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Friday, December 28, 2007

Teaching Self Control

“Control thy passion lest they take vengeance on thee.” - Epictetus

Last week I wrote the school system should not be responsible for disciplining children, parents should. Because I do not believe in pointing out a problem without providing some kind of solution, I want to reiterate what experts have to say on this subject and pass on some of the tools and techniques they suggest.

Research across the US suggests that a child’s level of self control relative to their peers is largely set by age 10, and while the development of self control will continue as they mature, they will not suddenly become more disciplined than their peers if they were less disciplined at age 10. The primary cause of low self control is believed to be parents who fail to monitor the child’s behavior, and using a loving, consistent, reward and punishment system, modify the child’s behavior. You will hopefully notice none of these methods include corporal punishment. So to that end here are a few suggestions to developing self control in your children:

1. Be a good example. “He preaches well that lives well.” – Miguel De Cervantes. If your children see you flying off the handle at traffic, your spouse, or the child themselves, they will see little reason to exhibit self control. So when disciplining your child, stay in control yourself and explain there are consequences for losing one’s self control. Then calmly explain what those consequences are.
2. When your child is angry, excessively excited, or too wound up encourage them to “take a break”, chat with them a moment about what they are feeling so they learn to recognize the signs of a meltdown.
3. Set fair and reasonable limits. These limits must be consistently enforced whether in public or at home.
4. Make sure your instructions are clear. If you were unclear or if the child did not understand or is not capable of complying that is your shortcoming as a parent, not the child’s behavior. Chalk it up to your own learning.
5. Use appropriate rewards. Small, constant, positive feedback will go a long way to teaching self restraint. This feedback and rewards can be simply, “I am so proud of the way you handled yourself back there, that was very grown-up.”
6. The National Association of School Psychologists have a website ( with age appropriate role playing games to help you speak on a child’s level (as young as 3 to 5 years of age). These games are intended to work on self control in a positive manner and teach parental skills that can be modified as the child grows.
7. Be consistent, be fair, and do what you say you are going to do as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.
8. Last, and by far most importantly, love your children. Hug them, touch them, be unselfish to them, serve their needs before your own, and by all means tell them you love them and are proud of them constantly. When you do this, the child is far more likely to want to please you to hear such things.

Teaching your children self control and self discipline is your responsibility and while the failure to do so is yours as a parent; your child will pay the price for your failure. This can be a difficult job, especially if your own level of self control is low; however the reward for doing a good job is a successful, well adjusted child, of whom you maybe justifiably proud.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Control Yourself!

He who cannot obey himself will be commanded. Such is the nature of all living things. – Friedrich Nietzsche
With the arrival of the Christmas season also comes the end of the Fall semester in school and as such is a good time for parents to take an assessment of where there child is academically and socially. The information for this assessment is garnered from thoughtful questions to your child, from a conversation with your child’s teachers, and quite likely you, your child, and the teachers, all sitting down together. Garnering as much information as possible is vital if you are going to ensure your child’s success both while in your home and then after, once on their own.
Research completed in 2004 at George Mason and Case Western Reserve Universities show that a child with good self control has “a higher GPA, better adjustment, less binge eating and alcohol abuse, better relationships and interpersonal skills, secure attachment, and more optimal emotional responses”. The conclusion in this study is consistent with the other research I found on student discipline and so we can draw the conclusion that if your child has difficulty behaving in the classroom, they will have great difficulty doing well academically and later in life.
Tax payers feel the pain of children that are not in control of themselves at school on a number of levels:
1. School discipline (or the lack of it) is consistently the top reason listed for teacher burnout.
2. Learning is significantly shortchanged when a teacher spends half a class with a whip and chair instead of whiteboard and books.
3. The extra programs that must be provided for discipline problems, everything from in school suspension to entire campuses in some communities, all cost more than general education.
4. Few would argue the discipline problems that manage to finish High School and enter the workforce have obtained the caliber of education as the students that were not discipline problems.
Of note here is the fact that this is a complex issue, without a simple answer. This means laying the problem at the feet of the school system and telling teachers and administrators to “deal with it”, not only hands the problem to people with little ability to fix it, this problem is not the school’s responsibility; education is, while discipline is the parents’ job. Criminology research from Florida State suggests self control is largely taught, or not, by the age 10 and that “Good children [those with self-control] remain good. Not so good children remain a source of concern to their parents, teachers, and eventually to the criminal justice system.”
Corporal punishment has largely been taken out of schools, children from dysfunctional homes are very difficult to motivate and support on a consistent enough basis to make a lasting impact upon, and out of school suspension not only doesn’t help the student behave better, research consistently shows it actually results in worse behavior problems. Only if we as a society are willing to “throw away” large numbers of students will out of school suspension work, and the result of that policy has its own economic costs such as increases in the prison populations and a less educated workforce.
Politicians have been quick to dump the issue of school discipline in the laps of the school system because there are fewer teacher votes than the public at large. We the public go along because it means we don’t have to take a hard look at ourselves. However at the end of the day we as parents, not teachers or anyone else are responsible for our children’s behavior and academic success. For the sake of our kids and the state of our nation; parents had better start doing our jobs.
Next week I will focus on specific things parents can do to instill self control and discipline in their children.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Family Outings

It appears that winter is finally here. After the first snowfall we had that melted soon after it arrived, I am typing this to snow gently falling promising that I will be shoveling the front walk shortly. However, it also means the start of a wonderful time of the year; that of Christmas, a New Year full of promise and winter sports.
At first blush you might be tempted to think this column is for the folks new to our area or visitors, however it has been my experience that many times after living in an area for a number of years, many of us take for granted the activities and opportunities our home region has to offer. So in the spirit of seeing our home with new eyes, or maybe just an excuse to try something you haven’t done in a while, take a look at these ideas of family friendly frigid frolics.
· Downhill Skiing/ Snowboarding- There are a number of mountains locally complete with lodges where you can go for the day or for an entire weekend.
· Cross country skiing/ Snowshoeing- With national, state and local parks available nearby, you and your family can see wildlife and beautiful winter scenery very inexpensively. You will also enjoy the quiet family time, and the exercise wouldn’t hurt most of us either.
· Ice fishing- When they ice over, our own Hayden Lake has ice fishing, and so does Spirit Lake and Lake Cocolalla. Make sure you check with local tackle shops or wildlife authorities before venturing out on the ice.
· Snowmobiling- I did a quick Internet search and found a number of rental shops locally that rent snowmobiles fairly reasonably.
· Sleigh rides- There are several places locally that host horse drawn sleigh rides in the winter (and hay rides in the summer). This is a great family activity or an even better romantic date for just Mom and Dad! My wife and I are going to do this when the kids go see the Grandparents over Christmas Break, but it’s a surprise so don’t tell her.
· Hot Cocoa and Board Game night- Ok, I realize that hot cocoa, marshmallows and a rousing game of Scrabble or Monopoly makes for a fairly sedentary evening; however, when the snow is falling and the roads are slick, there are few better, safer ways to spend an evening. Not to mention a better family bonding experience.
These are just a few ideas; I hope that all of you will write me with ideas of your own if you wish to share them. Including costs and where we can find gear or service providers will be helpful. I will publish another column in the near future to pass the ideas along. Winter is still a great time to be in the outdoors, active and spending time with family and nature, so take full advantage. Besides, if everyone is a little chilly, it will encourage more warm hugs and a few more kisses as well.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Family Meals "Come and get it!"

In 2005 the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a list of benefits gained by having dinner together as a family that include: getting along well with your family, getting good grades, eating healthy foods, and avoiding drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. Fifty-eight percent of teenagers ate dinner with their families at least 5 times a week, however the breakdown of the figures tells a bit of a different tale. Fifty-five percent of 12 year olds, or pre-teens, ate dinner with the family seven nights a week, but only 26% of 17 year olds do the same.
Meals together give us far more than biological nutrition; as children get older, they are often absent during meal time when they need nurturing and guidance that meal time conversation and togetherness can provide. With four very active teenagers, one of whom is a college student, I know as well as anyone the challenges of getting everyone on the same place at the same time. However, as with most things in life, the more family meals you share the easier they are to plan for and the more successful and beneficial they are.
Nutrition is also better during shared family meals than when everyone is on their own or even when everyone is together, but each having their own dinner. Shared family meals tend to mean less soda and fried foods, but more fruits and vegetables.
By now you are saying to yourself, “Great Mark, we are all so busy I can barely keep track of my family enough to get them fed at all and now you want me to feel guilty because we aren’t all around the dinner table?” To which let me assure you, “No, I do not want you to feel guilty or bad and my wife and I feel your pain”. So let me provide some suggestions as to how you can get everyone together more often.
· Decide as parents that meal times are a priority, how many times a week you are going to have family meals together, and what nights those will be. The nights may change if someone has a sports season or school event that conflicts. But remember, you are the parent. If the kids can’t drive yet, then they only go where you drive them. If they can drive and still live at home, some negotiation may be in order, but you have the final say.
· Be creative. If dinner simply isn’t possible, say because of work or school schedules, then eat breakfast together instead, or a combination of the two.
· Keep meals simple. Try to precut, or even precook anything that can be so preparation time is minimized.
· Say some sort of blessing. Even if your family is not particularly religious, voicing gratitude for the meal and to your family members for sharing it with you is certainly appropriate.
· Turn off TV! Unplug or turn off ringers on phones and cell phones.
· Sit around a table, facing each other. No standing or TV trays. No one leaves until the meal is complete.
· Ask good, specific questions, “What was one good thing that happened to you today?” or “What was one thing you learned today?”
· Remember that whether it’s scheduling family mealtimes, or the conversation during the mealtime, you will get better with practice.
I hope you find these tips helpful, if you have solutions that work for your family, email them to me and I will pass them along to the rest of us. Keep in mind that you only get to have a family of your own for a very finite, all too short, period of time; family meals will help you make the most of it.