Helping Kids Learn Self Control
When children master this important skill, their behavior and choices improve
Jamie Goldring teaches children how to control their bodies during a class at Memphis’ JCC.
photography by Linda Ostrow Schlesinger
Fifteen excited 4-year olds march into the activity room at the Memphis Jewish Community Center (MJCC) and form a semicircle around their Discover ME teacher, Jamie Goldring. After some warm-up exercises, Ms. Jamie asks the children to sit with their legs crisscrossed, tummies up, backs straight, and their arms crossed over their chests. “Quiet and still” is the first of many poses and movements these children learn to increase awareness and control of their bodies.
At first glance, this might seem like a typical physical education class, but Discover ME is actually a movement education program Goldring designed to teach self-control, focus, and concentration to children ages 3 to 8.
In her weekly classes at the MJCC and the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf, Goldring teaches the concepts of self-control. “What is self-control?” she asks the children. “If someone hurts your feelings, you can calm yourself down,” replies one little girl, Ava.
“That’s right,” nods Goldring.
For 25 years, this educator has been on a mission to train teachers and parents about the importance of self-regulation (self-control) and its power to improve a child’s behavior, academic performance, and decision-making.
Self-control is one of the “executive function” skills of the brain, along with focus, reasoning, memory, and problem-solving, all of which play a major role in our daily lives. “Children who learn to stop and think about the consequences of their actions are better prepared to manage their emotions and are more capable of making good choices,” notes Goldring. “It’s essential that we teach children the skills and strategies they need to control their impulses: their bodies, thoughts, and actions.” This educator fervently believes there would be less bullying and more empathy if children learned self-regulation at an early age.
Goldring’s innovative program is based on mounds of research, from Dr. Walter Mischel’s famous “Marshmallow Study” in the 1960s, to a wave of more recent examinations, most notably the 2011 Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, Duke University psychology and neuroscience professors. Both studies revealed that children who exhibit strong self-discipline are more likely in the future to have increased academic performance, behavior, physical, and emotional health.
In the wake of the recent studies, there has been a significant increase in the number of schools and organizations developing curricula to teach self-control. Even Sesame Street has jumped on the bandwagon, integrating regular lessons of self control for its most impulsive muppet, Cookie Monster.
An experienced educator with degrees in sociology and speech pathology, Goldring has written two guidebooks for teachers and parents to encourage the development of self-control and other executive function skills. In Teaching Children Self-Control and Discover ME, she presents an inspiring collection of creative activities designed to teach children these skills while having fun. She’s good at making these abstract concepts come to life.
How? Let’s return to the classroom where Goldring teaches an activity about physical and mental/emotional strength.
Helping Kids Connect Mind and Body
“If you could look inside your body, what would you see?” she asks her class. “Bones.” “Blood.” “A skeleton,” come the answers. “Excellent,” replies Goldring. “You would also see muscles,” she adds, showing an illustration. “Muscles look like long strings inside your body.”
Goldring takes a 12-inch long piece of elastic, stretching it slowly and releasing it. “This is what happens when we stretch our muscles, and when we relax them,” she says. “Stretching muscles builds strength in our bodies.”
Goldring then plays some music while the children jog around the room stretching different parts of their bodies. The music stops. “Now let’s get control of our bodies,” she says calmly. The children stop jogging and refocus their attention on Ms. Jamie. “I love how quickly you got control of your bodies.”
“When we exercise our bodies we build physical strength, now let’s talk about how we exercise our brains to make them strong,” says Goldring, showing the children an illustration of a brain. “Your brain tells your body what to do,” she says. “Everyone sit in your peace pose.” The children sit down again, cross their legs and put their hands in their laps. “Your brain tells your body to do this,” she explains.
“When you think positive thoughts and make good choices, this makes your brain strong, just like exercising your body builds physical strength,” Goldring continues. “Positive thoughts are all the good things we think about and say to ourselves. For example, say, “I am strong. I am smart. I make good choices. I am the boss of my own body.” Goldring asks the children to share their positive thoughts. “Be nice,” says Drew, “Love someone,” adds Ari. The teacher smiles.
Class is almost over but Goldring has one more delightful exercise to help the children practice self-control. She opens a bottle of bubble solution and makes her way around the semicircle, blowing bubbles right in front of each child’s face. Can they resist the temptation of popping the bubbles? Yes they can, every one of them.
Mom Jaynie Judaken is a huge fan of Goldring and her methods for teaching self-control. Her two daughters participated in the class at MJCC. The younger one, Joelle, is in kindergarten and her third year of Discover Me. When her daughters get a little too full of themselves at home, Judaken says she asks them to do the quiet and still pose. “It works every time,” she says, adding bashfully that occasionally they suggest she try it. “When you tell a child to calm down they don’t know what that means but if they see what it looks like they understand it. It’s brilliant!” says Judaken.
To purchase Jamie Goldring’s books or invite her to present a workshop, visit teachingselfcontrol.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her books are available at Booksellers at Laurelwood, The Knowledge Tree, and Amazon.com.
Self-control is learned and should be taught like any subject. The ultimate goal is to encourage a child to:
• Manage his or her behavior.
• Take responsibility for his actions.
• Stop and think about consequences before acting out.
• Make positive choices.
• Resolve conflict peacefully.
Teaching Children Self-Control
A workshop for parents and educators by Jamie Goldring
Sponsored by The Knowledge Tree
Date: Saturday, March 1
Location: The Knowledge Tree, 5000 Summer Ave.
Time: 10 a.m.-noon
Fee: $15 early registration by Thursday, February 27. $20 at the door.
To register, go to teachingselfcontrol.com and click on workshops