Imagine the following scenario: Your eight-year-old son is repeatedly poked with a pencil by his classmate at school. How does he respond?

He might endure the pokes without complaint by using willpower, or he might stay silent, succumbing to feelings of fear or powerlessness. He could lose his self-control and act out, attacking his classmate verbally or poking him back. Or does your son “self-regulate” by considering his options and resources, taking stock of his feelings and strengths, reflecting on past experience, and responding deliberately?

Self-regulation may sound like a tall order—but it’s also the best choice, according to Erin Clabough, a neuroscientist, mother of four, and author of the book Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control.

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