I bet you clicked over to Play Eat Grow today especially to find out what our final fruit of the spirit, self-control, has to do with Monty Python, the marshmallow test, and The Tools of the Mind preschool curriculum! Oh wait, you didn't? Well I guess you had better keep reading then! But first, a little Bible study.
Self-Control and Us
The dictionary definition of self-control is "restraint exercised over one's own impulses, emotions, or desires". Sounds really fun, doesn't it? Thankfully, as Christians, we don't have to "do" self-control all by ourselves. The Holy Spirit's presence in us enables and strengthens us to do God's will, and in addition, God himself sets the perfect example for us. Does it sound odd to say that God has self-control? Perhaps he doesn't need to in the same way that we do (I mean, was God ever tempted to eat an entire box of Oreos in one sitting? I don't think so!), but he does have some pretty big frustrations to deal with. Namely, us.
Psalm 103:8 helps us understand the character of God better by describing him as "slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness". I'm grateful that God is slow to anger, because if he wasn't humankind probably would not exist right now. From the beginning of time God has had a plan for the redemption of humanity - a plan not to give us what we deserve, but to save us and call us his own, and His son Jesus played an integral part in that plan.
Jesus lived a perfect life - a life of perfect self-control. Where Adam failed when temped by Satan, Jesus responded to The Liar with truth from God's word and stood firm. Jesus never did anything that was outside of the will of his father, and he never failed to do what his father asked of him. But he did have a choice. In Matthew 26 when Jesus is arrested, Peter tries to defend him with a sword. Jesus rebukes him, saying "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" Later, when being accused by the chief priests and Pharisees, Jesus says nothing in his own defense. The restraint he showed is what led to my salvation. He denied himself in order that he might gain... Me.
Armed with the knowledge that the God of the Universe has exercised self restraint so that I might be saved, I can approach this "fruit" with an attitude of thanksgiving rather than duty. I don't have to live a life of bland denial in order to win my heavenly Father's love and approval!
Rather with joy I will deny myself and take up my cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). My obedience is a gift to my savior, and an act of trust that the creator of my soul knows what things are best for me and what things will bring me harm.
Now those of you who know me may be thinking, "I didn't know MaryAnn was so great at exercising self-control". Well, that's probably because sometimes I'm not! (Did you think I pulled that Oreo example from earlier out of a hat?). I don't always eat my veggies before my dessert, or read my Bible before my novel, and I could probably accomplish a lot more each day if I spent less time on Facebook! But I do know that when my own self-discipline is faltering, I serve a faithful God who knows what is best for me and wants to help me do it. "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6)
Self-Control and Our Children
I don't know about you, but "self-controled" is not the first descriptor that comes to mind when I think about my children. Rather, it is something that needs to be prayed and practiced into their lives. There has been a lot of interesting research done on the topic of young children and the benefits of self-control, and I always think it is interesting when researchers "discover" that the way the Bible instructs us to live is, in fact, what is most beneficial for us.
For example, have you heard of the marshmallow test? In this experiment young preschoolers were brought by researchers into a small room containing a chair and a desk with a marshmallow on it. The children where told that the researcher was going to leave for awhile. The kids could eat the marshmallow if they wanted to, but if they waited to eat the marshmallow until the researcher returned, they would get two marshmallows to eat instead of one. Of course some children ate the marshmallow as soon as the researcher stepped out of the room and some gave in part way through. But a few found various methods of distracting themselves and managed to "delay gratification" - waiting the entire 15 minutes for the researcher to come back.
As some of the children from this experiment where tracked in the coming years, the results were telling. "Follow-up studies on these preschoolers found that those who were able to wait the 15 minutes were significantly less likely to have problems with behavior, drug addiction or obesity by the time they were in high school, compared with kids who gobbled the snack in less than a minute. The gratification-delayers also scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT." Now there's some motivation to teach our kids self-control!
But you might be wondering how easy it is to teach children self-control. Here's where you might be interested in learning about the Tools of the Mind preschool. Basically it's a pre-school program where instruction about "how to think" is taught right along with the ABC's and 123's. Here's a brief description of the program: "Over the last few years, a new buzz phrase has emerged among scholars and scientists who study early-childhood development, a phrase that sounds more as if it belongs in the boardroom than the classroom: executive function. Originally a neuroscience term, it refers to the ability to think straight: to order your thoughts, to process information in a coherent way, to hold relevant details in your short-term memory, to avoid distractions and mental traps and focus on the task in front of you. And recently, cognitive psychologists have come to believe that executive function, and specifically the skill of self-regulation, might hold the answers to some of the most vexing questions in education today." One interesting technique used in the classroom includes having the children make a "play plan", and then being reminded to stick to their plan when conflicts arise. Teachers also played a variety of games that involved using self-control, another thing that would be easy to implement at home.
Here are some suggestions for helping your children develop self-control:
- play games that specifically require impulse control. Freeze dancing, red light green light, and Simon says are good examples.
- have children make a play plan before entering a situation where conflict with others is likely to arise. For example, I used to have a babysitting job and my son would often squabble over toys with the little girl I watched, particularly when they both headed into the play room after an outing. When I learned about this concept I began having them both make a plan about what they wanted to do when we got home. This was extremely helpful as they both developed the impulse control to make a plan and stick with it!
- talk about self-control specifically before your child goes into a situation where he or she is going to be tempted to be impulsive! There are lots of opportunities to do this - and you can make it part of a fun activity such as helping with baking, or doing a project that involves food.
- praise your child for demonstrating self-control, and pray for them and with them regarding this character quality.