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  • Writer's pictureHaim Omer

How to develop self-control: "Strike the iron when it is cold!"

Many parents said this is the best tip they received on how to develop self-control. The meaning is that the parent does not have to react immediately when the child provokes them or makes demands. On the contrary, reacting later is usually much better. The reasons are many: reacting later allows the parent to weigh their response, allows the parent to cool down and not act under pressure, and conveys a special kind of strength.

It is not that you don't react immediately in some way. You do, but a central part of your reaction comes later. Of course you act immediately in order to protect your children. For instance, if there is violence between siblings, you step in between them! Some mothers say, "but then I'll get the blows!" Perhaps, but you're already protecting the one who is attacked and, in addition, the story is not yet over – you'll get back to that later, you'll "hit the iron when it is cold!". You can also say, "I don't accept that! I'll think what I'll do and get back to you later!" In this way you are not only gaining time. You're also creating a reminder, like a bookmark, so that when you come back later to deal with the problem, your child will remember what it is about.

Learning to postpone your reaction also frees you from pressure. Children often scream "Now!" They want an immediate decision or concession. Whenever you hear that "Now!" it is a good idea to say, "I have to think about it, I won't forget!" This is true not only for parents and children. A school principal who is a specialist in our approach defined a rule for all students, parents and teachers: "When you come to me with a complaint, I'll answer, but not on the spot. I'll give myself three days to think and then come back to you!" This principle reduced tremendously the pressure he was under. And then, it spread to the parents and the teachers. They also learned to ward off pressure. The principal said that not only were his reactions much better, but also the flood of complaints diminished!

Getting back to your child later also gives you strength. Why? Because you demonstrate that you remember! At the beginning your child will be surprised, perhaps even angry: "What, you're coming back to me with that old story?" The "old story" is probably just a few hours old, but for him it should have been long forgotten. Well, it isn't. You remember it. Memory happens to be strength.

But is that good to your child? Yes it is! The life of an impulsive child is a constant bombardment with stimuli. Everything she experiences is an instant demand for attention, that says "Now!" "Now!" "Now!" No wonder her life feels like a roller-coaster. Things get even worse, if you react all the time. Then you keep saying "No!" "No!" "No!" The child's restlessness gets multiplied by yours. At the end of the day you're totally exhausted. When you learn to "hit the iron when it is cold", you come back later, when you're calm. In that way you create continuity in her life. Sometimes the child won't remember what you're talking about. You then remind her, by describing the event. Slowly a glimmer of recognition will appear in your child's eyes. This is the moment of connection. Unconnected moments get connected because you connected them! The glimmer in the child's eyes reflects your child's deep pleasure at being remembered by you. That's why children love so much to say "Do you remember when we went canoeing together?" "Do you remember what Superwoman did to that guy?" Remembering together is deeply important. When you connect what your child did this morning to your conversation with her in the evening, she may protest, but she'll also be grateful that you remember.

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