Self Control

The deleterious consequences of the psychological process that arise as a consequence of stress caused due to negative life events - in the developmental history of a child are significantly important on how the child is affected physically and mentally.

Life events which can have a negative outcome can be as simple as when close friends with whom a child associates move away, or when a child is made to move school due to the nature of the parents job. For grown ups this simple fact of everyday living may not be a major cause of concern, but for a child it can create disruption.

Similarly in today’s world, if the parents’ divorce, or are in constant everyday conflict about their jobs, the loss of their jobs, or about the transition of jobs, or there are interpersonal non adjustment issues, the events witnessed by immature brains create negative life influences while linger on.

Consistent exposure to such negative life influences can impact on physical health, mental health, academic achievement, behavioural internalization and issues of self control.

Self control is a very important aspect of development for your child and early childhood along with adoloscence are the time when this concept begins to take shape for the developing mind. Self control or the ability to defer gratifications along with individual personality and temperament are considered to be highly rank order stable in human beings. But if your child is being subjected to negative life influences on a regular basis, disrutions caused due to induced stress begin to change the neural pathways that are responsible for laying the foundation of this metacognitive concept.

A direct outcome of repeated exposure to negative life influences is that risk taking behaviour along with poor self control where a child is not able to regulate his impulses and resist immediate gratification or immediate reward seeking behaviour may begin to manifest.

Developmental trajectories however have their own graph and given the nature of human development the concept of self control and individual temperament - development is not a perfect or smooth process. How each event is perceived in the maturing mind is difficult to specify. Children who are exposed to negative life influences at home where something as minor as a parental conflict disturbs them can internalise the feelings and the damage caused by this internalising can be seen in externalising behaviour where this child is not able to initiate healthy friendlships with peers of the same age group. It is not uncommon for children who are exposed to negative life factors like anger at home display apathy in the school when someone is being bullied or troubled by other children.

If we want children to be meta cognitively adept at regulating their behavioural, attentional and emotional impulses then we have to understand that the environmental influences that cause negative life events to happen must be addressed within the immediate microenvironment and the second tier of the macro environment.

Childrens brains are highly plastic and if a child is exposed to negative life influences regularly, then it is positive that the prefrontal area of the brain of the developing child may be influenced by the stress of witnessing unwanted negative life situations.

This area of a childs brain is to a large extent responsible for the level of self control that a child will develop. If so, then being subjected to regular stress that the child is not able to control will rapidly impair his performance on tasks that stem from this particular area and which may include issues like modulating behavioural impulse’s, emotional impulse’s and attentional impulse’s.

With impaired self-control -“sensation ruling impulses” can dominate over a period of time and can lead to higher incidencies of risk taking behaviour – like smoking, alcohol abuse, and even dropping out of school. When children gradually turn defiant and start disobeying the rules that govern societal living, a question parents must ask themselves is – was the child exposed to negative life influences which have gradually rewired him to display the lack of self control.

Sensation ruling impulses - even if transient or momentary can have durable influences on latter life trajectories for such children, with poor self control leading to irreversible, life altering decisions Poorly developed self control clashes with the academic needs of the educational system which places a premium on order, teachers control and reduced decision making options for the child. This clash of expectations and willingness accept eventually results in a tail spin in academic interest and eventually the desire and attempt at effort.

Whatever goes up, has to come down and the law of inverse proportions means that decreasing self control exposes the child to the detrimental impact and vulnerability of poor academic performance.

A question often asked by parents is, are children actually affected by events that are of no direct significance to them and which do not directly involve them.

A negative life influence can be as simple as a teacher repeatedly ignoring one particular child in her class on an everyday basis for any particular activity. The psychological distress that this ‘ignoring’ causes has a direct influence on the stress that the child perceives.

Being singled out in school by your peers is another major negative life influence. We all have an innate desire to be liked and wanted. It is not necessary for all children to be the best in sports or academics. It is however necessary for all children to be witness to balance and harmony as it is necessary for them to be at the receiving end of kindness and empathy.

Self control which is so rank dependent can actually increase even if a child is not academically oriented or not doing well in class if he is treated with respect and dignity by the teachers and peers.

Similarly balanced children who can rationalise with themselves and in the face of options make the correct selection or decision knowing that short term inconvenience has to be borne for future gains and benefit have to witness neutral or positive life influences at home and the immediate microenvironment.

But if a child is constantly exposed to negative life influences and higher the emotionality of the negative life influence he witnesses the further the decrease in the self control that can be expected.

Every time when a child is exposed to a life event which is perceived as stressful by him, certain neuro transmitters act in the brain to restore behavioural and physiological balance. Every instance when the level of exposure increases in intensity or exceeds the child’s – specific absorbtion threshold, there is an activation of a stress response which is damaging for the child.

A consistent state of being hyper anxious, wanting to hit out or ‘hit back’, behavioural inflexibility, a disdain for rules, poor decision making ability and academic learning disorders are examples of how rank-order decreases in self control over time along with impaired synaptic plasticity have changed the meta cognitive ability and the personality of the child.

Should I or should I not is a question that every child asks himself when faced with a situation.

Self Control and the ability to form an intention and then either translate it into actions or postpone the act of proceeding with the action is an integral part of being human.

When developing adolescents witness negative life influences, there is a consistent release of corticosteroids which effects the “higher order” behaviour through sequential structure modifications of brain networks. So if we have a child who constantly feels ‘stressed out’ parents will notice that there is a shift towards habitual strategies that the child will display and which will affect the ability of their child to perform actions based on the consequences that those actions .

Stress will bias behavioural strategies towards habits which lead to dysfunctional decision making – and there is a high co-morbidity between related stress and addictive negative life influence behaviour or even compulsivity that a child can resort to as a habit. Stability and consistency allow children to develop process which allows them the metacognitive ability to form intention without necessarily implementing the intention. Similarly when ignored, the negative life influences can create a situation where intention and action get mixed up so much that impulsivity and deffered gratification just do not count.

Notwithstanding the pressure of sheer numbers of children or the external causes of incidents that we view as problems, it is for parents and teachers to accept that children are vulnerable segments of our society. If we expose them to negative life influences either directly or indirectly, self control for these children will suffer. Compared with adults, adolescents are less apt to consider the negative repercussions of rewarded behaviour in hypothetical scenario’s and would base their decisions on temporally proximal outcomes rather than distal outcomes.

Rewards and positive reinforcement motivate a child much more than negative life influences. Parents and teachers have to make a conscious effort to appreciate the children under their care help create an atmosphere of balance in which the child can focus on the activity that he likes to be involved in.

Self control is entirely different from Attention Deficit Disorders or ADD / ADHD with both having different genesis. For more information on ADHD please click here ADHD