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Want your kids to be successful adults? Then teach them the skills of cooperation-today!
Think back, if you can, to the time before your first child arrived, during pregnancy or as you awaited the arrival of your adopted or foster child. Think about all the grand dreams you had for your future offspring. She was going to be president-if not of the country, then of a major corporation. He was going to be a basketball star, a famous artist, a doctor. She'd win the Nobel Peace Prize, be a poet, a parent, a paleontologist-something great.
Now take a look around your toy-strewn living room as you think about a particularly difficult day with said offspring. Maybe you were late getting out the door because little Johnny-the one who was going to be president-refused to get out of bed, get dressed, or eat anything for breakfast but the one cereal you were out of. Maybe you tried to go grocery shopping but had to leave the store because the two-year-old future paleontologist threw a monster tantrum when you wouldn't let her tear down the pasta display or buy her candy at the checkout line. Maybe the kids battled it out all day long, or the school phoned, or you fought with them over homework or TV orputting away toys, or you couldn't get anyone to bed on time, or ...
At times like these, all those long-term goals and grand dreams can be forgotten as parents just struggle to get through the day without losing it. President? a worn-out parent thinks. Who cares about being president? I just want her to eat her bloody peas.
Well, here's the thing: The two aren't so far apart.
In other words, getting her to eat her peas today is one fairly crucial step along the road toward becoming president. The social and behavioral skills that kids acquire in childhood-skills such as cooperation, persistence, impulse control, politeness, proper hygiene, self-organization, and more-last a lifetime. Getting your kids to learn to taste different foods, get up on time and get ready for school on their own, clean up their toys, get along with their siblings, be charming in the grocery store, and go to sleep at a decent hour in their own beds will lay the foundation for a happy, healthy, successful adult life. Kids who have these skills are at a distinct advantage over their peers who don't, and that advantage lasts a lifetime. (Just have a look at the results of the famous "Marshmallow Test")
As you read ahead, keep in mind the ultimate goal for parents: to raise successful adults. Throughout the rest of this book, we'll be helping you teach your kids how to behave appropriately, to acquire those crucial social and behavioral skills so necessary to achieve that goal. Yes, it's true that kids who listen can make parents' lives easier. But this is about more than making parents' lives easier. It's about making kids' lives better-for the long term.
In this chapter, we'll explain why teaching children the skills of good behavior is so crucial to their success, not only throughout childhood but into the grown-up years as well. We'll discuss how parenting styles play a crucial role in helping kids learn these skills. And we'll take the first steps toward helping you Draw the Line-helping you identify your kids' target behaviors and their positive alternatives, and deciding what you'd like to tackle first. So read on.
Having Your Marshmallows and Eating Them, Too What kids' ability to wait now tells us about their future success. In the 1960s, Stanford University psychologist Dr. Walter Mischel and his colleagues began a now classic series of research studies that have come to be known as the "Marshmallow Tests." Researchers gave four-year-old children a choice: "You can have one marshmallow, right now. But if you can wait fifteen minutes while I go run a quick errand, you can have two marshmallows when I come back. It's up to you." The methods varied from study to study. Sometimes the treats were left within the kids' view, sometimes not. Some kids had to wait twenty minutes. Sometimes the researchers used different treats. And in some cases, the children were given strategies for waiting and getting their minds off the candy. Overall, about a third of the kids just couldn't wait. They took the one marshmallow before the fifteen minutes were up, forfeiting their chance at the larger treat. About two thirds of the kids, on the other hand, were willing to wait, even though it obviously pained many of them. Some used coping strategies to make the wait more bearable, such as singing, telling themselves stories, rocking, looking away, or-in one memorable case-falling asleep until the researcher returned. Years later, Dr. Mischel tracked down the same group of kids as they graduated from high school, and tested them again for a range of personal and social markers of success. In adolescence, the differences between the "grab-the-marshmallow-now" preschoolers and their friends who were able to wait for the double reward were dramatic, and astonishing. The ones who waited had better grades in school and higher SAT scores. They were more socially competent, self-reliant, assertive, confident, and personally effective. They coped better with problems and used reason rather than emotions when stressed or frustrated. They were more likely to embrace challenges, and to plan and pursue their goals instead of giving up when things got tough. They continued to control their impulses and delay gratification in pursuit of larger rewards. And more! On the other hand, as adolescents, the former marshmallow grabbers didn't do as well as their counterparts who had waited all those years ago. The grabbers shied away from social contacts. They were more stubborn and less decisive, easily upset and put off by frustrations. They were more prone to jealousy, tended to think of themselves as "unworthy" or "bad," and were more likely to overreact to irritation and lose their temper. And-after all those years-they still weren't able to delay gratification: They would settle for less in the short run rather than work for much more in the longer term. So what does the Marshmallow Test tell us? It tells us that there's a crucial relationship between even very young children's abilities to be patient and wait-to delay gratification-and their success later on in life. Kids who can wait aren't passive little sheep who are too timid to grab what they want right away. Rather, they get what they want the hard way-they work for it. Their self-control translates into the self-reliance and self-discipline that will serve them well the rest of their lives. On the other hand, children who have a hard time waiting are at risk. They know what they want right now, but they don't have the designs and persistence to know what they want in the future or how to get it. As Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, writes, "There is no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulses. It is the root of emotional self-control." Think about it: Time and time again, we're offered the opportunity to take something now or exert a little self-control and get something more for our efforts later. We'd like that extra slice of cake, but we don't eat it because we know our waistlines will thank us later. Similarly, we'd rather stay on the couch and watch TV, but we go to the gym, because exercise now pays off later when we don't have to battle heart disease or obesity. We save up money now to buy something bigger-like a bike, or a house-in the future. We manage time by doing our homework or housework now-and playing after-so that we don't have to catch up to a mountain of work later. And we teach our kids the skills of delayed gratification and resisting their impulses now, while they're young, because the older they get, the more difficult it becomes for them to learn these skills. Our advice? Teach the kids how to wait and how to work hard for the things they want. They'll thank you for it later. * Shoda, Y., W. Mischel, and P. K. Peake. "Predicting Adolescent Cognitive and Self Regulatory Competencies from Preschool Delay of Gratification." Developmental Psychology 26, no. 6 (1990).
"I DON'T WANT AN OBEDIENT LITTLE ROBOT-
BUT SOME COOPERATION WOULD BE NICE"
The fallout when kids can't listen: the erosion of self-image and its consequences.
"But I don't want to crush their spirits!"
That's what Rick, the father of three fantastic and rambunctious little boys, said when Michael showed up at his house. Rick and his wife, Corinne, found it difficult to go anywhere with the kids. If they weren't fighting in the car, the boys took off in three different directions the moment they were let loose in public. Rather than go on family outings and deal with Peter, Rhys, and Caleb's bolting, Rick and Corinne chose to stay home most of the time. They felt like prisoners in their own home. And yet these parents were afraid-if they tried to rein in their high-energy boys, would they "break" the kids' spirits?
We hear from many parents like Rick and Corinne, parents who are unsure about setting limits or how much-or little-to "discipline" their kids. Today's parents are torn. They want their kids to behave well, but they fear turning them into complacent little robots. They've tried reasoning with their kids-but their kids don't seem all that reasonable mid-tantrum. They'd like their children to listen to them, but they don't want to "control" or "manipulate" them. They're worried that parental expectations for cooperation will squelch kids' freedom of thought, creativity, and spirit. They're nervous that they'll sacrifice their kids' self-esteem in the name of good behavior.
Well, we're here to tell you that kids can behave well and have great self-esteem. Kids can be polite and cooperative and still be creative and independent. Kids can learn to listen, to wait, and to control their impulses without becoming complacent little robots. In fact, the kids who have the skills to behave appropriately in any given situation are more likely to be creative, independent, and confident than their counterparts.
The Four Principles of Self-Management
As Michael told Rick: "Show me someone who's engaged in creative behavior-and that can be anyone from my favorite guitar player, B. B. King, to a kindergartner drawing at a table-and I'll show you a wellspring of self-control."
Kids don't gain self-esteem and independence from being allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want. They get self-esteem over a multistep process that's all about learning how to negotiate the rules and boundaries:
* First, we teach kids the rules, so that they can learn self-organization: "Where does your stuff go? Where do you sit? How do you ask nicely? Are you allowed to touch that? It's time for bed."
* From self-organization, kids learn self-awareness. As they learn the rules, they become aware of their place and power in the world. "Oh, my stuff goes over there. Here's where I sit for story time. If I want something from Mom, I need to say 'please.' I'm not allowed to touch the power drill without Dad. I have to go to sleep now."
* Out of self-awareness comes self-reliance: "I know where that goes! I know where to sit! I can get what I need in the world! I can make stuff with Daddy! I can sleep in my own bed! I can do it myself!"
* From self-reliance come self-esteem and independence: "I did it! I did a good job! And hey, if I can do that, I bet I can do something harder. Oh, don't worry, Mom, I know how to do it on my own."
In the end, children who learn and internalize the rules of self-control ultimately have more freedom and creativity-and more opportunities and skills-than kids who have never heard the word no. By imposing reasonable limits, rules, and structure, parents like Rick and Corinne aren't squelching their kids' spirit, creativity, or independence. In fact, they're fostering it, by showing their kids how to channel that spirit, creativity, and independence into ever more sophisticated skills.
Let's take a look, for example, at another child: our friend Liam, who's two and a half years old. Like most kids his age, Liam is into everything-and what he's especially into is his dad, Larry's, stereo. Now, Larry is a bit of an audio-equipment junkie who has music playing whenever he's home. Next to Liam, his stereo is his pride and joy. Even though it's worth thousands of dollars, he's not about to put it away for the sake of baby-proofing the house. Instead, he's taken on the more challenging, but ultimately more rewarding, task of teaching Liam how to behave properly around the stereo.
How does Larry do this? Well, ever since Liam was able to crawl, he'd tend to make a beeline for the sound equipment. And why wouldn't he? After all, his dad was interested in it and spent a lot of time around it, so it was only natural that Liam should gravitate toward all those neat blinking lights, moving parts, and fun sounds, too. Given the chance, Larry knew, Liam would dismantle the stereo. So every time Liam got within touching distance of the system, Larry picked him up and moved him a few feet out of reach, saying firmly and clearly, "No, Liam, don't touch." When Liam didn't touch the stereo, his dad told him that he was doing a great job.
Liam, persistent kid that he is, kept trying. Dad, however, was a little more persistent. After a few weeks, the whole exercise became a game. Liam would approach the equipment and pretend to touch it, and then look at his dad and laugh. Clearly, he knew and understood that the stereo was off-limits. Yeah, sometimes he did get to it when his dad wasn't looking, but Larry just kept up the routine.
When Liam got to be a toddler, his parents could often hear him in the living room near the stereo. He'd stand next to it and say, "Nooo ... don't touch!" It sounded as though he was mimicking Larry. But in fact, he was inhibiting himself from touching-true self-control.
So what? Well, here's what. Now that Liam's older, he delights in the fact that his father does let him touch the stereo. He can turn on the power, open the machine, place the CD inside, hit the PLAY button-and groove to the music with his dad. Liam never mishandles the equipment. In fact, he treats it with reverence and care, imitating his father's every move. Why does his father let him touch it? Because Liam has learned care and respect for the equipment. Why does Liam delight in participating? Because his father made it clear that he had to earn the right to do something so responsible-and because he gets to spend time with his dad, who can tell him, honestly, that he's doing a great job. That's a genuine boost to his self-esteem.
Beyond ABC and 123: The Real Way to Tell if Kids Are Ready to Learn When you ask parents what they think "school readiness" means, many talk about the three R's-reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. In fact, letters and numbers may not be nearly as important as parents think. The better indicators of a child's readiness to learn are social and behavioral. In the early 1990s, a group of child development experts that included the well-known pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton identified the seven critical emotional factors necessary for a child to enter the school environment with the tools to prosper:
* Confidence: A confident child has a sense of control and mastery over his body, his behavior, and the world. He senses that he is more likely than not to succeed at what he undertakes, and that adults will be helpful.
* Curiosity: A curious child wants to find out about the world. She thinks that finding out about things is positive, fun, and pleasurable.
* Intentionality: A child who acts with intentionality wants to have an impact on the world, and he persists in his desire to have an impact. This relates to his sense of competence and being effective in the world.
* Self-control: A child who has self-control can modulate and control her own actions in age-appropriate ways. She has a sense of inner control.
* Relatedness: A child who can relate can engage with other people. He feels that he is understood by and can understand others.
* Capacity to communicate: A child with a well-developed capacity to communicate wants to and can verbally exchange ideas, feelings, and concepts with others. Her capacity for communication is related to her sense of trust in others and of pleasure in engaging with others, including adults.
* Cooperativeness: A cooperative child is able to balance his own needs with the needs of others.
Excerpted from Drawing the Line by Michael J. Weiss Sheldon Wagner Susan Goldberg Copyright © 2006 by TJB Developmental Media, LLC. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted March 29, 2006