FAIRWEATHER: Teachable Moments

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

Use your head for something besides a hat rack

My dad always said to me, “use your head for something besides a hat rack!” His tone let me know that I had done something that I should have thought about before I did it.  My dad was training me to think before I spoke or acted.  The purpose of this article is to explain self-regulation, why it is important, and what parents should be doing to help their child become self-regulated.

I decided to write the article after I saw a child of about five at a local store who was very self-regulated and it was obvious the father had trained him.  His father had to give the child the direction only once, and the child did what the father told him to do. You need only to go in stores and restaurant these days to see that the majority of children ages four through teens are not self-regulated.

Brain researchers call the ability to control behavior “executive functioning of the brain.” Located in the frontal lobe of the brain, the ability is slow to develop. This region of the brain is claimed to help the individual plan ahead and stop behaviors that will cause a problem.

Why is it important to develop this part of the brain in your child? The first reason is safety. If your child doesn’t have this part of the brain developed, most of the child’s decisions are impulsive and spur of the moment. The child does not think through the danger of crossing the road. The second reason is social. If individuals cannot think about what they say and how it impacts on relationships with others, they will be doomed to a very sad life, both in their personal and job life. 

How do you begin helping your child to develop the skills of self-regulation? You teach the child specific rules starting with a simple rule, and then adding to the list. For example, start with teaching your child to not interrupt when you are talking in person to another adult. Then, add not interrupting when you are on the phone. As the parent of a young child, you need to limit the child’s time on phones period. To implement the rule requires that you, as the parent, spend time specifically talking about the rules and the consequence to the child when he/she breaks the rules.

Consequences are definitely the key to learning the rules.  When my children said bad things or words we talked about it.  I told them if they repeated the word, I would wash their mouths out with soap. I simply put my finger under water, put the finger on a bar of soap and then on their tongue. The important thing is that my children realized I had consequences, and that I would consistently use them. 

Very early, I told my kids that whenever I yelled their names and a command, they needed to do what I said immediately, because that meant something bad was about to happen. One day, my daughter, dog and I were hurrying back to our house in Texas. It was summer and we both were barefooted as we crossed our yard. All of a sudden, the dog started barking and I saw a rattlesnake. I yelled at my daughter to stop immediately. She did, and we backed up to the street and went around the snake. If we had continued, we both might have been bitten. Because she had learned to obey the command, she was safe. The key word here is obeyed. 

The lack of self-regulation continues in adulthood and can cause death and destruction. People who speed, go through stop lights, drink and drive, text and drive or anyone who breaks other laws are a menace to society. As a parent, you need to do your job of helping to develop your child’s frontal lobe. Rules and consistent consequences are the keys to halting impulsive behaviors. Please help your child by setting those rules and carrying out the consequences. Everyone else that your child comes in contact with will thank you.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.