How to teach children to think before they act

Children are enthusiastic and impulsive, and rarely stop to think before they say or do something. However, you can teach your child to think before she acts.

By Arun Sharma

How to teach children to think before they act

Most parents of young children would have, at some point in time, encountered raised eyebrows over something their child said or did. It is only after attaining a certain age that children learn to think before they act.

However, parents can begin teaching their child, right from a very young age, to think before doing anything. But, while parents do that, they should remember that learning to control impulsive behaviour is not easy. It takes a lot of effort and time.

Here are some ways you can teach your little one how to introspect, self-regulate his emotions, and act in a wise manner.

1. Identify and recognise feelings: As children explore more and more, they get exposed to an increasing number of experiences and emotions. However, with their limited knowledge, children are unable understand and manage their emotions, and end up acting on an impulse. So, teach your child how to recognise his emotions, as learning to understand emotions is the first step towards learning to control actions.

One of the ways of helping your child identify his feelings is by asking him questions, for example, “You are smiling. Does it mean you are happy?” You can also show him a feelings chart and explain different emotions.

2. Manage anger: Most children get frustrated very easily, which manifests in many ways, with anger being one of them. And, when children get angry, most of them start acting in an aggressive and uncontrolled manner. So, teach your child how to curb her anger.

Some anger-management techniques that you can teach your child are counting up to 10 before responding, belly breathing, and taking a time-out.

3. Learn problem-solving skills: Children feel angry and get agitated when they are unable to come up with a solution to the problem they are facing. And, when they can no longer control their emotions, they start crying. Teach your child some problem-solving techniques to help him come up with a solution whenever a problem crops up.

Encourage your child to adopt the following problem-solving strategy: Accept that there is a problem, tell himself to stay calm and composed, think how he can solve it, and apply the strategy he came up with to solve the problem. During the initial days of practice, stay beside your child and brainstorm with him to come up with solutions to problems. This will help him learn the technique. You can withdraw yourself once you feel that your child has understood the process.

4. Delay gratification: Children lack patience and want their desires to be fulfilled immediately. Indulging parents make matters worse when they grant every wish of their child as soon as she spells it out. Delaying gratification, or rewarding a child, helps her develop self-control and better emotional coping skills.

Some ways you can teach your child to delay gratification are: Gradually increasing the time between her request and its fulfilment or asking her to work and earn what she wants. The bottom-line is to not give your child everything she wants the minute she wants it.

5. Set rules: Rules act as a guideline for children and help them stay safe, balanced and within the desired boundaries of behaviour. Initially, children may not like the rules that they have to follow, but with time, they will get used to it. Parents can make rules more acceptable to their children by explaining the advantages of following them. But, while setting rules, parents should also remember to set consequences as well for breaking the rules.

6. Encourage physical activity: Children are a bundle of energy. Not having enough opportunities to engage in activities that will help them burn the excess energy can make them cranky. So, take your child out to play every day. Remember, your child will also learn a lot of things through play, like taking turns, sharing his toys, working as a team, which will also help him learn and practise how to think and act.

Along with teaching your child the various strategies that will help him think before he acts, also be a good role model. For, children learn most by observing and imitating their parents.