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  • 4 Simple and Fun Games That Will Help Discipline Your Child

    Games do more than just entertain your child. It also sharpens their mind.
    by Kitty Elicay .
4 Simple and Fun Games That Will Help Discipline Your Child
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Temper tantrums are common with toddlers because the part of the brain that promotes self-control — the prefrontal cortex — isn’t fully developed yet. As your child grows, that part of the brain matures, so while it’s understandable for a 2-year-old to throw a tantrum every now and then, you expect a school-age child to be better at handling her emotions. This is called a self-regulation skill, also known as self-discipline or self-control.

    What is self-regulation?

    Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and control our behavior and emotions, and then alter it to suit any situation. “It includes being able to resist highly emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, to calm yourself down when you get upset, to adjust to a change in expectations, and to handle frustration without an outburst,” according to Child Mind Institute.

    According to studies, self-regulation is an important trait that benefits children later in life and is considered essential for success. A 2015 study published in Psychological Science journal found that children with higher self-control are more likely to find and retain jobs as adults. They can better set goals, solve problems, and control impulses. Meanwhile, having poor self-regulatory skills as a kid can have troubling outcomes when you reach adulthood, including poor physical health, higher unemployment rates, and mental health issues, according to The Bump.

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    How to improve self-regulation skills

    Playtime holds an essential role in self-regulation. According to a recent study by the University of Otago in New Zealand, parents can help their children learn self-regulation through simple games and day-to-day tasks.

    In New Zealand, preschoolers with behavioral difficulties are treated using the “Positive Parenting Program” (Triple P), which aims to improve self-regulation by providing clear and logical consequences to guide behavior, and uses techniques like quiet time and time outs to promote self-soothing in children.

    But researchers from the University of Otago, led by Dr. Dione Healey of the Department of Psychology, wanted to find an alternative intervention that is based on structured play. Called Enhancing Neurobehavioral Gains with the Aid of Games and Exercise (ENGAGE), researchers found that it was as effective as Triple P in managing children with challenging behavior.

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    ENGAGE involves parents and children playing structured games like puzzles, musical statues, hopscotch (piko), blocks and skip rope, for 30 minutes a day. With these kinds of games, kids learn that they need to focus, wait their turn, and plan their next move. If something doesn’t go the way they want it to go, children also learn how to manage their frustration.

    Over 12 months, researchers followed sixty families with children ages three to four and assigned them to undergo either the Triple P or ENGAGE intervention. They found that ENGAGE reduced hyperactivity, inattention, and aggression as much as Triple P and kids maintained these behaviors up to a year later.

    “Our results indicate that parents spending regular one-on-one time playing with their young children [have] the same positive effect on children’s behavior as using behavior management techniques which have a long history of being effective in managing child behavior,” said Dr. Healey to Science Daily.

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    Games that promote self-regulation

    One of the games that parents who participated in the study found most useful was called “Animal Speeds.” Children would try various activities like dancing or moving around the room at different speeds based on the animal name that was called out. For example, if the parents say ‘cheetah’ the kids would need to move really fast. When they say ‘giraffe,’ the kids would move at moderate speed, while ‘tortoise’ means they would have to move really slow.

    “When they are out and about as a family, parents were able just to say ‘tortoise mode’ when they wanted their child to slow down,” said Dr. Hailey. “They found this worked really well and helped manage their child’s behavior very effectively whereas in the past they were constantly telling their child to slow down with no success.”

    A similar study published in the journal, Early Childhood Research Quarterly found that structured games not only boost self-regulation but early academic skills as well. Learning to pay attention, follow directions, stay on task, and persevere even when the work got difficult all contribute to short- and long-term academic success, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Megan McClellan of Oregon State University.

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    Bond with your kids and try these activities apart from the Animal Speeds game.

    1. Red Light, Purple Light

    Pretend to be a stoplight and hold up paper circles that represent stop and go. Your child must follow and respond to the color cues — if you hold up a red circle, your child should clap his hands. If you raise the purple ring, he should stop moving. As your child begins to understand the rules, you can make it a little complicated and introduce different cues. For example, switch the actions that correspond to the colors — purple becomes 'clap' and red becomes 'stop.'

    2. Freeze

    In this game, children are encouraged to do the opposite of the parent’s instructions.

    3. Sleep

    For this game, children pretend to sleep, and when their parents wake them up, they must pretend to be someone else. They must remain in character until the parent asks them to “fall asleep.” When they wake up, they assume an entirely different character.

    The goal of the games is to improve a child’s ability to listen to and remember instructions, then successfully switch from one rule to another and resist their natural inclination to engage in one action in favor of the correct response. As your kid gets better at the games, you can introduce more rules to boost their skills and abilities.

    Parents who are easily discouraged when their kids are unable to follow their lead should remember that they are dealing with young minds — when it comes to skill-building, you should be consistent and start with activities that your child can easily understand and follow. Once she’s practiced and mastered the skill, that’s when you can add the next step. When it comes to teaching your children self-regulation, practice is crucial so don’t give up!

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