Know How To Raise Your Child to Be Patient and Have Self Control?

Preschoolers aren’t exactly known for their patience and self-control. Have you ever counted how many times a day your young child says, “mom” or “dad” followed by some sort of question or request? Although preschoolers are still learning skills like patience, research is teaching us that how we interact with them may help them learn these lessons.

In a recent study, researchers followed children and their families from the time they were 7 months old until they were 4.5 years old. They wanted to delve deep into how the relationship between parents and children developed early in a child’s life.

Then, at 4 years of age, the children were asked to complete several tasks which assessed their skill at self-regulation. This included tasks that required patience, deliberation and restraint—all tasks that tend to still be difficult for young children.

What the researchers found was fascinating. Children who had close, mutually responsive relationships with their parents (particularly mothers), were more likely to regulate themselves better. They showed more restraint, patience and self-control. Not surprisingly, families with close relationships also used forced discipline less. In other words, in the context of a mutually responsive relationship, forceful discipline is not needed because the children respond to more subtle tactics.

You may wonder what it is about a responsive relationship that helps kids learn self-regulation better. The “old school” model of parenting would have parents force submission of kids by demand and physical force in some cases. Why does a mutually responsive relationship seem to work better?

It all comes down to trust.

Once a child feels that their parent understands their needs, will strive to meet them, and respects their feelings, a certain level of trust develops between parent and child. When this trust is firmly established, the child is much more likely to comply with the parents requests, even if it is difficult, because they trust that what the parent tells them is in their own best interest.

Children in these close relationships respond quickly to parents requests without the threat of force because they have come to trust in their parents’ care and respect for them. This is very important news in light of the well-publicized study of spanking in which many parents were found to spank their children for seemingly minor misbehaviors. Years of research has shown that exposure to this type of forceful discipline (i.e., corporal punishment) actually has the opposite of its intended effect—children tend to comply less and begin to show even more disruptive behavior.

Forceful discipline essentially breaks down the relationship of trust that otherwise could be established between parents and children. Forced compliance through tactics like spanking robs children of the skills they need to learn to regulate themselves.

Helping children learn to self-regulate is one of the major parenting goals in the early years of parenting. That, however, does not mean that it is easy. What this research reminds us is that self-regulation does not develop in a vacuum, but in the context of a supportive, responsive relationship. Every time parents are patient, responsive and kind, they are laying the foundation for a harmonious relationship that will reap benefits for you and your child years later.

About the Author

Amy Webb, PhD is a scholar turned stay-at-home mom with two young sons. With her blog, The Thoughtful Parent, she brings academic child development and parenting research into the lives of parents in the trenches of child-rearing. She does not claim to be a parenting expert, but rather a translator of academic research into reader-friendly articles.


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