By Anne Broderius, West Elementary Principal
Every year educators not only teach important academic skills or standards, but educators also spend time teaching many essential life skills. Often, these life skills are referred to as character traits such as grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, generosity, optimism, and gratitude. Some think these character traits are fixed, but many educators and researchers have proven a person’s character is malleable or can grow, change, and develop over time.
In addition to character traits, educators reflect on a child’s executive function, or a set of mental skills used everyday in life, work, and school. Executive functioning, also known as the management system of the brain, includes working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Children who have trouble in any of these areas will find it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions while faced with challenges or changes in their world in and out of the school setting.
Parents often wonder if their child will be ready for school. All parents want their child to experience school success, and will often ask what they can practice at home to be ready for school. One character trait or executive function important for students’ school success is self-control or also referred to as self-regulation. This is described as the ability to listen, to wait, and to manage emotions, thoughts, and behaviors when faced with challenges, temptations, and impulses. This is a complex skill that develops overtime. As an executive function, self-control is an important cognitive process that is required to achieve tasks or goals, which leads to life, work, and school success. It requires a child to slow down and think through their actions. Most educators would agree that the path to school success and academic achievement is formed at an early age. In addition, most educators would say a determining factor of school success is the extent to which a child can attend to a lesson, story, and multi-step directions. Some studies have found that self-control is often a better predictor of academic success than a child’s IQ or grades earned.
It’s never too late to provide your child opportunities to practice and develop self-control. Consider playing games where self-control is practiced by needing to follow specific detailed directions or being a keen listener. Games might include Simon Says or Red Light Green Light. Even a classic card game like Memory can help build self-control and attention to detail. You have maybe even seen on social media a version of the marshmallow experiment where you ask your child to avoid a temptation for a few minutes. This is another form of self-control or delayed gratification development where a child is asked to wait for a preferred candy or food.
Have family members share examples of times they needed to practice self-control. It’s important for children to hear and see how even adults need to practice this in daily life. These honest conversations are important. Children will take cues from you, their family members, or other important adults in their world. By watching others, they will learn to value and develop this important character trait. In addition, it’s important for the adults to model self-control when faced with life’s challenges too. Think about how all adults are modeling how they manage emotions and challenges around your child.
Children are amazing and our future. When we focus on the environments we create for them, both in and out of school, we will help to create all kinds of positive possibilities for their future.