Catch Kids Using Self Control

It’s easy to identify when they don’t have it; focus on when they do

[Keener brought all of the essentials out to dinner on Saturday night: an excavator, his train schedule, and a fire truck. While this age is absolutely exhausting, it’s also pretty great.]

My post from last week touched on a few areas: teaching kids self control, emotional regulation, increased body awareness, and mindfulness. Throughout the week, Keener and I have been trying different strategies to help his energetic body stay in control. And allow us both to be happier and calmer.

Something I have tried a few times this week is “catching” Keener demonstrating self control. The other day, he was holding a toy and had that look in his eye. He was right near the banister upstairs and I knew his next move was to throw the toy over. I looked at him and said directly, Keener, stop. Do not throw that toy. And the craziest thing happened. He didn’t throw it. (Bear in mind, this was a VERY different reaction from Sunday when he took off down the street on his scooter after hearing a very clear direction to stop. Writing that story up to share later — tips for helping kids when self control is on vacation.)

Standing by the banister, I was envisioning a different outcome and was about to launch into my safety speech. Instead, I tried to hide my surprise that he exhibited self control and highlighted for him what just happened. Keener, I saw the toy in your hand and your arm starting to move up. You heard Mama say “Stop, do not throw that” and then you did not throw it. That was really cool! Your brain, arm, and hand were working together which allowed the toy to stay in your hand! That is called self control. You were able to control your body, dude! That’s awesome!

He definitely didn’t think it was as cool as I did, but he enjoyed the attention and positive feedback. The next day, he exhibited self control while playing with a toy and we had a similar conversation.

Part of having self control is knowing what it is, and what it feels like. I find myself often saying, “You’re body is out of control” but I rarely point out the times that he is in control. Therein lies part of the problem.

It is easy to overlook the desired behaviors because they are doing what we want them to do. However, this week I have tried to remind myself to “catch him being good.”

  1. Tell the child you notice what they are doing — I notice you playing quietly
  2. Ask him how he is feeling — How does your body feel when you are playing quietly with your toys?
  3. State the impact — By playing quietly with a calm body, I see you are able to use your imagination to build a super cool garage! It also helps your sister sleep which shows what a responsible big brother you are.

A way to “catch them being good” is to offer praise and positive feedback when things are feeling peaceful. I was talking to my sister on the phone while driving Keener to preschool the other morning. He interrupted at the beginning to ask what we were talking about and then stayed quiet for the remainder of the conversation. After I got off, I praised him: Keener, you used self control to keep your mouth quiet and I really appreciate it. I really wanted to talk to Aunt Katie about something important and you were able to control your mouth to not interrupt mommy. That was really helpful and makes mommy’s heart really happy. I bet you feel proud of yourself as well.

Another strategy we are exploring is replacement behaviors. Stay tuned for ideas on how to keep those little hands purposefully busy instead of emptying out the salt shaker….

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