From superheroes to animated adventures to true stories of overcoming adversity, most great films for children feature courageous characters standing up for what they believe in. And if I were to ask you or your children to name a few, I’m sure you would have no difficulty in doing so. Who doesn’t immediately think of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Brave or Finding Nemo? Many awesome children’s films highlight the virtue of courage. And this is a good thing! It’s important for children to learn the value of taking on challenges despite the risks, speaking up for what’s right no matter what, and being true to their convictions.
However, there is one virtue I was asked a lot about during the How People Learn book tour, and it’s the one least portrayed in the cinema. In fact, it is one of the most difficult virtues to identify. Scientists call it temperance. It is also the least glamorous virtue because it runs in exact contrast to our consumer-driven, fast-paced culture that promotes and thrives on desire, speed and distraction.
Some of the most common questions I get from parents are very much related to learning self-control and self-regulation skills, both of which are the building blocks of temperance. Here are a few examples:
When will my son learn to regulate his reactions to emotions like frustration or excitement?He’s already eight.
How can I help my daughter to calm down after something exciting or upsetting? When will my children learn to focus on a task? They are now six and eight.
Why does it take a lot of effort for my son to refocus his attention on a new task? Why it is so difficult for my daughter to control her impulses?
When will my son learn the behaviours that will help him get along with other children?
How can I teach my child temperance?
As you probably already know, children repeat what they hear and imitate what they see. For this reason, we, as parents, need to be mindful of the things we’re teaching our children. The same is true for the rest of the world around them. When we look at the films they enjoy, we see that child temperance is a virtue rarely endorsed in little ones around the world. More than this, temperance is a virtue rarely endorsed in adults as well. Try this short experiment for yourself: Stop for two minutes and write down a list of at least five films that encourage temperance. The only two I was able to come up with in two minutes were Frozen and Kung Fu Panda. No matter how many you have identified, be grateful for them and enjoy them with your children if they are age appropriate. Also, please share them with our community on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter.
Paying attention to the stories our children take in is just one way we can be mindful of the environment they are exposed to, but there are many other ways. All are relevant because we are actually reinforcing synaptic connections and shaping and remodeling neural circuits via the experiences, habits, and routines we offer to our children.
And if films do not do much to help your children learn self-control and self-regulation, there are other strategies you can try. The most effective ones are (1) following a daily routine, (2) learning mindfulness, (3) reappraisal, (4) distraction, and (5) self-monitoring.
Many parents and caregivers roll their eyes when they hear this. And this is because the human brain prefers an immediate fix to a problem over careful prevention. It has taken us decades to figure out how to help children build the habit of brushing their teeth daily. It will probably take us as just as long to learn the long-term strategies that help children learn temperance. Nevertheless, if we focus on paying attention to those skills every day, just as we pay attention to their dental hygiene, just two years from now, our children will exercise temperance more easily. And ten years from now, the types of children’s films we see in the cinema will be very different.
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