All parents are familiar with the drama of an upset child, especially when that child doesn’t immediately get their way, or must deal with the word “no.”
In the early years, “hot emotions” are often associated with a child’s need to have desires met immediately and their inability to delay gratification. Impulse control plays another big part. You may sternly warn a child not to touch a hot stove, but they’ve already decided to do this, regardless of the consequences.
Is there something wrong? Is a child who would burn their hand on a hot stove crazy? Not at all. Our ability to control our spontaneous desires and feelings is a long time coming. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that allows for complex behavioral control, doesn’t mature until around 25 years of age.
That’s why even teenagers are so reckless!
Toddlers simply lack the ability to control their behavior when something grabs their attention. This is why they are much more likely to act on their desires, such as yanking a toy out of a friend’s hand or throwing a fit if they can’t have what they want right now.
Any sign of self-discipline or emotional management looks a lot different in children under 3 years-of-age. This means there is often an expectation gap. It may feel like your child is not listening and deliberately misbehaving. But in many respects, you might as well be asking them to calculate the angles of a right triangle. They can’t do that yet, either.
Of course, just letting them stew in their own emotions is not the answer. Parents can help. In the first year, soothe your child. Stay calm when they lose control. Hugging, rocking, and verbally soothing your child are all good ideas. The foundation of future self-control is through the experience of being soothed by a parent demonstrating calming energy and acceptance.
From one to two years, introducing routines into your child’s life creates another foundational layer for self-control. Mealtimes, bedtime, and play time all introduce the reliability of normal daily cycles. You can also introduce choices within the routines. What snack will we have today? Which story would you like to be read? You can even offer choices when tempers flare. “You can’t hit me when you’re mad, but you can hit this pillow.”
From two to three years, learning to wait, share, and take turns can begin. A short wait before a promised activity helps your child learn that delay does not always mean disappointment. While children may be cognitively and developmentally able to take turns by two years of age, expecting it to go smoothly is not advisable. There will be tantrums. It’s the same with sharing. By the age of 3, your child is likely to understand “fairness,” but the gap between the idea and their ability to rein in the emotions involved may be wide.
Even though it can be frustrating, in the long run, the early efforts will be worth it.
According to an article at ahaparenting.com, “studies show that children (who develop self-control) do better throughout school, better with peers, and are rated by parents as more cooperative. They’re better at concentrating, at screening out distractions. As they grow, they’re more competent, confident, and happier. They even score an average of 200 points higher on their SATS.”
In later life “kids who succeed at managing their impulses in the face of temptation are… healthier, wealthier, and more accomplished.”
While the advantages are great, the developments toward self-control cannot be hurried or forced. Your child’s brain is developing, and they have to learn to use those new connections in the prefrontal cortex over time.
Being supportive, caring, and providing a stable environment are critical in laying the foundation of future self-control and emotional regulation.
Does your toddler seem to have less self-control than their peers? When screaming, tantrums, and crying seem unending; there may be a problem.
If your child seems to have a developmental delay, there is a great deal of help and many resources you can call upon. Ask your pediatrician about Early Intervention therapies from TEIS Early Intervention.
At TEIS Early Intervention, our therapists listen to your concerns, assess your child’s individual needs, develop a customized treatment plan, and educate you along the way on simple routine-based solutions to maximize your child’s development in their natural environment.
Early Intervention evaluations and therapy services are available under the Federal Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. Before services can be provided, an independent evaluation of your child must be completed. To assure impartiality, one agency offers evaluation services while another provides the therapeutic services
To learn more, call TEIS Early Intervention at 412-271-8347 or visit our Contact Us page to get help today.