8 steps to teaching children to think before they act

8 steps to teaching children to think before they act

Children often act on impulse and this leads to them responding inappropriately to situations. Read on to find out how you can help them to think before they act.

You’ve all heard of the saying, “Kids say (and do) the darndest things!” Most of the time that’s because they act purely on impulse. In fact, even adults are guilty of impulsive behaviour. But that’s not to say that it’s impossible to avoid such situations from occurring. Teaching children to think before they act will help them to be be more aware of themselves in relation to those around them. 

Ideally, acting impetuously and disregarding the consequences of one’s actions gets lesser as we grow older. Children start becoming less self-centred and understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. They learn social skills and how to manage their impulsivity. 

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, explained, 

Impulse control or self-control is the ability to resist temptation and look for immediate gratification, so as to achieve longer term goals.”

He further elaborated that children often lack this control and parents can start training them by first of all, acting as a good role model from as early as possible.

If they are not taught from young, it can result in a child with poor impulse control.

Mums and dads, it’s never too early to start. Even if your child doesn’t completely understand what you say, keep explaining to them and eventually they will.

Here are 8 ways of teaching children to think before they act.

1. Identifying and recognising their feelings 

Growing up is not as easy as we think it is. Children are exposed to a barrage of stimuli and they are constantly exploring and experiencing new things. More often than not, they are overwhelmed as they experience certain emotions which they do not understand. This leads them to act on impulse.

Teaching children to think before they act starts with teaching them how to understand their emotions, so that they can learn to redirect negative emotions. This minimises the likeliness of them blurting out hurtful remarks, hitting someone or throwing things when they are angry.

teaching children to think before they act

Talk to your children and teach them how to identify and understand their emotions.

So the first step to managing emotions is understanding them. Children can’t do this on their own and we need to help them. Along with identifying the emotions, we must also teach them to name and communicate these feelings.

Create a platform for children to talk about their emotions rather than to erupt into a full blown meltdown. If you don’t know where or how to start, use stories, or even movies to help you. When your children identify with the characters, it makes it easier for you to explain. 

2. Problem-solving skills 

If you teach your child to think of plausible solutions instead of tackling a problem head on, they will acquire the habit of stopping to think before acting. Especially for younger children, it would be good to introduce other ways of coping with problems such as finding humour in distressing situations instead of crying and throwing a tantrum. 

3. Anger management 

Anger is the path to destruction. It makes everyone including adults, become reckless with what we say and do. It is extremely important that we teach our children to manage their anger and impulse to act on it. 

Teaching children how to think before they act means teaching them how to manage their anger. For most of the time, anger is what causes them to act out in the first place!

Remember, no one enjoys being around someone who is like a ticking time bomb!

4. Rules are important

No one likes rules but they are necessary. Rules and routines are important for a child to feel safe and balanced. 

“Rules allow the child to understand his boundaries, remove uncertainties about punishment and often make them feel safe,” Dr Lim said.

When there are boundaries, it paves the way for self-control. Children start to understand that they cannot act on impulse for that would lead to undesirable consequences. They start to think about these consequences before acting.

teaching children to think before they act

Boundaries and rules will make children stop and think before they act on impulse.

So there you go, setting boundaries is in itself a method of teaching children to think before they act. Having said that, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of following through with the consequences that you set. Otherwise the children will never take you seriously!

5. Delayed gratification 

Instant gratification is the kiss of death for 21st century disciplining. What we need in teaching children to think before they act, is the process of delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is the ability to resist the want for immediate rewards and instead, waiting it out for the better reward that comes with waiting.

A good example would be when your child wants a toy. Introduce the idea of saving and how saving up and buying a toy a few months later would mean that he gets a much better toy than buying one immediately.

Dr Lim advised that allowing children to wait before receiving gratification can train them to resist temptation. Also, when rewarding children, emphasise on the effort and discipline that went into the achievement, instead of the achievement itself. 

In this manner, children will shift the focus from an external reward to feeling internal gratification for self-control.

6. Sweat it out!

Children have way too much energy and they need to expend that energy for that helps in preventing reckless actions. And of course physical activities are important in keeping children fit and healthy.

Sports also inculcate many important values in children. Some of these include discipline, perseverance, team work and planning to achieve goals. These are all activities of delayed gratification explained Dr Lim. 

7. Practise what you preach

You can say as much as you want but children will learn the most from what they observe. So if you’re teaching children to think before they act, but you act recklessly yourself, then that’s not going anywhere. Every tiny action of yours sends a message to your child so you must be mindful of what you say and do. 

teaching children to think before they act

Teaching children to think before they act starts with managing yourself and your emotions.

Do not react to situations in a fit of rage. That is the worst example you can set.

8. Positivity 

When your children anger or hurt you with their actions, resist the temptation to name call, or react harshly. Stay positive. Stay calm. Be the adult in the relationship. 

Try to communicate calmly with your children and tell them in a nice manner that you do not approve of their behaviour. When you are calm, it will help your children to calm down and take a reflective approach. 

When you raise your voice to curb their screams, tensions rise and tempers escalate. It becomes a contest of will and you might end up doing something that regret on hindsight. 

Praising the child for displaying self-control as opposed to screaming and punishing will help their self-esteem. 

Do take note that impulse control is also subject to other factors such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability, Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ADD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and even depression.

If you suspect that they might have any of these conditions, in such cases, parents must bring their children for professional evaluation. 

There you go mums and dads! It may not be all that easy to put these practices in place but with patience and dedication it’s definitely possible.

Source: Channel News Asia 

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Written by

Nasreen Majid

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