom of the jar, let of the angry feelings. You can also use a snow globe.
Another method: Ask, what color are your angry feelings? Can pick a crayon and draw them? Can you change them to blue? Research shows coloring in color books also reduces stress.
Notice something in your immediate surrounds, here and now to take thoughts to another direction.
5. Change Body Temperature:
Take a bath, play in the sprinklers or eat a popsicle.
6. Avoid blue spectrum devices:
Especially avoid I pads or computers before bedtime, they ramp up brain activity. Video games are junk food for the brain. Even though the children sit quietly, their brains are highly activated.
7. Calm Yourself:
Children pick up on our feelings of stress—mirror neurons; we need to calm ourselves down. Phone a friend, walk away, drink water, count to 10, etc.
8. Teach CALM:
There is a difference between calm and quiet. A child can be quiet but have surging beta waves, which is a sign of arousal; but when a child is calm, we see slow and rhythmic waves, which is a sign of deep relaxation.
Here are some suggestions:
- a calm down box
- stuffed animals,
- soft music
9. Change Routine to Play for a few moments—let them move:
We tell kids who aren’t concentrating, “Sit still, stop fidgeting, be quiet, pay attention. But in many cases, we should be saying, “Move around, fidget some more, hum to yourself, close your eyes. They have a developmental need to move!
Red light, green light is a good game to help them learn to pay attention and practice large muscle control.
10. Be aware of overstimulation:
Slow your speech, your conversations, and interactions especially when you give instructions—one piece of information at a time. Scheduling too many activities stresses children. Kids need tons of “down time”. Give them play time, quiet time and rest time and children’s behavior often improves dramatically.
11. Reduce the intensity of stimuli:
Loud sounds or bright lights may produce alarm in your child. Too many children in a small area can stress you as well as your child.
12. Teach Child to Recognize Internal Stress:
Help your child recognize when a game or activity helps them release tension and feel calmer. (Do you feel stiff like a robot or relaxed like a rag doll now?)
13. Let them have Safe Place:
Every child needs a nest or a burrow to feel safe, a “positive time out.” (I hid underneath my parent’s bed as a child.)
14. Let them Yell!
A recent study reveals that yelling when we are physically hurt can actually interrupt pain messages being sent to the brain. Yelling releases tension.
15. Look at age appropriate guidelines, avoid unrealistic expectations:
Ever say to your kid, “Don’t throw that!” and they just throw it anyway? Research suggests that the brain regions involved in self-control are immature at birth and don’t fully mature until the end of adolescence. (More on child development here)
For example, 56% of parents felt that children under the age of 3 should be able to resist the desire to do something forbidden, whereas most children don’t master this skill until age about age 4. Realizing kids can’t always manage impulses because their brains aren’t fully developed can inspire gentler reactions to their behavior.
Children can concentrate for the amount of minutes they are in age.
16. Revere Nature:
Reconnecting to the simplicity and beauty of nature is calming to our souls, take walks, smell the breeze, plant gardens, and do yard work together.
Impulse control is a muscle that grows stronger the more you use it. Train your child to do jobs around the house. Keep encouraging them to try. Developing self-control is a long, slow process.
Camille Foster/801.472.7134/ email@example.com
“Like” my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UtahMentalHealthServices
Helpful Children’s Book:
Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee MacLean , Mean Soup by Betsy Everitt