By: Al Stewart
“On your mark, get set, ready…, wait!..., wait!..., wait!” How long do you think a preschooler can wait for you to say “Go”? How long could your child wait? The anticipation and excitement that build up while a child is waiting to hear that two-letter word sometimes causes the child to just “go” without the cue. Why do you think that happens? It may be due to their level of “self-regulation” or “self-control”, two terms referring to the same thing but each preferred by different experts. There may be a number of reasons for low “self-regulation/self-control” in young children. Two reasons are not enough practice and the “demand” for immediate gratification. In other words, children are, typically not waiting for anything. Everything is rush, rush, rush, and/or let’s do it now.
It is believed, by some experts, that there are certain skills everyone needs to be successful in their life journey. Here are a few of them – communication, critical thinking, self-direction, initiation, relating to others, cooperation, confidence, and, of course, self-regulation/self-control. Let’s focus on the last pair in this list. What can we do to help young children acquire these important character trait?
Playing games that require turn-taking, such as “Mother, May I?”, “Red Light, Green Light”, “Hide-and-Seek”, and many age-appropriate board games, is a way to enhance this skill. It is somewhat of a challenge for young children to have to take turns, or wait until it is their turn, while playing games. Since playing games with rules is the highest stage of play for young children, it is important to be sure the games chosen are age-appropriate. The games mentioned earlier are based on movement, which is good for many reasons. Taking giant steps, bunny jumps, leaps, or hops is great for increasing heart rate. Be sure to vary the wait times prior to allowing them to run, jump, twirl, slide, or hop. That is one of the fun aspects of “Mother, May I?” Focus is an underlying skill needed in this game also. Remembering to say “Mother, may I?” AND to receive permission, before moving is essential. It is no fun to have to go back to the starting line. “Simon Says”, “Statue”, and songs such as Choosy Kids “Freeze” also allow opportunities for self-regulation/self-control to be enhanced. There are a number of children’s musicians who have songs that ask children to “be still” for various lengths of time.
These are just a couple of specific situations that would allow young children to develop the skill, or trait, of self-regulation/self-control. Think of other opportunities throughout the day when adults may be able to help children practice this important behavior, such as sharing story time, waiting in line at the grocery store, getting ready for bed, and maybe even preparing to go to the park or another special event. Build the excitement, but be sure to add a little wait time in the formula. “On your mark, get set, ready…, wait…, wait..., wait…, GO!
About the Author: Al Stewart has work in the early childhood field for 42 plus years including the public school sector in Texas for 34 years as a teacher, early childhood special/general education specialist and consultant as well as Head Start. After he retired, he started his own consulting business, A. Stewart Consulting, and continued his passion for teaching by conducting training sessions for teachers in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and administration throughout the country.