Transcript: Ep 116:  Self control and Kiddos

Welcome to the Us And Kids Podcast. We are glad you are here. I am Jan Talen, a wife, a mom, a grandma, and a marriage and family therapist. 

I wanted to let you know that the Us And Kids Communication Program is open again! It is an effective and efficient communication program. Build your skills for connecting you with your spouse and your kiddos - at the same time.  It's eight modules long. And has lots of professional support that leads you through great personal and relationship skills that will help to tone down the tensions and build up the connections. It's fun and it's practical.  Check it out on the website today.
Welcome to the Us and Kids Podcast. This podcast is about how to stay married forever while you parent together. I am your host, Jan Talen. I'm a marriage and family therapist, a wife, a mom, and a grandma. And I'm going to share with you some of my professional knowledge and thoughts about how to have a great marriage even while you parent little ones.
The Us and Kids Communication Program is also ready for you to jump into to upgrade your marriage and your parenting skills in one place. It expands the ideas we put in these podcasts and gives you great tools and skills for your marriage and your kids. I hope you will join us there, too. I'm glad you're here today to learn and to listen and to understand a little bit more about how to help your kiddos grow in self control. And who knows, there might be a hint or two for you and your personal growth in this area of self control as well.
Here we go.
It has often seemed to me that if my kids would just have had some self control to do what I tell them to do, and to not do what I tell them to not do, most of my parenting struggles would have been solved and settled down. And yet my kiddos seemed to lack this self control. And it was easy, for me anyways, to think that I was to blame. There was something sort of just wrong with me.
Well, let's take a look at what we mean by self control and how it interacts with a kiddo's development.
Our definition of self control is to be able to regulate or adjust and move our minds, what we think, our bodies, what we're doing, our emotions, what we're feeling and our will. Moving a combination of those into a direction that satisfies a long term goal would be a significant component of self control. We are focusing today on self control. This is a precursor to self discipline. Self discipline is being able to know how to control impulses, delay gratification, in order to move into behaviors and mindsets that we have determined we want to have. Self discipline is more forward looking.
Self control is more managing the moment and self discipline grows as we get older. It's not very common or wise for us to expect that our young ones are 2,3,4,5 year olds are going to have much self discipline because first of all, they have to know self control. And so that's what we're talking about today…self control for these kids that are a little bit younger;  they're not in our six to twelve year old age range. Those older kiddos, we would expect them to be learning and using self discipline skills with help and support guidance from us.

Today we're talking about the precursor to self discipline, and that is self control. Now, even with this definition, I think I can begin to see why kiddos and even some of us adults struggle with this. For goodness sake, what child do you know really knows that he has a long term goal. He might have one, but I'm not sure he would say ‘That's my long term goal.”  What child knows what a goal is? Especially a two or three or four year old. Maybe he knows it's the ball that goes into the end of a soccer field or a football field, but a personal goal??  He might know, sort of, what he wants in the moment, but he wouldn't put the word “goal” with it. At what age do our kiddos begin to develop goals and think they would have the ability to realize whether or not they have an impact to reach those goals? Let's start with some of those questions.
Our kiddos begin to understand and have some idea of having self control when they experience the ability to direct their body and their emotions in a way that they desire without their bodies and their emotions just doing whatever they do. This happens somewhere when our kiddo is around three years old. So if you're trying to parent a two year old and you want them to have more self control, your best parenting skill in that age range, (zero to two) is going to be the skill of distraction or finding a way to comfort or soothe them. Their brain is not going to be able to do this distraction or comfort very well, but their brain can often follow you into a distracted or other space that is trustworthy.
But as our kiddos move into the three, four, five year old age range, their brain is a little more developed and their rational brain is a bit more connected to their emotional brain. This is when we see that they can be more responsive to our instructions and their ability to adjust their actions and their will in a direction that is more satisfying for them and for us grows.
For example, a two year old wants that cracker or that banana or that cereal and wants it now and starts screaming. If they don't get it right now - because it may not be wise to give it to them at this exact moment. Our best option for the two year old is not going to be to instruct them to firmly wait. They don't have the ability to really do that. Our better instruction is going to be to give them something to distract them. So maybe a stuffy, maybe finding the doggy, maybe putting your head on backwards, maybe moving out of sight away from all where all those good treats are. Their ability, as a little two year old, to understand why we are delaying eating those yummy foods is going to be very limited. And their emotional control over their stress about not getting that food right now is also usually quite limited. And so we know that teaching our kiddos when they're little this skill of distraction is a good lifetime skill. We do it all the time. We're not spoiling them. By doing this, we are teaching them one of the basic skills that we need before we ever really get to self control.
Even as adults, we use this distraction skill our whole lives as we work to achieve those long term goals. I might use my audiobooks or a piece of gum to help me just plug along with getting the laundry or other boring chores done. The long term goal to get those things done repeats itself over and over again. If I don't distract myself while I do those things, I find myself not getting anything finished. When it's a Wednesday in Michigan in the winter, I know that I have to go skiing or snowboarding about 02:00 with my grandkids. I could just focus the whole day on what I have to do. I just have to go skiing. That's the really only important thing in my entire day. Except for that I do know I have to accomplish other things before 02:00pm as well. And so I have to distract myself from being focused on the snowboarding and skiing with my grandkids and move myself into focusing on other things.
I know and you probably do as well that when we do a little distraction in order to accomplish a long term goal, we feel more satisfied and more accomplished.
Distraction can help us develop the patience and the self control that can bring us into the area of reaching or accomplishing a goal. In this example, the goal is for me to make it to a Wednesday afternoon with our skis and our snowboards on, but also with having accomplished other things in the morning rather than just waiting for 02:00p.m.
And so we have helped our little very little ones become distracted when it's necessary for all of us to reach a longer term goal.
Now let's move on to those kiddos who are between the ages of three and six. As author Dan Siegel would say in his book, The Whole Brain Child, these kiddo's emotional and rational brains are now a bit more connected - not perfectly connected, but are a bit more connected. And we can begin to parent in a way that helps these segments of their brain - the emotional and the rational thinking parts of their brain - begin to talk to each other and begin to regulate or help each other adjust.
One way we can do this is to talk with our kiddos about their cool brain and their hot brain. When their cool brain is on, their brain is able to think and understand what will happen if they do whatever the action is. What will happen if they stomp on the box of crackers? They understand what will happen there. What will happen if they push their baby sister over. Their cool brain can think about this and comprehend it.
Their hot brain is a more emotional, fast moving brain and often burns things up, makes things messy. And so we can talk with our three to six year olds about how to use their cool brain, their thinking brain to help settle down their hot brain. I think that author, Mr. Siegel, would call this a connected brain. The cool brain or a brain that blew its lid is a hot brain.
Now these skills could work for a little five year old who is feeling more and more disgusted with his two year old sister who has his guitar. He has asked for it back, but she is two, and she's not giving it up. He has jumped up and down. He's tried to give her a Dolly and his cool brain is heating up. He feels anxious and ignored. He's truly worried his sister will keep his guitar forever and will wreck it.
So if he let his hot brain go, he would begin to pull that guitar away from his sister, probably pull her off the chair, tip her over sideways. She'll knock her head. She'll start to cry. He might get his guitar back, but he might also get in trouble. And even though he tried to use his cool brain first, his cool brain didn't work well enough. So his hot brain took over as his mom and dad.
What could you do to help your five year old in this situation? Part One: You've been doing it since he was born. You continue to build trust. Yes. Trust that he can come to you and ask you for help and you will help. Trust in his environment, that he will be treated fairly, that he won't be disciplined for wanting his own guitar. You see, kiddos trust their parents and the adults around them to be for them. The kiddos have more energy and brain space to keep in touch with their cool brain because they don't have that anxiety bouncing around about nobody will help me but me. They are not worried that “Only me has to take care of this.” They know their mom or their dad can help them. And so this cool brain helps them problem solve and know when to ask for help.
2. It's okay to ask your five year old to be patient and let his sister finish using the guitar for a few minutes. It's okay to help him know how to wait and how to do it with calm trust. When we help our kids do this and be patient, it builds a prefrontal cortex pathway in the front of their brain and it enhances their ability or capacity for self discipline or self control. So asking our kiddos to wait just a minute, let sister play, finish playing her song is OK to do, (depending on the stress/hot brain of your 5 year old.)
Then we'll move the guitar over to you.
 Do you want to sit right here and listen or do you want to run and go get a drink first? In my interaction I  just mixed distraction in with waiting. If they can do that with calm trust, knowing that you are for them, this helps build their control. It's their trust in you that you're asking them to wait  will be okay. It doesn't mean that you have your five year old all of a sudden wait for everything. It does mean that in a trusting, kind way, you can ask your five, six or seven year old to please be patient and wait because you will make sure that what they want will happen. You are trustworthy so they can rely on you. You can see that they learn to trust in you, that you will be faithful. And then they can also learn to trust that they are okay if they wait because they have been heard, they have been understood and respected.
3. Those ingredients help to build the compassion and the character that helps a kid whole or valued, even when they don't have what they want right away. This keeps their cool brain on because they know they are valued. Often we have talked about that for adults and for kiddos. They're often fighting this question and this hidden anxiety that says, Am I wanted? Am I lovable? Am I valued by helping a kid? I'll learn to wait while you're also being compassionate and kind to them and give them some core information into their heart and into their mind, into their emotions, and into their identity that says they are valuable and valued. When that question is answered and addressed, their ability to wait for something is easier. So we have built trust and use and teach the skill of waiting. Another part of having self control is also having motivation.
4. Motivation is having a purpose or a goal fulfilling a want or a need. Okay, let's just realize your kiddos perception of what they want and need could be very different than ours or yours. But in their little minds and bodies, their need and want is very valid and very necessary. And in helping them build motivation towards that appropriate goal means we have to start with understanding what their goal is.
So back to my five year old with his sister (who's two) who's playing his guitar.
His goal is to get that guitar back because he is sure she is going to demolish it and he wants to make music on it.
He wants to be noticed with the music he makes on it.
He feels cool and strong when he plays the song.
So this may take some parenting time, some time to listen and to talk with our five year old and understand why his cool brain is falling apart and his hot brain is heating up.
4. If I can use my empathy and my joy with him along with some tender touch and reassurance, I'll get to know why he needs his guitar back right away, right now and then. If we can keep his cool, rational brain working, we'll be able to say and figure out how he could get his guitar back. So we noticed a maraca and a tambourine laying on the floor. He realizes he could distract his sister with one of those because she's easy to distract. It's a great idea. And he could get his guitar back.
We wouldn't really suggest the manipulation side of it, like shaking the tambourine, then touching her tambourine. And then all of a sudden she goes for the tambourine and puts down the guitar and he grabs the guitar and runs away. That will make her little two year old brain explode with anger and screams. But we could suggest, and he would probably think of it as well, that he could take the tambourine and the maraca and he could go to his sister and shake them. And she probably would gladly, if he does it kindly, showing that he is for her, she would probably kindly trade. And then all brains would be calm and connected.
And from there, for me, as an adult, I would give praise and recognition to the focus that he had. He wanted his guitar back, and he used a very kind trading skill for helping his sister and him both have fun with music.
We saw his motivation, we saw his need to be validated with his musical skills, and we encouraged him by listening well, helping him develop a distraction plan that was respectful. Neither him nor his sister is screaming in this transition of musical joy.
5.  In this, I, as a parent, also had to model good behaviors and choices, meaning I had to keep my cool, rational brain thinking even though I was making supper, wanting to pull a few things out of the dryer, and my husband was texting me about supper and I have to think about musical instruments. Oh no.
But I know… and I knew that if I can keep my cool using my calm tones, my own positive self thoughts, I could help my kiddos use these skills well. But if I demonstrated my hot, fast tongue in words, my kiddos, we're going to follow that. There are times I've had my kids practice a calm tone or word with me, probably, usually in a funny sort of laughing way where we might talk like Donald Duck or whisper or sing. And as we do this, we teach our kiddos and remind ourselves how to calm our brains down so that we can figure out what to do.
I was really pleased with that five year old making it through the guitar trade off. I was also pleased with the two year old making the guitar transition possible. And so I gave them some fun, positive reinforcement and reward for them. They wanted to give me a show, not watch a show like on Netflix, but they wanted to put on a show for me. Remember, I have texting going on supper and laundry. But I knew this positive reinforcement for rewarding their behaviors and the decisions they just made was really important and really the show was  only going to take about 90 seconds. So we agreed to a short concert and a longer concert once dinner was done and Daddy was home.
6.  Other ways that we can help our kiddos develop this self control is by helping them become more aware of their bodies. Sometimes we can see that they are becoming quite distressed. Maybe in that moment where we can see this stress building, they become a little more tense, their eyes look down, we see them chewing on their lips. We see their hands in a fist - sort of clenching. They see them rubbing their foot or sort of stomping.
Maybe in that moment, if they'll let us, we can touch them or look in their eyes or just get on their level and be able to say, “Hey, here I am.” Connect with them. Then they would be able to tell us some of how they're feeling, how tight their shoulders are. Maybe they want to cry and maybe they do just cry. They might talk about how sweaty they feel or their eyes feel funny or their toes are curled. Whatever it is - validating and accepting that their body is going to give them senses and messages that will help them understand when they are becoming upset. And as they listen to their body and know they're becoming upset, they then can have a choice about what to do with those messages. This is where we help them learn that they can come to an adult for help or for a hug. No questions. They can decide to walk away to the bathroom or to their bedroom, to a place where they would feel more calm. Maybe we even give them permission to go outside, someplace they could decide to go color or play with their dollies or their trucks or find their stuffy. You see, what we're doing here is we want them to be aware of their body and where it feels like it's too full and then give them permission and space and skill to unload those body feelings to relax their body before it explodes.
This is one of the first parts of really hanging on to self control over her lifetime.
You can say that's way too much for a kiddo to learn, and yet our kiddos will learn it. It's much harder to learn when you're an adult and you have been ignoring your body your whole life. If you can help your kiddos and continue to learn yourself: When can I feel that stress coming in and what do I want to do about it? To unload it before it unloads through an explosion? It's a wonderful gift and a wonderful child skill and adult skill. Use it yourself. Help your kiddos to learn it and understand it because this helps them grow in self control. It keeps their brains connected so that they can think and make a good decision. I sort of just mentioned it in being aware of your body.

7. The other aspect of having a kid will grow in self control is to help them know how to move their bodies. So I think it was Monday. I was with my grandkids once again. We said it's winter, but it was 40 deg and it was sunny and the sun had melted a lot of snow off from the sidewalks in the driveway. So we took out the bikes. Kids had been cooped up inside and sort of a bit crabby, asking to watch a show, arguing about who had what, wanting something else to eat. But boy, when we took out the bikes and let them ride through the puddles of melted snow up and down the driveway as fast as they could, you know what? Everybody was happier, more settled down.
It's important to remember even kiddos have anxiety and worries. And one of the best ways to get rid of some of those little worries that are just little worries and nothing more. Worries that don't have words in their brain, in their hearts, are just to help their bodies move. In the adult world, we call this exercise. In the kid world, we call it “Go do something, do something with your body!” And so if we have to, we help them run in circles to the house. We race up and down the stairs. We do jumping Jacks or create a dance party because we know that when our kiddos move, it leads to better emotional control for them. It helps them destress and it helps them reconnect to you and you to them. So there's body awareness in that. Body awareness is also body moving.
The next step, once we get our body under control, is to pay attention to what I want to do. What do I want to have happen? Now this might include what do I want to feel and what do I want to do? So it might be actions, but it might also be feelings. And when we know what we want to feel and what we want to do now we can make a plan or a decision about how to get there. Let your kid begin to carry out that plan.
So let's assume that my five year old doesn't talk to me about his sister having the guitar. Instead, he's aware he wants his guitar and he's pretty uptight about her having it. And he realizes it so he makes a plan to try giving her the Tambourine and the maracas in a kind way. But he does this all in his own mind and heart. I'm over there working supper, answering the texts, doing the laundry. When he makes the plan, he has a little smidge of awareness that having a plan helps him calm down. His hot brain is cooling off. And as he carries out that plan, he realizes he feels proud and strong and confident. So he comes running to you with a guitar in his hand. But it's really him telling you about how his little sister is playing with the tambourines so cutely because he's feeling so accomplished that he got his guitar back and his sister is happy. He did it.
Of course you reaffirmed to him that he has thought things through carefully and done a wonderful job of sharing and caring for his sister because you can see that it is the self control that he had.
He used that self control because he was in an environment that he trusted.
He knew you would help him if he needed it. It lets him be kind and creative and keep his cool.
It's in those places or pieces of kindness, creativity, and calm that a kiddo really begins to build a healthy self esteem or self identity.
He's worked in another area of self control and that is the skill of knowing how to implement his idea and put it into action.
He was able to think, If I do this, give my sister the tambourine, then I will probably be able to use my guitar. This bridging over the gap of what he wanted and how he would behave to get it now became tied together. I want my guitar and if I give my sister the tambourine, I'll get my guitar.
So when we're helping our kiddos grow in that self control we can talk about, well if you do that then what will happen? Will you get what you want or what you desire?
It is a part of the D.N.A. process that we use in our Us and Kids Communication Program to help you understand what is a goal and what you desire and what skill do you need to use to get there in a way that is respectful and kind and keeps us all connected.
So helping our kiddos think through. If I do this, I will get this. And tying desires and actions together keeps our brain cool, able to think, and lets our hot brain stay relaxed. Then there is room for pride and confidence and creativity in an emotional world where we have thought through and carried out a wise decision. If I do this, then I get that kind of plan.
In Module Two of the US and Kids Communication Program, we develop these ideas and give you practical, learn, explore, and practice tips that help you apply these to your kids and to their personalities. As we teach them, your kiddos and you will get to know yourself and be in control of yourself. You will watch confidence, leadership and grace grow within your family. Academic and social skills grow quietly, strong and sure and our parenting time with our kiddos as they learn self control becomes less intense because they are learning and doing the beginning age appropriate skills of social and personal problem solving.
Join us in this program so that you can upgrade your own personal control and confidence while you encourage your spouse and your kiddos as well. This is good family stuff where everyone benefits for a lifetime.
Thank you for joining me today.
I hope you take a tidbit or two away with you to use in your everyday life.
Grab the printable free and always makes it easier to remember what you were going to do and gives you a visual reminder when it's on your refrigerator or on your dresser.
Hang in there and I'll talk to you again in a couple of weeks.
Listen to Episode 116 Here ยป