Exercising Impulse Control
Child discipline is an important issue for every parent. Our kids learn many life lessons by watching us. How you discipline is likely one of the times when your actions are speaking much louder than your words. Research conducted by my colleagues and me at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center found that parents who discipline their children when angry are far more likely to use physical punishment and to user harsher forms of physical punishment then parents who discipline when not angry.
The angriest parents would report hitting or slapping their kids multiple times daily and often use an object like a belt or hair brush. Ouch! What's really happening in these cases is that parents have lost control over their impulses and are acting out their emotions rather than engaging in child discipline. Impulse control is a critical emotional intelligence skill and if we don't model it, children will not be likely to learn it!
Research conducted with children between the ages of 3 and 5 at Stanford University showed that those who could delay their impulse to eat a marshmallow for 5 minutes in order to earn a second marshmallow were more academically successful, socially well adjusted and more well liked by teachers and peers than those who ate the first marshmallow immediately. Child discipline and impulse control go hand in hand!
These findings occurred despite academic ability or other factors that might have influenced the results. All of these benefits can come from controlling your impulses? Yes. Think about it. Resisting impulses -- whether they be to yell at someone, eat that extra piece of chocolate cake, go to a party instead of study, or overspend a credit card -- all have positive benefits. And, the opposite is true when impulses cannot be managed. Lives have been ruined because of anger outbursts, over-spending, over-eating and so on.
So, if you want your child to have impulse control, you need to start by developing your own skills in this area. Yes, your kids will make you angry.
But, don't discipline when you are angry, especially if you struggle with anger. I remember one time when my 4 year-old son threw a toy because he was mad and the toy hit me. (I don't think he was trying to hit me with the toy, but nonetheless, it happened!)
It hurt badly and I was furious. I told him to put himself in time out and I left the room for a few minutes to cool down. By the time I returned, he was sitting quietly in time out and big tears had formed in his eyes. "I'm sorry mommy" were his first words. He knew he had hurt me. Do you think he would have been at all concerned about what he had done if I had jerked him up and given him a hard spanking?
His main emotions then would have been fear and anger, neither one of which would have helped him learn valuable lessons about controlling his own impulses. When he saw me leave the room to gather myself, he had time to think about what he did and know it was wrong. And, if I had jerked him up and spanked him for not controlling his impulses better, I would have been a hypocrite. I would have essentially told him he must practice impulse control but that I didn't need to. Hmm... that's a mixed message!
You know if you have challenges with impulse control. If you want to develop your skills in this area, I recommend reading The EQ Edge (3rd edition) and completing the exercises at the end of the chapter.
Korrel Kannoy is the a child expert and the author of the kid's emotional intelligence book Annie's Lost Hat. She is an expert in the field of child discipline and other child development issues. She gives the best parenting advice available!