The Early Seeds of Self-Control

My dad told me years ago about an article he read detailing the (alleged) one factor necessary above all others to achieve financial self-sufficiency:

The ability to postpone gratification.

It made sense to me at the time, but because I was working in a field that was rife with the multi-dimensional aspects of entrenched poverty, I knew too much to be able to take this one element seriously.  It came across as too trite and convenient to say that people were in trouble because they couldn’t say no to things they wanted.  In my experience it was layered into a problem of wants and needs colliding into a miasma of issues.  I took note of the point, but have always looked at other elements of the problem as well.

A recent article from NPR opens up the conversation for me again, and for the first time I am starting to see the simplicity of the argument as more fair than it first appeared (For Kids, Self-Control Factors Into Future Success : NPR).

It’s all in the timing.

I think I can see it more clearly now because the stage for the drama is dialed back to early childhood.  We have so much opportunity in early childhood education, both in the classroom and at home, to support a healthy generation of human beings who have the best possible chance to achieve financial independence, loving relationships, fulfilling careers, and intimate spiritual lives; yet we often don’t dig in when our chances of success are the strongest.

Why do we wait so long to invest?  Why do we wait until people are adults trapped in patterns of needy desperation and personal management crises?  There are still opportunities to change in adulthood, but the consequences of not having a handle on yourself at that point are severe.  Time out?  Um, yes.  We call it prison.

“Control” can be a dirty word to many people.  We like “freedom” much more, but are we really free if we can’t control ourselves in a positive way?  The NPR piece makes an impression because it is quite specific to developmentally appropriate times and techniques for helping kids understand something many adults never do.  People can only actually have freedom when they demonstrate they can manage themselves and their responsibilities.

I’m not much of a Tiger Mother, I don’t think.  Maybe I should look into that more.  But I am very serious about my responsibility to my child to make sure she understands she is accountable for her actions and attitude.  It’s tough when you love a child so much and all you want to do is make her life as easy as possible, knowing that it will become very difficult very soon.

But it’s going to be a lot more difficult if she doesn’t learn her role in managing her own life.  I think this afternoon we will start practicing hanging up our own coat.

Image credit: CLIMB Theatre

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