Self-control means to regulate ones own thoughts and feelings so their behavior and actions can be controlled. We believe the art of self-control is not innate in a child, but is a learned skill. Therefore, we feel it is our responsibility to give the children gentle opportunities to practice and thus develop this important skill that will serve them throughout their lives. To help the children develop self-control and self-discipline we have deliberately set-up daily situations that give them opportunities to practice it. One of the ways we do this is to avoid purchasing toys and other items that are all identical. For instance, if the children are choosing drinking cups from an array of different colors, a child’s color preference may be gone by the time it is their turn to choose. When that happens, we work with the child to find ways to deal with their disappointment. We also do this with the toys such as the strollers and lawnmowers. If a child wants a particular color lawnmower (which they often do) they may get the opportunity to practice self-control while waiting for that lawnmower to become available. In the meantime, we help them learn negotiation skills if they want to offer to trade another lawnmower for the one they want.
Snack and meal times are another opportunity for the children to practice the art of self-control. The children eat together and if a child finishes before the others, he is to remain in his seat until other children have finished also. At that time we work with him by saying such things as, “Let’s look around and see if any of the other children are still eating.” This not only gives the child practice at self-control by sitting when he would rather be up playing, but it also starts the process of social consciousness so he can become aware of other people and their needs.
Self-control can be difficult for children and even for adults when the situation involves strong emotions such as anger or frustration. Expecting a child to contain those powerful emotions without some form of outlet is not realistic. So we allow the children an appropriate physical outlet. We explain to the children that if they are angry or frustrated they may not hit someone or something, but they may stomp their foot or smack their fist into their other hand and say “I’m angry/frustrated!!” We first discuss this when all emotions are clam. Then we practice it and encourage the children to use a strong voice with appropriate feeling. If a child is angry or frustrated to the point that verbalization does not help, then we have our Stress Shark. The Stress Shark is a large stuffed animal that comes down when a child needs a whole body physical release of tension. When everyone is calm they meet the Stress Shark and learn that it is O.K. to hit, kick, or punch the Shark because that is what he is for. The children know that the Stress Shark is not a toy to be played with but something to help them when they are really, really angry.
We also show the preschool children how to help calm themselves down if they are experiencing one of the big emotions. We show them how to take a deep breath, sometimes called a “balloon breath”, to help them feel in control again. We explain to the children that at times they may need to temporarily walk away from another person until they can talk politely and respectfully to that person.