Friday, November 03, 2006

Sticks of gum and bandages

Like many children between 3 and 6 my son LOVES sticks of gum and bandages. How long do these items last in your house? We visited a friend recently and were in the child's play area when the boy opened his drawer and showed us bags and bags of gum and band aids. I said to his mother, "I think my son would chew all those pieces of gum in one day and cover his entire body with band aids if he had a drawer like this!" His mother then said she was able to teach her son to conserve. What a valuable lesson!

Scientists do not understand much about how children learn to control their impulses (see However, we know that impulse control is like a muscle, it improves with exercise. Good impulse control also predicts success in many spheres including academic and emotional development.

My friend is not a child development expert or professional. She instinctively knows that good parenting means teaching impulse control. Some children are naturally born with a good deal of ability to learn impulse control while others have more difficulty learning. Children of both high and low ability need to practice.

I suspect that consistent daily practice of impulse control really adds up for kids. I found that my 3 year old was also able to learn to save his gum and band aids. It took time, and he sometimes still swallows his gum, but he is more capable than I thought.

Helping a child with daily exercise of impulse control takes time and can be very draining. For example, my son is capable of dressing himself (with minimal help), but he would rather talk and play while I dress him. If we are rushed it is tempting to just go ahead and dress him. But then he misses out on the experience of putting fun aside to concentrate on a boring task. Daily exercise of impulse control also happens when we refuse to grant a child his wishes when he is nagging and/or crying. Again it takes time to say, I'm not going to get _____ for you now because you are nagging/crying. It also takes a parent's willingness to tolerate a child's discomfort.

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