by Laura Kastner, Ph.D.
Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought. —Thucydides
Don’t you love the way the old philosophers defined big truths way back in the old days? First, a word of endorsement for desire—desire for food, sex and challenging goals make life possible, after all. But self discipline and dogged effort allow us to organize a civil society and meet those big goals. If you prefer to step outside the philosopher’s corner, we could also discuss how cultural, secular and religious groups address moral questions to help children learn right conduct, the difference between right and wrong, and control over desires. However, I’m going for some practical parenting advice here.
Parents help their children manage their myriad yearnings most effectively with positive encouragement, external rules and boundaries and strategic coaching about emotions and decision-making. How to bundle these up in wise parenting is the focus of this article.
Healthful life habits are groomed by “prudence and forethought”, even though we will fall off-track daily due to the intense power of our emotions. Our book, Getting to Calm, was so named to emphasize the important role of a calm emotional state in optimizing parental wisdom and conduct. I don’t want to downplay the importance of zeal and vitality in human endeavor, but that will be the subject of my “Z is for Zeal” article.
Everyone struggles with desire and temptation. Children and teens struggle even more than adults because their impulse control circuits are immature. Even though they know that certain things are wrong—like hitting a younger sibling, telling a lie, and stealing from your coin dish—temptations abound. Emotionally-driven impulses often trump sound judgment. Johnny hits his sister because she is getting your attention, lies about where he went after school to avoid getting into trouble, and steals the money to buy candy.
What parent doesn’t want his or her child to learn delayed gratification, self discipline and management of impulses? Who among us in the parent sector doesn’t contend with misplaced desire, whether it be reaching for the ice cream instead of exercising, going online instead of engaging with our loved ones, or pulling out the credit card rather than sticking to the budget? If adults would fully acknowledge how much they wrestle with own impulses and desires, perhaps they’d be better equipped to appreciate how hard it is for their kids “to do the right thing”. Teaching children moral reasoning is one thing, moral conduct is another. Continue reading