|Five Ways to Help Kids Learn the Virtue of Self-Control and Stay Calm
by Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Author of Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing
Palm Springs, CA (July 2001) – Our children are facing much more pressing types of daily stresses than most of us ever dealt with in our childhood. Just think of the kinds of horrific images our kids are exposed to on the nightly news: riots, hate crimes, random shootings, bombings, kidnappings, senseless murders. We’re also seeing a troubling increase in bulllying, name-calling, and prejudicial slurs among schoolchildren. Do these issues affect our children? “You bet they do,” says Dr. Michele Borba, author of the new book, Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing (Jossey-Bass Publishers, July 2001, ISBN 078795371; 800-956-7739).
“The single greatest trend I’ve seen as a consultant to hundreds of schools over the past ten years, ” Borba says, ” is the marked increase in anxiety and anger in our children. We shouldn’t kid ourselves: the steady onslaught of stress and violence images is taking a major toll on our children’s emotional and moral well-being.”
What can parents do? Teach children the critical virtue of self-control so they know how to handle their emotions appropriately when faced with frustrations. In Building Moral Intelligence, Borba gives parents the following five strategies to teach children self-control so they can calm down and learn to handle their anger.
- Model coolness when facing problems. Showing you can keep your cool, even in crisis, is an important way to help your children learn self-control. You send a clear message: “It may look like a crisis, but by staying cool, I’ll be in a better position to solve the problem.” Example is always the best teacher: “I need to take a deep breath and stay cool before I call the bank. I can’t understand how my account is so overdrawn.”
- Develop a feeling vocabulary. Many kids display aggression because they simply don’t know how to express their frustrations any other way. They need an emotion vocabulary to express how they feel, and you can help your child develop one by creating a “feeling word” poster together. Here are a few: angry, upset, mad, frustrated, agitated, furious, apprehensive, tense, nervous, anxious, irritated, furious, ticked off, irate, incensed. Write them on a chart, hang it up, and when your child is angry, use the words so that he can apply them to real life: “Looks like you’re really angry. Want to talk about it?” Then keep adding emotion words to the list whenever new ones come up in those great “teachable moments” that come up throughout the day.
- Identify anger warning signs. Explain to your child that we all have our own little signs that warn us we’re getting angry, and that we should listen to them because they can help us stay out of trouble. Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs she may have that tell her she’s starting to get upset. For example, “I talk louder. My cheeks get flushed. I clench my fists. My heart pounds. My mouth gets dry. I breathe faster.” Once she is aware of her signs, start pointing them out to her whenever she first starts to get frustrated: “Looks like you’re starting to get out of control.” “Your hands are in a fist now. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?” The more we help kids recognize those early warning signs when their anger is first triggered—usually when they first show signs of tension and stress—the better able they will be to calm themselves down and learn to regulate their own behavior.
- Use self-talk to stay in control. Experts suggest that another way to help kids stay in control is to teach them to say affirmations-simple, positive messages-to themselves in stressful situations. Here are a few kids that can learn: “Stop and calm down,” “Stay in control,” “Take a deep breath,” and “I can handle this.” Suggest a few phrases to your child, then have her choose the one she feels most comfortable saying; help her rehearse it a few times each day. You might post the words she chooses throughout the house as a reminder. The more your child practices the affirmation, the greater the likelihood she will use it during a difficult situation in which she needs to stay cool and in control.
- Teach abdominal breath control. Learning to breathe the right way—especially in
stressful situations—is one of the most effective ways to stay in control, and so it’s an important technique to teach kids. Experts advise you to teach the relaxation method with your child sitting in a comfortable position, her back straight and pressed into a chair for support. Then show your child how to inhale slowly to a count of five (“one Mississippi, two Mississippi,” and so on”), pause for two counts, then slowly breathe out the same way, again counting to five. Repeating the sequence creates maximum relaxation. The trick is to help your child learn to breathe very slowly and deeply and then practice it over and over in a calm, relaxed setting so that she can remember to use the technique during a stressful time.
Teaching kids to use self-control is just one of the many attributes of Dr. Borba’s new book. The book covers this and literally hundreds of other ideas, stories, techniques, tips, and parenting strategies to help parents build moral strength in their children. Borba’s practical, step-by-step advice will guide parents along their most important role: raising good moral human beings.