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How to Peacefully Teach and Set Clear Limits, Boundaries and Consequences with Your Child

Kids do all kinds of things that we don’t like, things that drive us nuts. Sometimes they do things that are dangerous, things that scare us half to death. They cross lines and test boundaries. My oldest son climbs on everything. My second son is overly aggressive with his affection, especially with his baby sister. My third son struggles with hitting, pinching or biting when he becomes angry.

This is all part of growing up. This is all part of being a parent. These little people we call our kids are trying new things and trying to figure out the world around them. In order for them to do this successfully requires that we set and help them understand limits, boundaries and consequences.

I love the way that Genevieve Simperingham explains our kids process of learning how to interact appropriately and empathetically with the world around them. She says,…

“Children mostly learn that they’ve crossed a line through the feedback of others. The image comes to mind of travelling in another country, there’s a lot of strict cultural rules about what’s okay and not okay and we only learn that we’ve been inappropriate when we get the feedback – how scary! We’d truly hope they had compassion for our lack of prior immersion into their culture and see our clumsiness as lack of awareness rather than lack of care or respect.

Children learn about empathy mostly through the direct experience of being empathized with and feeling how that helps them feel better.”(Setting Limits with Love, Genevieve Simperingham, www.peacefulparent.com )

Limits, Boundaries and Consequences, Oh My!

Limits, boundaries and consequences all work together with love and empathy to teach and help our kids perceive and interact with the world in positive ways. In this article I’ll address each concept of limits, boundaries and consequences and some practical ways to understand and utilize them in positive, peaceful ways.

Setting Limits: A limit is an imposed request or restraint on our child, and is most often coupled with stating a clear consequence. Sometimes the natural consequence is simply built into the limit itself. Some examples may include…

  • Lead with a positive, empathetic response: “You may go play as soon as your room is clean.” In this example, play is limited on conditions of the child completing his chore. The natural consequence is that he may choose when he will do the chore and thus postpone or move him toward his playtime.
  • Set limits with love and firmness: Tell them how you feel and what you don’t like as well as what you do like. Then reassure them of your unconditional love and regard for them. An example might include, “I know you’re frustrated right now. I don’t like when you hit me. I like it when you ask me for the things you need.” When your child asks to do something, for example, “Mom, can I go to Jimmy’s house?” You could respond with, “That sounds like a great idea another day. Right now we are getting ready for dinner.” If they continue to protest and ask why simply and empathetically say, “I know you really want to go. Sorry that’s not going to happen tonight.” If it still continues, just state the famous Love and Logic phrase, “I love you too much to argue.”

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  • Don’t limit emotions, limit behavior: Stop the behavior through direction, separation and redirection. It’s okay for your child to be upset about it, but it’s important to separate the emotions from the negative behavior we wish to limit. For instance, it is okay to be angry, but hitting is not okay. “No throwing toys, because that hurts people and the toys.” It may require that we take the toy or separate our child from the situation, but no punishment or further action is required.

Setting Boundaries: A boundary is a statement or action of personal limits. It communicates, “This is where I end and you begin. This is what I am willing to do and what I am willing to allow you to do or not do to me. Dr. Henry Cloud describes it like your own fence around your personal property that keeps the bad stuff out and your personal treasures in. This doesn’t mean we never let anyone inside our boundary, it simply means that there is a clear boundary and a gate by which you can let others come and go in a way that is comfortable and wise.

  • When kids make demands or requests of us. My kids often make demands at the dinner table. They say things like, “Dad, get me some water” or “I want a different glass or plate or utensil.” These demands are often made of my wife or me when we are busy preparing one of our small children’s food or finally sitting down to eat our own meal. Sometimes, parents respond simply by not responding. They ignore the request. Sometimes parents snap back at the kids, “Can’t you wait a minute? I’ll do it, just wait!” Sometimes parents just give in to the demand against their will. There is a better way that acknowledges the child’s request but asserts our own personal boundaries as well. We can say, “I would love to get that for you as soon as I done fixing your sister’s plate or after I am done eating. If you don’t want to wait, you are welcome to get it yourself.” If you are not willing to do the task for your child at all you can say, “Thanks for asking. I’m eating right now. If you would like water, you are welcome to get it yourself. Thanks.”
  • Use “yes” as a boundary setting tool. When a child asks you to buy something for them at the store, say “Yes, you are welcome to buy that with your own money if you would like to earn the money and bring the money with you when we come to the store.” In essence we are saying, “no, I’m not going to buy that for you with my money” but we are not putting a limit on what they can do with their own money. This can artfully place appropriate boundaries out of what we are willing to do while also teaching them and motivating them to do things for themselves.
  • When a child hits or is aggressive. We can firmly state our own personal boundaries. “I will not let you hit me.” This may include backing away to get out of arm or leg range, putting a hand out to stop hits and kicks or gently holding a child if they are receptive and need you to help them calm themselves.

Establishing Consequences: A consequence is simply the effect that follows any given action. Consequences are inevitable. They are natural and constant. There is no action that does not have a consequence. Kids sometimes struggle to see and understand the natural consequences of their actions and definitely struggle to anticipate consequences. It can be helpful for parents to teach kids about consequences and help them anticipate consequences that will arise, whether natural or imposed consequences.

  • Educate them about positive and negative consequences: Consequences are not necessarily something we have to impose upon our children. It’s not something that I do to my children but it’s just part of living. Consequences are best learned as they are woven into our limit and boundary setting. It’s important to teach our kids that consequences are not just negative things, but that all of their choices have consequences. Positive choices also provide positive consequences. I’m not referring to rewards that parents give but just regular everyday benefits of making good choices.
  • Allow natural consequences: Too often parents jump in and either overshadow the real life natural consequences of a situation by either giving a harsh punishment or unnecessary reward instead of simply letting them experience the natural consequences. If they choose not to complete their homework, poor grades or other consequences at school may follow. If they refuse to get shoes on before it is time to leave the house (when age appropriate), they get to carry their shoes with them to the car or go without shoes. When they refuse to go to sleep, they get tired. On the other hand, they feel good when they do something kind for a brother or friend and they get to move on to play time when they complete their chores. We all experience consequences in our everyday lives and we learn from them without any lectures or punishments.
  • Follow through with realistic, rational consequences: When people think of consequences, they most often think of groundings, taking privileges away, spankings, lectures and other punishments, but these are neither necessary or effective for teaching positive skills and values. The more natural, realistic to life and related to their behavior the consequence is, the more effective it is in teaching the desired lesson. When a child makes a mess, the logical consequence is that he cleans up after himself. When a child damages something, a natural consequence is that they replace it. As referred to in the limits section, the natural consequence of a child refusing to do chores is that they postpone their own play time. When we follow through with natural consequences and show empathy we take the focus off of us and allow our child to learn from the consequence. It give us opportunity to help our child learn to solve their problems rather than causing them to blame us and see us as the problem.

5 Important principles to remember when setting TRU limits, boundaries and consequences:

It can be helpful to evaluate the limits, boundaries and consequences we set and how we set them in accordance with the principles of TRU parenting. Do our limits and the way we deliver them teach our child what we want them to learn? Do they build on our relationship? And do they allow me to upgrade myself and improve my own boundaries? The following are 5 specific guidelines to help set limits, boundaries and consequences that meet the principles of TRU parenting and promote positive ongoing cycles rather than simply demanding immediate compliance only.

1. Lead with the positive and with empathy: The connection and relationship between parent and child is one of the most important elements of setting positive, clear limits, boundaries and consequences. When we approach a limit with understanding and with words that ignite positive, agreeable feelings, we find that kids are much more cooperative. My wife’s cousin recently shared the following story with me about my wife and second son. She reported…

“Eli (my 6 year old son) was teasing and upsetting Emma (my 2 year old daughter). Camille (my wife), was watching and recognized what was going on. Instead of saying “Eli stop” or “Don’t tease your sister” she kindly said “Eli, I don’t think we have hugged today come over here and give your mom a big hug” He happily jumped up and gave her a big hug for a few seconds and then magically he went about playing and NOT teasing his sister.”

I thought this was so awesome! This is such an incredible example of empathy and my wife recognizing my son’s underlying need. She set a limit by redirecting his behavior to a more appropriate avenue and left the formal teaching for a later time. The need was met and the behavior stopped, all in a way that taught positive principles, built the relationship and Upgrading my wife’s state of mind and being. I know, my wife is amazing!

2. Don’t be afraid of “NO” but don’t overuse it: Sometimes the best way to define or set a limit is with a good old fashion “no.” However, I’ve found that when “no” is overused on every nitpicky little irritation, it loses its value and creates a negative atmosphere.

3. Don’t set limits while sitting: Be actively engaged. When we sit back and bark out limits and orders from our arm chair, our limits have no power. Move toward your kids and reach out to them. Deliver limits and boundaries at their level both physically and developmentally.

4. State what you will do or not do and do or don’t do it: Try to focus on what you will do rather than on what they should do. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Be a Mom or Dad of your word. For example, if your child wants a different color cup than was placed on the table you can say, “I would love to get it when I’m done eating if you would like to wait. I’m fixing food right now and eating my dinner. You are welcome to either get it yourself or wait for me to be done with my dinner.”

5. Teach and plan during the good times: Use weekly family nights, play time or other fun and positive times to be together to teach and plan appropriate social boundaries and show them what consequences might come in different situations. Use role plays and games to help them learn limits, and cause and effect relationships. It doesn’t have to be a struggle to set clear limits. It really can be fun.

Other great resources on setting limits with our kids…

Aha Parenting: How to Set Effective Limits for Your Child

Peaceful Parenting: Setting Limits with Love

http://truparenting.net/peacefully-teach-set-clear-limits-boundaries-consequences-child/

The science of spanking: What happens to some spanked kids when they grow up?

You know what the most annoying thing in the world is when you are a parent? Other people telling you what to do as if they know better.

Backseat parenting drives me crazy. Until I’m the one doing it. I have dear friends who spank their kids, and I always try to talk to them about the science of it. They always respond with, “I know what’s best for my kids, just like you know what’s best for yours.” Which is exactly what I’d say if someone told me that I was doing it wrong. Every kid is different. Every kid has their needs.

However, during those discussions, I’d say there is science that backs up doing something other than spanking. They’d always ask for specifics. I never had them. Until now. So here’s an infographic explaining what 36,000 people and 88 studies found.

The biggest takeaway for me? Even if you spank with control, discipline, and good intent, your kids are more likely to have depression and engage in aggressive behavior in adulthood.

For those of you who spank your kids, let me just declare: I am in no way attacking your parenting skills or blaming you for anything. Parenting is hard. I’ve wanted to spank my kids on numerous occasions. But learning about the science can help you in the future.

Maybe it’s what you grew up with. Maybe it’s what you have always known. But the science is hard to ignore. Take from it what you will, but just know I’m not here to judge you — I’m only here to ask you to consider an alternative.

I think we can all agree that we want what is best for our children.

http://www.upworthy.com/the-science-of-spanking-what-happens-to-some-spanked-kids-when-they-grow-up

Five phrases that are guaranteed to make your kids stop begging.

I was in the supermarket last week, listening to a multitude of beeps from scanners, when a new sound caught my ears. It was a kid, a preschooler, begging for one of those baby bottle suckers with the sugar inside. She wanted the cherry flavour.

“Mummy, can I have this?” the little girl asked.

“No, honey,” the mother smiled.

“But mum, I don’t have one.”

“We have plenty of lollies at home,” the mum reminded.

“But I don’t have this one.”

“I said no,” the mother replied, while looking through an entertainment magazine.

With having no luck breaking her mother down verbally, the little girl upped her ante. Her face turned red and words about unfairness and meanness erupted from her mouth.

And then her next strategy: crying. In between her cries and words, she delivered gasps of air, purely for effect.

“Just put it in the cart,” the mum replied. “But you can’t have it until after dinner.”

“Can I just have one bite in the car?” the little girl asked.

“We’ll talk about it when we get in the car.”

The little girl’s tears turned to smiles within less than one minute of her setting eyes on what she wanted.

Now, I’m far from a perfect parent, but I cringed knowing what this mother had just traded. Basically her soul. She traded a nasty temper tantrum for a life of bargaining between her and her little sweet pea. And the sad thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it.

“Now, I’m far from a perfect parent, but I cringed knowing what this mother had just traded.” Image via iStock.

I wanted to hand the mum a laminated card with these five fail-proof sayings burned into the paper. They’ve worked for me for years and remind me of chocolate. Every single one of them is good and I pick which “flavour” depending on my mood.

Next time your mini cross-examiner is giving you the run-down, take charge, be a mum, and above all, be consistent.

If you say no, you better mean it. By changing your mind, your child has gained more than a lolly; they’ve gained the knowledge you can be broken down easier than a cardboard box.

Have fun practicing these phrases with your little interrogator:

1. “Asked and answered.”

This is the motherload of all chocolates. Although I use the four below, I use this one ten more times then I use anything else. Let’s replay the scenario from above.

Child: “Mummy, can I have this?”

Mother: “No, honey.”

Child: “But mum, I don’t have one.”

Mother: “Asked and answered.”

Child: “You never get me anything.”

Mother: “Asked and answered.”

If the child keeps at it, you become a robot, saying the same three most blissful words over and over and over again.

“If you say no, you better mean it.” Image via iStock.

2. “I’m done discussing this.”

Child: “Can Ashlyn spend the night?”

Mother: “No, she just spent the night here last week.”

Child: “Please?”

Mother: “I’m not discussing this again.”

Child: “But …”

Then, from the mother, all action, no words. Smile pleasantly, tilt your head to the right, give the best devil eyes you can, and then simply walk away.

3. “This conversation is over.”

Child: “Can I ride my bike?”

Mother: “No, it’s raining outside.”

Child: “But I’ll wear my rain coat and it’s only sprinkling.”

Mother: “This conversation is over.”

Child: “But pleeeasssee?”

Mother: “Asked and answered.”

Become your usual robotic self. Remember, you’re a rock.

4. “Don’t bring it up again.”

Child: “I want these shoes.”

Mother: “No, those cost too much.”

Child: “But I don’t like those.”

Mother: “You’re getting the shoes in the cart and that’s final. Don’t bring it up again.”

Child: “I need them!”

Mother: “You brought it up again. There went your dessert for tonight.”

Yes, you’re going to get more crying with that response, but remember: getting your child to understand you mean business is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Yes, you’re going to get more crying with that response…” Image via iStock.

5. “The decision has been made. If you ask again there will be a consequence.”

Child: “Can I watch the iPad?”

Mother: “No, you know you’re not allowed having technology at the table.”

Child: “I won’t get food on it.”

Mother: “The decision has been made. If you ask again there will be a consequence.”

Child: “But I promise!”

Mother: “I told you not to bring it up again. No iPad for the rest of the day.”

Prepare for a few tantrums until your child learns they’re not going to get anywhere. This is part of their normal testing stage.

Your child will eventually realise nothing changes your mind. This is how you will earn your child’s respect and set up a relationship where your child accepts your decisions the first time.

Don’t forget: their best friend, Timeout, is only a few short steps away.

Here’s a success story: After years of using these phrases with my four-year-old, I’m reaping the benefits everyday with no tears or fighting back.

Here’s the conversation I had with my daughter, Charlotte, while writing this article.

Charlotte: “Can I have a cookie?”

Me: “Yes, you may have one.”

Charlotte: “Can I have three?”

Me: “This conversation is over.”

Charlotte: “OK, I’ll just break it in half so I can have two.”

Sure, I see some passive-aggressiveness in that last comment, but I still won the battle. She happily ate her one cookie and I happily continued typing at my computer.

You can have these blissful conversations, too. Laminate a card or start memorising, but trust me, they’re almost better than chocolate.

http://www.mamamia.com.au/kids-stop-begging/?redirect=tm

Toddlers and Self-Control: A Survival Guide for Parents

Children don’t actually develop this kind of self-control until 3.5 to 4 years of age, and even then they still need a lot of help managing their emotions and impulses. You are the expert on your child. We have expertise in child development. We’re in this together. #ParentForward

Picking up the remote after you’ve told your child not to touch it five times in 10 minutes. Slapping a friend who took the last train off the table at child care—right after she agreed with you that ‘hands are not for hitting.’ Running directly into the ocean after you’ve clearly explained that he can’t go in the water without an adult. These are typical toddler moments that all come down to one thing: self-control, and the lack of it.

Why do young children have so little self-control? The part of the brain responsible for exerting control over the emotional, impulsive part of the brain is not well-developed in children under 3. This is why toddlers are much more likely to act on their desires, such as yanking a toy out of a friend’s hand, rather than saying to themselves, “I really want that toy, but it’s not right to grab, so I am going to go find myself another toy.”

In fact, Tuning In, ZERO TO THREE’s national Parent Survey, found that parents’ expectations of their toddlers often outpace what toddlers are actually able to do when it comes to self-control. When parents were asked at what age children have the ability to resist doing something that parents have forbidden:

  • 56 percent of parents said children could do this before age three (including 18 percent of parents who believed children possessed this ability by six months of age)
  • 44 percent of parents said children could do this at age three years or older

Children don’t actually develop this kind of self-control until 3.5 to 4 years of age, and even then they still need a lot of help managing their emotions and impulses.

It’s not surprising so many parents have an ‘expectation gap,’ especially with so many 2-year-olds who are so verbal and able to repeat many of the rules parents have laid out. It can be very confusing. But being able to repeat a rule or expectation is not the same as being able to follow it.

Life with your little one will be (hopefully) much less maddening when your expectations for her are in line with her abilities. It can be a relief to know that your child is acting his age; that he needs help to learn to manage his impulses, and that he is not “misbehaving,” or purposefully trying to drive you crazy, as much as it feels that way. Here are some ideas for nurturing self-control:

1. Recognize that it’s not easy being a toddler.

There are an awful lot of things toddlers need to do that they don’t want to do, like getting in the car seat, stopping play to take a nap when they are NOT tired, or sharing their treasures. Let your child know you understand: “You are really disappointed that we can’t go to the playground today.” “You are mad that I won’t let you have ice cream before dinner. I totally get that.” “You are so frustrated with that train—it is so hard to make it stay on the track.” Giving your child the words to describe his feelings is the first step toward helping him manage his emotions and develop self-control.

2. Play games that require impulse control.

Color one side of a paper plate red and the other green, and play some “stop and go” games. For example, when you are outside playing, your child runs toward you until you put up the red sign. Then she runs again when the sign is green. Play “freeze dance” with music. When the music is on, your child dances; when you stop it, she has to freeze. Read books about children who get angry or have tantrums, and talk about how to handle these big feelings. Use your child’s pretend play as an opportunity to teach self-control. When a stuffed animal gets really mad or does something it shouldn’t, problem-solve how ‘Mr. Bear’ might deal with the challenge he’s facing.

3. Make a plan for how to help your child cope with experiences that are especially hard for your child.

Some toddlers have a hard time with transitions, while others have a hard time at birthday parties or adjusting to large group experiences. Think about what situations tend to trigger challenging behavior from your child. Making small adjustments to family routines (like re-thinking taking your toddler to the toy store after a bad night’s sleep) can help to reduce challenging behaviors, with more ‘Yesses’ and fewer ‘Nos’.

4. Set appropriate limits with natural consequences.

Even though your child may not be able to follow a rule yet, it is still important to set expectations. The key is to take a teaching and guiding approach with clear and natural consequences. Stay calm and explain the rule (“No throwing toys. If you throw the truck, I will have to put it away for 5 minutes”). If your child tests the limit, which is to be expected, calmly implement the consequence. Through everyday interactions like these, children develop the brain connections they need to master the skill of self-control.

5. Take your own temperature.

As a parent, you have a lot of power. Your child is taking his cues from you when it comes to managing emotions. Learning to manage and make sense of your own feelings—and getting help when you need it (and we all do)—is the best way to help your child develop self-control. Responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting, is one important way that parents make the difference in how their young children are learning and growing

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1603-toddlers-and-self-control-a-survival-guide-for-parents

Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Disorders?

To make it worse, most teachers are given very little training on how to detect mental health disorders in students. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five children has or will have a severe mental health disorder, so the lack of training is a huge disservice to teachers who are likely to encounter these issues in their students.

In an article published by The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey combines her personal experience dealing with mental health issues in the classroom with research on how teachers might be better prepared. She points out that often teachers aren’t even aware of mental health practices used by other staff in the building where they work. She writes:

As an increasing number of schools roll out evidence-based mental-health programs such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), teaching that promotes appropriate student behavior by proactively defining, teaching, and supporting positive student conduct, and Trauma-Sensitive Schools, programs aimed at reducing the effects of trauma on children’s emotional and academic well-being, educators need to be at least minimally conversant in the terminology, methods, and thinking behind these strategies. These programs provide strategies that can be highly effective, but only if the teachers tasked with implementing them are sufficiently trained in the basics of mental-health interventions and treatment.

Some teachers may feel this type of preparation is not their job, but it is easy to confuse the symptoms of a mental health disorder with run-of-the-mill misbehavior, and how a teacher handles those situations affects the learning of every child in the classroom. If the teacher’s job is to teach the whole child, mental well-being and support is part of the description.

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/10/19/why-dont-teachers-get-training-on-mental-health-disorders/

Parents, Get Realistic About Your Expectations For Young Kids

Your two-year-old refuses to share his toy with your friend’s child. He snatches back his Thomas train. You are embarrassed, send him to his room for a time out, and tell him to come out when he’s ready to apologize. Once in his room, your child throws a full-fledged tantrum, complete with loud crying and kicking the wall. Now he’s really in trouble and will have to be punished, but were your original expectations fair?

According to a recently published survey of parents of young children conducted by ZERO TO THREE and the Bezos Family Foundation, the answer is no. The study reveals there is a sizable expectation gap between what child development experts know to be true and what parents assume their very young children can do. And the consequence is great frustration for parents and too much punishment for children.

Sharing:

Many parents and even some preschool educators often have unrealistic expectations that young children should be able to share and take turns. As an early childhood educator, I often observed a negotiation that goes something like this. The adult tells the child she may use the toy for a certain amount of time (often, a timer is used) and then she must “share” and give another child a turn. The most common result is for the child to refuse to relinquish the toy when time is up, followed by tears and consequences. For this reason, early childhood programs have multiple copies of the same toy in their youngest classrooms.

Because 43 percent of parents think children can share and take turns with other children before age two, however, many of young children are punished or labeled as selfish. In fact, this skill develops between 3 to 4 years, so what is interpreted as bad behavior is really a matter of development.

Impulse control:

As a preschool director, I often talked to parents who were angry with their little ones for not following rules. Some tried positive reinforcement techniques like sticker charts or resorted to bribes. Unfortunately, most relied on some form of punishment, most commonly putting their children in time outs for infractions. To their dismay, their children often repeatedly broke the rules regardless of the parents’ disciplinary technique and warnings.

Brain science research teaches that for children under age three, it is developmentally appropriate for them to be unable to control their impulses. Yet 56 percent of parents believe two-to-three year olds are being defiant when they break rules, and 36 percent believe this to be true for their children under age two. The truth is that children just start to develop the ability to control their impulses between 3.5 to 4 years, without it being consistent until much later.

Controlling emotions:

Crying and tantrums drive most parents up the wall. This often leads to lectures, yelling, and punishment such as the traditional time out and/or isolation in a room. (Hopefully not spanking the child, but I’m sure that happens too.) While leaving a child alone in a safe environment until he calms down may work, tantrums often happens in public where there is no place to do this. Becoming angry and even hitting a child in this state is like pouring fuel on the fire.

What parents don’t understand is that it is unrealistic to expect children younger than 3.5 to 4 years old to control their emotions. 24 percent of all parents of one-year-olds believe that children have the capacity to control their emotions, and 42 percent of parents believe their children should have this ability by two years. Thus, according to the survey, the majority of parents of very young children think they should not have tantrums and emotional outbursts. Once again, I suspect many kids are punished for something they can’t control.

Assume most parents love their children:

According to the study, the good news is that most parents (91 percent), regardless of race, ethnicity, income and education level, believe their children are their greatest joy. They think they are adequate parents but also want to improve their parenting skills. The parents surveyed felt if they knew more about child development and appropriate expectations, they would be better parents. They wished they had more positive parenting strategies in their arsenal. And they understood the importance of the first five years of life.

The majority of those surveyed are really “good enough” parents, but they shared these important goals for improving their parenting skills:

  • Manage their own emotions as a model for their children
  • Have more patience
  • Not lose their temper or yell at their kids

In order to achieve these goals, there needs to be a greater understanding of how expectations are often at odds with developmental ability. Perhaps this disconnect between what we want children to do and what they are actually capable of is fueled by the growing expectations we as a society have for very young children. The increasingly academic orientation of our early childhood and lower elementary classrooms is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Why It’s ‘Self-Reg,’ Not Self-Control, That Matters Most For Kids

“Self-regulation is about identifying the causes and reducing the intensity of impulses and, when necessary, having the energy to resist,” psychologist Stuart Shanker writes in his book, Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life.

LA Johnson/NPR

As parents, it can be natural enough to conclude that when our kids act up or act out — at home, at school, away at the beach or park on family summer vacation — we should tell them to calm down and be sure they follow through.

After all, isn’t it our job to teach our kids to learn some self-control?

But what about the kids who not only can’t calm down, they have no idea what it means to calm down? What about the kids who are continuously over-aroused, stressed to the point where their nervous systems need not words but step-by-step embodied guidance to even begin to calm?

In the just-published Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life, psychologist Stuart Shanker of York University and the MEHRIT Centre in Canada asks us — parents, teachers, coaches, anyone who mentors kids — to think not in terms of self-control but of self-regulation.

Shanker writes: “Self-control is about inhibiting impulses; self-regulation is about identifying the causes and reducing the intensity of impulses and, when necessary, having the energy to resist.”

Looking at five domains in a child’s life — biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial — and how they interact, we can begin, he says, to reframe our own perceptions of what’s going on with our kids, as a starting point to help them gain greater calm and attention, and also empathy for others.

Self-Reg
Self-Reg

How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life

by Stuart Shanker and Teresa Barker

Hardcover, 307 pages

The biggest lesson that I’ve taken from Self-Reg is that when a child insists that a teacher’s voice is harsh, or a restaurant or classroom is unbearably bright or loud, we need to recognize (even though we might not experience things that way at all) that the child is very probably not lying, exaggerating or trying to be oppositional. Instead, the child’s biological sensitivities may make her exquisitely reactive in a way that triggers a constant cycle of over-arousal-crash-over-arousal as she tries to cope. That’s where Self-Reg comes in, with strategies for regulating the out-of-whack nervous system.

And the worst thing we can do is to ask our kids to calm — or even go to sleep — by playing with computer or gaming devices. That sort of activity only feeds brain and body hyperactivity, and when the child eventually becomes depleted, he will crave even more arousal.

Stuart Shanker and I have collaborated on research and writing projects in anthropology and psychology. Last week, after I read Self-Reg, I asked him some questions via email:

I was very struck by your point that many young children today simply don’t know what the sensation of “calm” feels like. How did we get to this point, and what are the first steps that parents and teachers can take, in turning that around?

Kids get stuck in what neuroscientists call a “higher set point” — think of a car with a higher idling speed — and seek out experiences to keep their engine racing. They become so accustomed to this state that they find slower-paced activities aversive. They push their nervous system to its limits, crash, then push to the limits again. Parents need to slow things down with them. Find shared calming activities — like going for a walk, listening to music, baking — where the reward is being in this state together. The big thing is, they need to feel what it’s like to be calm, not be told to “calm down.”

The “Interbrain” is a key concept in your book. Can you talk a bit about what it is and why it matters so much?

The Interbrain is like a wireless brain-to-brain connection that operates, not just between a “higher-order brain” that possesses self-regulating skills and a developing brain just acquiring them, but throughout the lifespan. Our need for strong Interbrain connections is a biological imperative, and when that need wanes, this is a sign that the stress-load is too great. The old “genetic” way of thinking about the brain as an isolated organ governed by ancient mechanisms actually describes what human functioning is like when social engagement has broken down because of heightened stress.

Do parents or teachers ever snort disbelievingly at your insistence that there are no bad kids, or tell you, “look, these kids need to toughen up — if we fix for them every little sensory annoyance they’ll never function in the real world?” I think it can be hard for all of us, at first, to grasp the idea you write about, of an escalating cycle of over-arousal that may be set off by sensations that — to a hyper-sensitive child — aren’t small at all.

One of the most rewarding experiences has been to see teachers who did more than just snort go on to become Self-Reg champions. We place so much emphasis on how a child’s learning of “calm” has to be experiential, but the same point applies to Self-Reg: You have to feel and not just read about the changes that occur when you help a child self-regulate in order to get past your initial resistance. What you are describing in your question is that true empathy for children that is our species’ greatest strength.

It seems a profound realization for all of us as parents to hear what you say in Self-Reg: “All too often we confuse our needs with the child’s. We seek to make children more manageable, rather than self-managing.” Your program aims to change that, and has caught on not only in Canada but internationally. Why do you think this shift from managing kids to helping kids with self-reg is touching such a chord?

I think there are two reasons. The first is, because the stress that children are under today has become far too great, and for that reason, we are seeing so many problems in mood, behavior, and attention as well as a sharp rise in physical health problems. To understand why this is happening we have to recognize the many different kinds of stress that kids are under, hidden as well as overt, and learn how to distinguish between misbehavior and stress-behavior.

But the second part of the answer is that our own stress drops dramatically when we shift from trying to enforce compliance to reducing the causes of challenging behaviors and teaching kids how to do this for themselves.


http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/07/07/484910409/why-its-self-reg-not-self-control-that-matters-most-for-kids