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Tools of the Mind in the Home

Slave to my passionsJon: Garfield, what happened to my favourite record?
Garfield: I scratched it.
Jon: And what happened to the lasagna I fixed for dinner?
Garfield: I ate it.
Jon: Garfield, why is it you scratch, eat and destroy everything in sight?
Garfield: I can’t help it! I’m a slave to my passions!
Jon: Cats!
Garfield: Humans!
Jon: I’m sorry, Garfield. If you didn’t do those things you wouldn’t be a cat. I love you for what you are. That’s okay.
Jon: What happened to my fern?
Garfield: Don’t ask.

And that is exactly what it’s like to live with G2. There is rarely ever any malice or ill-intent when he breaks things. It’s usually a whole lot of rambunctious play that ends up with G2 wearing a look of mortification when the toy breaks. And that’s the hardest part – he never means for any of it to happen. He’ll solemnly promise to play more gently the next time, then he’ll get excited and forget all about his promise only to vaguely remember something about a promise after the toy has broken.

I try to take heart and look at the bright side – unlike Garfield, G2 will eventually grow up and stop doing these things.

I think.

According to Vygotsky, until children learn to use mental tools, their learning is largely controlled by the environment; they attend only to the things that are brightest or loudest, and they can remember something only if has been repeated many times. AFTER children master mental tools, they become in charge of their own learning, by attending and remembering in an intentional and purposeful way. In the same way that using certain mental tools can transform children’s cognitive behaviors, using other mental tools can transform their physical, social, and emotional behaviors. From being “slaves to the environment,” children become “masters of their own behavior.” – Tools of the Mind

Maybe we need to help him develop the mental tools to help him control his emotions and impulses, too.

Tools of the Mind at Home

If you don’t have schools that use the Tools of the Mind program, there are things you can still do at home to help children develop self-regulation. Like:

Supporting Make-Believe Play

Ways parents can help children engage in mature make-believe play:

  • set up the environment for play
  • facilitating your child’s play as a partner and mentor
  • with younger children, demonstrate the roles by changing voice, performing different actions
  • with older children, encourage them to come up with their own dialogue and actions. The intention at this point is to hand over the reigns as the director of the play to your child
  • introduce other children to play and eventually phase yourself out so that children can engage in make-believe play on their own

Read more about supporting make-believe play.

Supporting Self-Regulation

Ways parents can help children learn to self-regulate:

  • set up expectations before the event – for example, “We are going to the toy shop but today is a looking day, not a buying day.”
  • play “freeze” games
  • using a “buzzer” to help your child remember when it’s time to stop an activity rather than having to call “time’s up”
  • play games that help children practice self-regulation

Read more about supporting self-regulation.

* * *

What we’ve been doing:

  • We’ve re-organised the play room to make it more “make-believe play” friendly.
  • We make play plans from time to time.
  • Adults occasionally join in the fun as “play mentors”.

Now that G2 is on school holidays, let’s try to take it up to the next level. Hopefully we’ll make some impact on impulse control and emotional regulation.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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