Helping Kids Self Regulate
By Robyn DesRoches
Editor’s Note: Last July Washington Parent Magazine
interviewed Katherine Reynolds Lewis, PEP Parent Educator and author of The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids are Less Disciplined Than Ever and What to Do About It.
In the book, Ms. Lewis profiles many of PEP’s positive parenting methods.
Below are some of her nuggets of wisdom on the topic of self regulation. The Good News About Bad Behavior
was just released in paperback yesterday, April 9th. You can buy the book here
Getting kids out the door in the morning and into bed at night, getting them to eat what’s on their plate and brush their teeth afterwards, curbing whining and tantrums—all these things can feel like epic struggles for today’s parents. What are we doing wrong? It may seem counterintuitive, but for kids to learn self-control, we parents must stop trying to control them. Whenever we remind, nag, and boss them, kids get distracted from the task at hand. Instead, they focus on the back and forth with us—which they kind of enjoy.
The key is to keep children in charge of themselves. Through the course of our parenting journey, we have to be broadening the circle of their independence and shrinking what we are in charge of. Rather than try to control our kids, we need to control our own response. Sometimes when we change that one thing, it changes the whole dynamic and takes away a lot
of the problems we are experiencing.
One of most effective techniques is to brainstorm at another time about what has to happen to get out the door in the morning or to bed at night and then hand over the responsibility to the kids. You could work with them to make a chart of the steps involved, with pictures that they color or photographs of them carrying out each task. And then you only have to point to the chart without a lot of discussion.
Our physical presence also helps kids self-regulate. When we rub their backs, give them bear hugs, or simply are nearby, their heartbeats and breathing start to synchronize with ours. “Special Time” (child-directed play with one totally engaged parent) is the cure-all for many problems.
Instead of issuing orders, we can give kids opportunities to take charge of problem solving. For example, rather than “Pick up your backpack,” we can say “I see a backpack on the floor.” Or use humor to create a funny situation. Give your child a note from the backpack saying, “I’m tired of lying on floor, please hang me up.”
We can also build children’s sense of capability by giving them opportunities to contribute to the family. Most kids have a lot of homework, but no afterschool jobs or chores around the house to give them a sense that they are worth something beyond their achievements. Invite kids to help with tasks they are willing to do that are slightly above their skill level—such as digging in the dirt while gardening or cutting something in the kitchen with a sharp blade. Otherwise, it’s boring.
“Katherine Lewis has written a smart, compassionate book for the 21st century parent. Forget the carrot-and-stick approach to redirecting children’s’ behavior. We can help our kids develop their inner motivation for behaving well – while simultaneously forging lasting family bonds – by following the wise guidance in Bad Behavior.”―Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of When and Drive
“Katherine Reynolds Lewis, armed with the latest behavioral science research and her eye-opening journalistic inquiry, introduces a new discipline model…. An absolute must-read for anyone raising or teaching ‘difficult’ children, and insightful to anyone eager to teach kids how to regulate their own behavior and ultimately thrive in society on their own.”―Julie Lythcott-Haims, New York Times bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult and Real American