• Joanne Jacobs

Raising self-regulating kids

Children — and their parents and teachers face a “crisis of self-regulation,” argues Katherine Reynolds Lewis in The Good News About Bad Behavior. Kids are “less disciplined than ever,” she writes. The good news is that parents can do something about it.


The sharp rise in anxiety, depression, attention-deficit diagnoses and addiction is related to children’s inability to “manage their thoughts, behavior and emotions” in a healthy, Lewis tells NPR’s Cory Turner.

Many children are asked to do well in school or in sports, but not “contribute to a neighborhood or family or community,” says Lewis. “They don’t have that sense of contribution and belonging in a family the way that a simple household chore does, like helping a parent prepare a meal.”

When children played without supervision, “they were able to resolve disputes, which they had a strong motivation to because they wanted to keep playing,” she says. “They also planned their time and managed their games.” That autonomy built confidence.

Nowadays, kids, including my own, are in child care pretty much from morning until they fall into bed — or they’re under the supervision of their parents. So they aren’t taking small risks. They aren’t managing their time. They aren’t making decisions and resolving disputes with their playmates the way that kids were 20 or 30 years ago. And those are really important social and emotional skills for kids to learn, and play is how all young mammals learn them.

A New Zealand study found adult phobias aren’t linked to childhood experiences, Lewis says.

People who had a fall from heights were less likely to have an adult phobia of heights. People who had an early experience with near-drowning had zero correlation with a phobia of water, and children who were separated from their parents briefly at an early age actually had less separation anxiety later in life.

The most fearful adults were the ones who hadn’t taken risks as children.

I was a mid-Baby Boomer, the second of four children. My mother didn’t have time to hover. We played on our own. Then we came home and helped with dinner. My sister and I started out setting the table, then moved up to making the salad. I realized that if I made dinner on Monday nights, I could time it so that it wouldn’t interfere with watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (I had a thing for Ilya Kurkin.) My mother thought I was so considerate, but never realized I only volunteered one night a week.

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