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By Jessica T

The importance of restraint

Uploaded: Aug 4, 2014

My in-laws visited over the weekend, and we shared some laughs over the twins' developing personalities. "I am a little worried about my son's ability to control his impulses," I told them, only half jokingly?

Whenever my younger daughter, his twin, has anything at all in her hands, my son will barrel over to her, overpower her, and grab it. Even if I tell him, "No!" and return the object to its rightful owner, he'll risk further admonition and take it from her again. He can't control himself. If I serve him a snack and sit down with my own, he loses his mind. "No! No!" he tells me. He wants what I have (often the only difference between mine and his is that mine is whole and his is cut up.)

He demonstrated this behavior for my in-laws when they took the kids out for frozen yogurt one afternoon. He forcibly blocked his twin sister to ensure that every bite of frozen yogurt came to him. My son is 14 months old, so I'm not overly concerned, but I can see that he's going to need more coaching in this area than either of his sisters. These encounters have gotten me thinking about restraint and how this quality, perhaps more than any other, is the most important tool we can give our children in today's world of abundant food and instant gratification.

My elder daughter, interestingly enough, has plenty of restraint. One of her criticisms of me is that I don't have enough self-discipline (you should hear her on the topic of my phone use, wardrobe, chocolate habit, etc?) When my daughter was young, we agreed that one dessert a day was plenty and fruit was the best dessert of all (a lesson I learned, but did not quite internalize, from elegant French friends). My daughter did internalize it, and to this day she sticks by it. I'm proud of her healthy outlook on food. I'm also proud that she indulges now and then, even in controversial treats like candy cigarettes and Coke.

My daughter was very interested to learn about the Stanford marshmallow experiment, which attempted to correlate the notion of delayed gratification in childhood with life outcomes. We joke that we're sure she'd pass it, but we're not sure her brother would (and her sister would more than likely turn the experiment on its head?)

One of the key things we can teach our kids is how to practice restraint. While my oldest daughter may not agree, I consider myself pretty moderate with a healthy level of self-discipline. I'm neither an ascetic nor a glutton. I hope that my kids take after me, but I realize they may not. They may fall prey to addictions that for whatever reason I have avoided. I hope that I can raise them to self-police and control urges that might hurt themselves or others, but I know that many factors will likely be out of my control.

Thank goodness for toddlerhood, when I can praise my children for making good decisions - those that will nourish their bodies, relationships with others, and their own spirits for the long haul. And here's hoping that they'll take what they learn with them into adulthood.