“Mom, I want that!” Let’s teach our kids little self-control
Let’s admit it: when you have a small child, every time you go shopping it’s hard not to give in to every “whim” and tantrum.
Shelves full of sweets, toys and irresistible colours on every corner seem to hypnotise and capture the attention of your children.
So there he is, sitting in the shopping cart trying to grasp that packet of marshmallows while he looks at you with those big eyes and pleads “Mummy, will you buy it for me!"
So how can you hold your ground and not give in to every whim or tantrum? Can even young children be taught how to control themselves? If so, how?
Sometimes it’s enough to say “I can't buy it, because I don't have the money!” This is a simple concept and much easier for your child to understand rather than saying “I could buy for you, but I don't think it's right” . But sometimes not even having enough money, may be enough! In a world with multiple choices and endless temptations, the ability to hold your ground rather than giving in to instant gratification, is indeed crucial.
Teaching your children to control themselves means teaching them how to choose to behave in different circumstances, rather than becoming a prey to their own desires. Self-control helps not only to ward off “consumerist” temptations, but also to hold your ground against impulsive decisions and tantrums or give a reward when your child has been good, and this is so important in life.
Indeed, much of what we want in life requires the ability to resist an immediate impulse and put off immediate gratification (perhaps in order to obtain more lasting gratification).
But is self-control something we are born with – is it in our genes? - or can it be taught? Is self-control the result of one’s character or culture? Genetics certainly matter, but, in part, self-control may be taught. How? First and foremost, by setting the example, which is always the best way to teach your child anything.
You can also ask your child to stop and think before he acts. Or, you can talk about how one can respond in different ways in certain situations, discussing the negative and positive consequences, even by role-playing.
But if all this doesn't work and we find ourselves in the middle of a rare tantrum at the shopping mall, what should we do?
The only answer is, try to stay calm. Only if you remain calm can you explain to your children what they already know, but are pretending not to know, and this is quite normal: namely that we want our kids to be happy by giving them what they want, but that we also want to teach them that you can’t get anything if you are not prepared to work hard or wait, because if they don’t learn this when they are kids they will never be happy.