Observe your Child to Learn how they are Developing Self-Control
The ultimate goal of all discipline is to teach children self-control. That’s what parental discipline and child guidance is all about: allowing our kids to grow up to be adults who can discipline themselves.
Whenever you’re faced with a misbehavior, you might ask yourself how you can enhance your child’s ability to regulate her own behavior? If you ask yourself this, two positive things may happen. One thing that could happen is that you give your child the opportunity to test their self-control, and the second thing that could happen is that you get a chance to evaluate yourself by seeing how well your child is learning to control their own behavior.
But the only way these two things can happen is if you don’t intervene immediately when a misbehavior begins. Therefore, you would be able to see whether your child can stop herself or whether she recognizes that she is misbehaving.
Suppose your three-year-old is playing a bit too roughly with the family cat. In an effort to protect the cat or teach your child a lesson, you might be inclined to get involved immediately. However, if you want to see how much control your son has or see whether he can reverse a behavior once begun, you can just observe. Often, children around this age will correct themselves and say aloud what he has often heard you say. For instance, a three-year-old might turn a somewhat aggressive mauling of the cat into a hug while saying, “Be nice to kitty.” If you had been too quick on the trigger, you would not have seen how much your toddler had learned and how his self-control was coming along.
Another example, could involve your teenager. If your adolescent daughter has had some difficulties managing her anger, you may be concerned that this could be a major problem when driving the family car. You may have thought that the last thing you need is an angry teenager behind the wheel of a car. So, the next time she gets angry, you might watch and see how this plays out.
Is she able to bring herself under control fairly quickly? Has she learned anything from you about a less explosive way to deal with her anger? By silently watching, you can gauge how much progress she has made and you can determine whether she is ready to use your car.
What I’m suggesting is that observing misbehaviors may be a way to figure out how much self-control your child is able to use. This could be termed “purposeful ignoring” and is done for a specific reason: To measure your child’s self-control.
However, there are other ways of determining your child’s ability to regulate his or her emotions and behavior. However, in addition to seeing how much progress they are making, these other discipline approaches encourage children to use their own self-control. When you intervene too quickly, you are not allowing your child to use their own self-control skills.
One of these other techniques is to give a signal. By signaling you give your child an opportunity to pull himself back together. With this technique, you do not ignore the child, but you let him know that you are aware of the situation and that you expect him to gain self-control on his own.
Most of us parents have used this technique at one time or another, and it often works well. For example, at a movie or a concert, you may have nudged your child with your elbow when they were whispering too loudly or making a noise that disturbed others. This signals to the child that you are aware of what they are doing and that you want her to stop on their own.
Some parents use prearranged signals (such as a particular hand gesture or even a particular word) to alert a child that they should regulate their behavior. Another signal, again that most of have used, is to say our child’s name, add their middle name, or say their name with an unmistakable tone. This is a clear signal that they need to alter their behavior.
Giving signals can be very effective if the misbehavior is just beginning and if your child is still in control and is capable of pulling themselves together. Typically, these techniques should be used before a child is out of control and before the problem behavior becomes too serious.