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Simple Truths Teach Self-Control

Good things come to those who wait. While this is an old idea, it’s a good one. So good, in fact, that kids who learn to wait become far more successful than those who don’t. It’s a fact born out by the famous “marshmallow test,” where children who are willing to wait so they can earn more treats show more long-term adjustment than those who settle for the immediate gratification of just one treat.
Like all social-emotional skills, self-control is primarily taught in three ways by:

  • Example: We show kids what it looks like.
  • Experience: We allow them to act hastily regarding small matters so they can truly experience negative results.
  • Empathy: We allow their hearts and minds to focus on the sad consequences of their hasty choices rather than our anger or frustration. 

I recently witnessed a powerful social-emotional learning experience in an ice cream shop in rural South Dakota. Two young boys were holding their ice cream cones as they wrestled over who would get to the table first. Their mother stared at her cone and proclaimed, “It sure would be sad for me if I dropped this because I wasn’t paying attention. Then I wouldn’t get another.”
A glorious thing happened. Mom made it to the table with her treat. The boys didn’t. Theirs were melting on the floor.
I noticed something amazing. Rather than blaming each other and begging for another chance, they grabbed a wad of napkins and proceeded to clean up after themselves. They seemed mostly sad, rather than mad. I wonder where they learned that?
Through the entire process, Mom didn’t say another word. Are you guessing she’d learned somewhere along the way that actions, empathy, and natural consequences are far more powerful?
Dr. Charles Fay

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