I do not understand a current trend I’ve seen with several new parents. Their toddler is running willy-nilly all over the place, grabbing everything in sight and sounding like an entire playground of children. Very reminiscent of the Tasmanian Devil of cartoons. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad are patiently naming and explaining each item Junior has grabbed in a desperate attempt to quench their child’s “insatiable thirst for knowledge.” What?!! I’ve got news for you, Mom and Dad: he’s not listening to you. He’s simply following his impulses. You have the right to patiently continue, though… as long as it’s not my stuff he’s grabbing, that is.
At what point does your child’s right to unbridled “learning” supersede others rights? The line seems to be moving more and more, and because we do not encourage disciplining other people’s children in our society, we protect everything we can until the tornado’s interests lead him out our door. Then we lock it.
All kidding aside, the increasing number of students coming to school in America who lack any kind of impulse control is alarming. Every thought they have gets a voice. If they want to get up in the middle of a lesson to explore something else, they just do it. Their flash-to-bang reactions cause disturbances among classmates, and their total disregard for safety rules on the playground (in favor of exploring without restriction) lands them on time out more often than not.
What really stumps me is that the parents doing this seem to be well-educated, and most of the worst behaved children have had doctors determine that they are not ADHD. The parents have trained their puppy to pee on command, but they feel any kind of restriction of activity on their child will thwart his growth. That just doesn’t make sense to me. ( Please note: I am addressing kids whose parents do not discipline, not kids with special needs.)
Being a principal in a school of gifted students means I have many very inquisitive students. Some suffer from lack of impulse control (none at the level of which I was addressing above, thank heavens!). The key to helping them is to break their will, not their spirit. The spiritthat causes them to be curious is great; it should be nurtured. Willful disobedience in elementary school is never okay. Yes, I understand the principles behind “Civil Disobedience.” In fact, I teach it to my sophomores. But, there is no need for civil disobedience in an elementary school. What are we asking from your child? Sit in your chair. (Don’t ride it, crawl under it, or balance it.) Speak in turn. (Don’t talk over others… including me.) Do your work in a timely manner. (Focus.)
The best way to teach your child impulse control is to teach him empathy for those around him. Oddly enough, these same students are often the first to tattle on someone else following his impulses. Parents must take the time to explore with their child what others are feeling when he doesn’t exercise impulse control. If he cannot understand that his behavior is frustrating others, he is never going to figure out why he is beginning to be ostracized in class… and they will ostracize him if he’s getting in trouble a lot, mark my words.
Hand-in-hand with a lack of impulse control is the inability to deal with disappointment. This is because these kids are rarely disappointed. It’s too risky to disappoint a child with no impulse control. Ultimately, it will be the parent who is embarrassed by the child’s reaction when he suffers disappointment… so they don’t let it happen. At school, we do, and I refer back to our TriOpinion blog on the benefit of failure. If you want your child to be successful at school, you must do the hard work of teaching delayed gratification and grace when losing and the benefit of working from within a set of rules or standards. To not do so is to almost guarantee you’ll be investing money in counseling later down the road.