What Cookie Monster Taught Us About Self-Control : Life Kit: Parenting Self-regulation skills, including self-control, help us reach our goals, learn in school and get along with others. Millions of children struggle to develop them. We talk to experts for strategies to teach these skills — and get some very special help from Cookie Monster.

Here's what to remember:
- Look at self-regulation as a skill that can be learned and practiced.
- Teach children to calm themselves.
- Use your imagination to reframe a temptation.
- What would Batman do? Kids can channel their heroes to make it easier to live up to their values.
- Be strategic about distractions.
- Build self-regulation skills with activities like martial arts or music lessons.

What Cookie Monster Taught Us About Self-Control

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CORY TURNER, HOST:

Hey, everybody. Today on the podcast, we're going to talk about how to help kids manage themselves and control their big feelings. I'm Cory Turner, an education reporter with NPR and the father of two boys.

ANYA KAMENETZ, HOST:

And I'm Anya Kamenetz. I'm also an education reporter and the mother of two girls. And for the beginning of this episode of LIFE KIT for parenting, with Sesame Workshop, I'm going to step out for a minute.

TURNER: Yeah. So we decided to try something with a very special guest who has a really interesting relationship to self-control.

DAVID RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Me using me podcast voice. Me hope this OK.

TURNER: That's right. It's Cookie Monster in the fur.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Hello. Hello, Cory. Yes, that true - me self-control expert. So thank you for having me on show. Thank you.

TURNER: Expert.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Expert.

TURNER: Really?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yep. Me control meself all the time. Just this morning, me told me feet to walk to studio, and me told me hands to brush me fur for important podcast interview.

KAMENETZ: Cookie? That's not what we meant.

TURNER: Also in the studio with Cookie and myself was Rosemarie Truglio. She is senior vice president of curriculum and content at Sesame Workshop.

ROSEMARIE TRUGLIO: We're talking about self-regulation.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Regulation - what regulation?

TRUGLIO: That's how we help you stay calm and resist the impulses of always eating cookie. and...

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Sorry. You no want me to eat cookie? Why me do that?

TURNER: (Laughter) Lots of reasons, Cookie.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) What? Why? Tell me one.

TURNER: OK. So self-regulation helps you learn, and it helps you stay healthy.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) OK.

TURNER: And it helps you get along with people, frankly.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Really?

TURNER: Yeah.

TRUGLIO: Yes. And that's a perfect example. We have cookies here for...

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Cookies - cookie here, cookies.

TRUGLIO: ...For a snack. Alright, wait. Wait.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Where?

TRUGLIO: Wait. Cookie, stay calm. We have cookies here for a snack.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah.

TRUGLIO: But our friend Anya isn't here yet to eat them with us.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) What - how - get her here.

TRUGLIO: And sharing - wait. I know, but wait. She's not - well, we have to wait for her. That's exactly right. And sharing would be the kind thing to do, don't you think, Cookie?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah, that good point. Yeah, me get it. Me get it. Yeah. You know what? Me ready to give this try. Yeah, me waiting. Yeah. OK. This - you know, this feel like long time. This...

TRUGLIO: OK. Cookie, let me help you.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) What? What can me do?

TRUGLIO: Let's stop and think here.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah.

TRUGLIO: How can we distract ourselves so we're not going to focus on these cookies right now?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) You expert. Tell me.

TRUGLIO: How about this? How about we start with some nice, deep belly breathing?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Oh, me know that one.

TURNER: Yeah, I know that one.

TRUGLIO: Yes, I know you do.

TURNER: Alright.

TRUGLIO: You ready?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Me can do that.

TRUGLIO: OK. So in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth.

TURNER: Cookie, you're breathing on the cookies.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) And me tummy grumbling. You know, me tummy has other ideas. We got to try different strategy. You know, me not going to look at cookies. How about that?

TRUGLIO: Cookie, that's a great idea and a great strategy. We're going to turn our backs on these cookies, so we're not going to see them.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Oh, OK. It not easy 'cause me still gets no cookies. Oh, boy.

TURNER: Rosemarie, I don't think that's working.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah. What else you got?

TRUGLIO: OK.

TURNER: Wait. Hold on. I got one. I got one. Cookie...

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah.

TURNER: ...Have you read anything interesting lately?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Oh. Well, me just finished "Doctor Zhivago."

TURNER: Really?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah.

TURNER: What - how was it?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) It delicious, actually - little dry. Me had to dunk it in milk.

TURNER: Oh.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) You know...

TURNER: Oh, milk.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah, that help.

TURNER: Oh. You know what, you guys? We have these cookies here, but I don't have any milk. You know what? We've got a fridge. I'm going to go - I'll be right back.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) OK.

TURNER: Is it safe to leave the cookies here? Are you going to be OK?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Me going to try me best, Cory.

TURNER: OK.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Me not promising anything.

TURNER: OK. I'll be right back. I'll be right back.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Hurry. Hurry. There he goes. Oh, cookies look so yummy.

KAMENETZ: OK. While Cookie Monster waits in front of that big plate of cookies - and we're going to make him wait awhile - let's take a quick break. And when we come back, more on the science and the art of self-regulation.

TURNER: We're back. This is Cory.

KAMENETZ: And I'm Anya.

TURNER: And we're going to finish our convo with Cookie Monster in just a few minutes.

KAMENETZ: But first, we should acknowledge it's pretty surprising that Cookie's become so skilled at self-regulation.

KENTARO FUJITA: So I remember as a child watching Cookie Monster and just being like, what is wrong with this maniac? (Laughter).

TURNER: That's Kentaro Fujita, an expert on self-regulation who we'll talk to in a bit. And yeah, I have to agree, Anya. The Cookie we grew up with...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

FRANK OZ: (As Cookie Monster) Cowabunga.

TURNER: ...Was pure id.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

OZ: (As Cookie Monster) Cookie, cookie, cookie.

KAMENETZ: But Rosemarie from Sesame says Cookie's transformation was actually really, really intentional.

TRUGLIO: "Sesame Street" - every year, we focus on a critical educational need in children's lives. And it was about seven, eight years ago when all of this research started to come out, showing the importance of these self-regulation skills and how they were related to school achievement, school readiness and life lessons.

KAMENETZ: And that is exactly why we're going to be talking about this today.

TURNER: Yeah. And Sesame decided, once they knew all of this, that Cookie Monster was the perfect Muppet to send this message.

TRUGLIO: Let's not define him as this impulsive character who has no self-control because he can have self-control.

KAMENETZ: So after 40...

TRUGLIO: 43 years.

KAMENETZ: ...Cookie evolves.

TRUGLIO: Yes.

KAMENETZ: And he becomes someone who - what?

TRUGLIO: Is much more reflective, who can actually stop and pause and control his emotion and his desire for eating the cookie right away.

KAMENETZ: That's inspiring, Rosemarie.

TRUGLIO: Yes, it is.

TURNER: (Laughter) It's inspiring for me as a 42-year-old that it - I have one more year to get all my self-control together.

KAMENETZ: I believe in you.

TURNER: Well, thank you very much. Sesame's hope here was...

TRUGLIO: That we could model these strategies for children to learn and apply these strategies and build their own self-regulation toolbox.

KAMENETZ: And several years ago, Sesame backed a study to see if this could really work. And so some of the kids in the study watched videos of Cookie Monster practicing his strategies, kind of like you heard at the top of the podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Me got new strategy. (Singing) Me will imagine something different. Instead of cookie on this dish, me will pretend delicious cookie is now a very smelly fish.

TURNER: Then, Rosemarie says, the researcher tempted all the kids with their favorite snack.

KAMENETZ: Chocolate chippies (ph).

TURNER: (Laughter) And the kids who watched Cookie Monster...

TRUGLIO: On average, waited four additional minutes.

KAMENETZ: Four minutes - that is huge for a preschooler.

TURNER: Huge.

KAMENETZ: So let's break this down for a minute.

TURNER: Yeah.

KAMENETZ: What does not eating cookies have to do with being successful in school or in your life?

TURNER: Rosemarie explained that self-regulation isn't just about treats. Self-regulation is a set of skills that helps us reach our goals.

KAMENETZ: Specifically, we need to either monitor or change or redirect our thoughts, feelings and behavior towards a particular goal that we've chosen.

TURNER: Yeah. And within self-regulation, you're going to hear us talk a lot in this episode, specifically about self-control, which is either resisting an impulse or overcoming a temptation on the way to a goal.

KAMENETZ: So self-control means more than resisting a cookie.

TURNER: It means not hitting a classmate on the playground when he takes your tricycle.

KAMENETZ: It means working through your math homework and not throwing a tantrum when you get stumped.

TURNER: Yeah. It can even mean working through a big fear that you have when it overwhelms you.

KAMENETZ: And all of this is a big deal right now, not only because of the new research that Rosemarie referenced, but also because there's just more and more kids out there with diagnosed issues that can interfere with the development of self-regulation - things like childhood trauma, ADHD or being on the autism spectrum.

TURNER: Also, many parents - especially privileged parents - are basically stepping into their kids' lives to smooth over their kids' paths and remove any sources of frustration, really, before their kids have a chance to learn how to deal with it.

KAMENETZ: I don't know what you're talking about, Cory.

TURNER: I appreciate your honesty.

KAMENETZ: I mean, I can see that this is very well-meaning, and a lot of parents just want the best for their kids in a really competitive world. But what we're doing also deprives them of the natural opportunities that they might have to learn self-regulation along the way.

TRUGLIO: And that's what's going on in children's lives right now - that they are becoming risk-averse. They want everything done for them.

TURNER: And so Sesame decided to send the message that, you know, if Cookie Monster can learn to control himself, anybody can.

KAMENETZ: But I was kind of skeptical, Cory. I wanted to learn more about the science of this - right? - because obviously, I see that my kids - as they grow up, they get better at self-regulation. My 2-year-old is not as good at waiting as my 7-year-old.

TURNER: Right.

KAMENETZ: So, you know, is this really something I need to coach my kids on? Is this, like - do I just send them to self-control summer camp?

TURNER: Yes and no. Some of the variation is genetic, and you're right that children's brains do naturally develop along these lines. But Ken Fujita, who we heard from earlier, who said Cookie Monster was a maniac...

KAMENETZ: Yeah.

TURNER: He happens to be a professor of psychology at the Ohio State University. And he describes it this way.

FUJITA: So the brain, you can think of as being, like, the hardware. But even when we have the hardware, we still need to learn how to use the hardware with the right software.

KAMENETZ: So by software, Ken's talking about the skills and the strategies that parents can help kids practice to improve their self-regulation.

TURNER: Exactly.

KAMENETZ: OK.

TURNER: And there is a lot of research supporting very specific interventions. So without making everybody wait any longer, let's open up the toolbox and get right to our takeaways.

KAMENETZ: All right. And takeaway number one is big picture advice for us parents. We need to start thinking of self-regulation as a skill to be practiced.

TURNER: Exactly.

KAMENETZ: So this part made me think about when my husband was teaching our older daughter, Lulu (ph), to ski, right? So first, she was kind of freaked out.

TURNER: Right.

KAMENETZ: The mountain is big. She is small. It is cold. And he had to begin by really acknowledging all of the big feelings that she was having. And Rosemarie says we should do the same thing when we're working on a skill.

TRUGLIO: You need to validate children's emotions. I know it's hard. I know it's hard. The worst thing to be is like, you know, oh, it's easy. Don't worry. And so - no.

KAMENETZ: So you've done that empathizing. And then you have to move on to the nuts and bolts. What is it that you actually do? You know, you don't just tell the kid, ski down the hill. And you don't just tell a kid, control yourself.

TURNER: Yeah. Don't throw a tantrum.

KAMENETZ: Right.

TURNER: That doesn't work. You can't do it that way.

KAMENETZ: So when you're skiing, you break down the skill into tiny pieces. And there are strategies that you can use for each one. For example, when you want to slow down, you point the skis towards each other. And the code word for that is pizza, OK?

TURNER: (Laughter).

KAMENETZ: Like, it's a slice of pizza - the two skis coming together.

TURNER: Thank you, LIFE KIT skiing.

KAMENETZ: Yes. Now, the analogy here is we're taking self-regulation or self-control - these big, big concepts - and we're breaking them down into very specific strategies that we want our kids to try.

TURNER: Right. And the other key thing to remember is that our kids are going to fail and probably fail a lot...

KAMENETZ: Yeah.

TURNER: ...Before they succeed. And we really have to not only accept that failure but praise their effort every chance we get.

TRUGLIO: So even if it is, I just waited a minute, praise the effort. I waited a minute.

TURNER: Yeah. And next time, maybe they'll wait two minutes.

KAMENETZ: Totally. And here's the thing. I mean, obviously, not every kid needs to learn to ski, but every kid needs to learn to regulate their emotions. And they can as long as they have a coach.

TURNER: Yeah. So let's look at self-control again. What is the first step to not hitting your friend or not throwing your homework across the room?

KAMENETZ: Tying your hands behind your back?

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: A better way is not getting so mad in the first place. And that's why we need to start here when it comes to teaching our kids to regulate their emotions because it's self-regulation, right. So takeaway number two - yelling, calm down at your kids when they get really worked up - that doesn't work.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. I know this because I've tried it.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: I have tried it, too, many times.

KAMENETZ: I mean, it's just really common to respond to our kids' frustration with our own frustration. But there is something that can help both of us, as long as we're consistent - both our kids and ourselves. And that is our slow, deep breathing.

TRUGLIO: Belly breathing comes in. So taking those deep, slow breaths in and out.

TURNER: Just like I did with Cookie Monster. I know it was silly and probably sounded a little ridiculous. But it works. I do it at home. I do it at work. You can ask all of the LIFE KIT producers. It works. And it's important to make it a habit.

KAMENETZ: And you know what? That's not all, Cory. You can teach your kid to hug a pillow or a stuffed animal to calm down. You can also try this craft. OK. Take a jar. Fill it with glue, water and glitter. And then make sure you screw the lid on really tight. That's important. And whenever they're feeling stressed out, you can tell your kids to give that jar a shake.

TRUGLIO: I know I'm overwhelmed right now. But let me just breathe and focus on how that glitter is swirling around, which represents my feelings right now. But if I belly breathe and watch the glitter settle, it gives me the time to calm down.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TURNER: All right. So belly breathing, glitter jars. Our next takeaway zeros in very specifically on self-control.

KAMENETZ: That's right. Takeaway number three - pretend the cookie is plastic?

TURNER: (Laughter).

KAMENETZ: All right. So you've probably heard of the marshmallow test. It was a famous study that was done where children were offered a marshmallow to eat. And they were told they could eat it right away. But if they waited, they could have two of the treats later.

TURNER: Yeah. So this study is so famous, if you just go to YouTube and type in marshmallow test, you'll find all kinds of videos of kids being subjected to this sort of torment.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm going to go do something. And then I'll come back.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: It smells yummy.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: It smells really good.

TURNER: The experiment has been repeated many, many times since it was first done by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. And there has been some controversy over what it exactly proved, especially with some of the long-term outcomes and when you take factors like social class into consideration.

KAMENETZ: Yes, absolutely. But at the same time, that basic experimental design with kids and treats and a timer - it's a really good context to see the strategies that children can and do use when their self-control is being tested.

FUJITA: What seems to lead kids to be tempted by the smaller, immediate reward - the one marshmallow - is the fact that they're thinking about it in a hot way.

TURNER: And by hot, Ken Fujita means intense or urgent, something that you want to act on right now. But, he says...

FUJITA: If kids could find different ways to cool their thoughts, they were much more likely to wait out the delay. And that - knowing these strategies seemed to predict which kids were able to delay and which ones were not.

TURNER: For example, kids pretended the marshmallows were just puffy clouds or that they were looking at the marshmallows through a picture frame.

KAMENETZ: What I really like about this, Cory, is that kids are using a strength - their imaginations - to overcome their weakness in self-control or delaying gratification. And Rosemarie told us that practicing these strategies and learning them - learning about them - can be really empowering and actually therapeutic, especially for kids who struggle with self-regulation.

TURNER: Yeah. And all the experts told us it's really important that that practice not only happen in moments of crisis but you really lay the groundwork for it so that when those hot feelings arise, they turn to the strategy and use it.

KAMENETZ: So you plant it. And then it pays off.

TURNER: And then it pays off later. Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TURNER: Now, takeaway number four, speaking of imagination - this is my favorite takeaway, by the way.

KAMENETZ: Mine too (laughter).

TURNER: I'm so excited about this one. (Imitating Batman) What would Batman do?

KAMENETZ: Yeah. Ken Fujita told us about a fascinating study. It's a variation on the marshmallow test where researchers asked kids to do a very boring task while they were simultaneously tempted to play a fun video game at the same time.

TURNER: But then...

FUJITA: They asked kids to to identify their favorite superhero.

KAMENETZ: And this is so neat. We talked about this in a previous episode, right? The characters, like superheroes or princesses - they're so powerful for kids whose self-images are really just starting to form.

FUJITA: So if kids said Batman, for example, they would get a Batman mask and a Batman cape.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE")

WILL ARNETT: (As Batman) I'm Batman-ing.

LIL DICKY: (Singing) I'm Batman. I'm awesome. I got a nine-pack. I'm awesome. I'm Batman.

FUJITA: And then the kids were told while they were waiting out the delay, they should ask themselves the question, what would Batman do? And what they found was really startling.

KAMENETZ: So the kids who were channeling their heroes were much more able to resist the temptation.

TURNER: I love this. And I am totally going to use this, although, you know, it's a problem 'cause like, for me, it wouldn't be the normal - it would be Lego Batman.

KAMENETZ: OK. OK. OK. Cory, look over there. It's a bright, shiny takeaway.

TURNER: Where? What? Oh, I see what you did there. Nice. Nice, Kamenetz.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Takeaway number five - be smart about distractions.

KAMENETZ: Getting out of a hot moment, sometimes, can take distraction, just like when you asked Cookie Monster about his taste in Russian literature.

TURNER: Right. Or like, when you're in the car with your kids, and suddenly they transition from, are we there yet? - to, Mom, he's hitting me. Dad, he's hitting me. That is the perfect time to resort to a distraction like travel bingo or the license plate game.

TRUGLIO: I'm going to take my attention off of this treat and place my attention on something else. So I'm going to go play with something else.

KAMENETZ: Right. And every parent knows, like Rosemary says, you need to have a long list of potential distractions up your sleeve, right?

TRUGLIO: It could be reading. It could be singing.

KAMENETZ: It could be dabbing.

TURNER: (Laughter) It could be drawing.

KAMENETZ: Or flossing?

TURNER: You mean like dental care?

KAMENETZ: No, no, I mean like "Fortnite."

TURNER: You mean like "Fortnite" care. Yeah, got you.

KAMENETZ: Or - I don't know - YouTubing a million different videos of Lego Batman rapping when you're supposed to be writing a podcast script. That's a good distraction.

TURNER: We have no idea about that. And speaking of distractions...

KAMENETZ: Yeah.

TURNER: ...We got to go to the flip side here.

KAMENETZ: Yes.

TURNER: Removing distractions can also be an opportunity for you to set your kids up for success when it comes to self-regulation.

KAMENETZ: Or, frankly, your co-host.

TURNER: (Laughter) Or your co-host.

KAMENETZ: So the idea here is remove opportunities for frustration, right? So maybe when they're working on their homework, you keep the video games out of sight. Or maybe you don't keep the cookie jar on the counter. Instead, you go out for ice cream once a week.

TURNER: Yeah. And you want your kids to build self-control. But you need to do it in a really age-appropriate way. You don't want to exhaust them by testing their self-control constantly. And you also don't want to set unrealistic goals that you know they're never going to get to.

KAMENETZ: And there's so many different ways to approach this. Our takeaway number six is the world is already full of opportunities to build self-regulation skills.

TURNER: So we've been talking about explicit strategies, mostly for self-control. But researchers are also backing up something that parents and educators have known for a long time.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. There are so many everyday experiences that can build this broader set of executive function and self-regulation skills.

TURNER: Ken Fujita says for him, one area was music.

FUJITA: I attended music schools. I played violin and piano.

TURNER: Did he love to practice? No.

FUJITA: Nobody wants to practice. Practicing is very tedious. Nobody likes to receive negative feedback, right? But, you know - but responding constructively to negative feedback, to, you know, enduring the drudgery of everyday practicing - these all require self-control.

KAMENETZ: Another activity that experiments have shown to improve self-regulation is martial arts.

FUJITA: I am also a martial arts instructor. I practice the Japanese martial art Kendo - sword fighting. And I have been amazed at watching children transform in front of my eyes. Some of them come in very undisciplined. But, you know, a couple of years of really hard, intense training and practice and commitment - they learn the value of delaying gratification.

TURNER: Anya, I just have to say, for the record, forget what would Batman do. From now on, I'm asking myself, what would Ken Fujita do?

KAMENETZ: Totally (laughter).

TURNER: And let's also add to the list of martial arts learning a foreign language, practicing yoga.

KAMENETZ: Yeah.

TURNER: Definitely proven strategies for building self-regulation skills.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAMENETZ: OK, you guys. Cookie has been waiting all this time to eat his cookies.

TURNER: (Laughter) Oh, no, I totally forgot about Cookie.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. Remember at the top of the episode, Cory left, allegedly to get milk? We've been sitting in a different studio, recording this whole podcast.

TURNER: I left him hanging. He's practicing his strategies. I hope he's practicing his strategies.

KAMENETZ: I hope so, too. So I guess it's time for me to go in there and say hi.

TURNER: Oh. And I still need to get the milk. All right. I'll see you there in a minute.

KAMENETZ: All right.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Oh, hi. Hi, Anya.

KAMENETZ: Hi, Cookie.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Hi.

KAMENETZ: Hi, Rosemarie. Oh, are those cookies?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah.

KAMENETZ: Can I grab one?

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Oh, boy. You know, Anya, me no can believe me saying this, but we need to wait to eat cookies.

TRUGLIO: Cookie, this is so hard for you, but you're doing such a great job.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah. Yeah. All this waiting getting really hard for monster. Cory.

TURNER: I got the milk. I got the milk. I got the milk.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Oh. Oh, you back.

TURNER: I'm coming. I got to put my headphones back on.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Yeah, please. Hurry.

TURNER: OK. Oh, and you waited to eat the cookies. Thank you.

TRUGLIO: And I'm so proud of you, Cookie Monster.

RUDMAN: (As Cookie Monster) Oh, thank you. Me really appreciate that. But me also appreciate cookie.

KAMENETZ: Cookie.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Om, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom (ph).

KAMENETZ: That was some serious nomming (ph), guys.

TURNER: I love the way you yelled cookie like some maniacal fiend.

KAMENETZ: But that's just what you say when you have a cookie.

TURNER: (Laughter).

KAMENETZ: Anyway, I miss those cookies already.

TURNER: Well, I miss Cookie Monster. I felt like I could tell him anything.

KAMENETZ: Let's recap.

TURNER: Let's do it. Takeaway number one...

KAMENETZ: It's for us parents. Start looking at self-regulation as a skill to be practiced.

TURNER: Yeah. Learning social and emotional skills is like learning to play baseball or to ski.

KAMENETZ: Only much more important.

TURNER: We need to be supportive as parents, and we need to validate our kids' big feelings.

KAMENETZ: Also, break up the skills into pieces, give them strategies to get better and praise their efforts along the way.

TURNER: Takeaway number two - yelling, calm down, doesn't work.

KAMENETZ: No. We tried that. It does not work.

TURNER: Yeah.

KAMENETZ: So instead...

TURNER: Try belly breathing.

KAMENETZ: A glitter jar.

TURNER: You can hug yourself, hug a pillow, hug a stuffed animal.

KAMENETZ: And don't just do it once or twice. Make it a habit.

TURNER: Takeaway number three - pretend a cookie is plastic.

KAMENETZ: Kids have really vivid imaginations, and they can use them to reframe a temptation.

TURNER: Takeaway number four...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M BATMAN, I'M AWESOME, GOT A 9 PACK")

LIL DICKY: (Singing) I'm Batman. I'm awesome. I got a nine-pack. I'm awesome. I'm Batman.

TURNER: A reminder that for kids, channeling their heroes can make it easier to live up to their values, including by being more patient.

KAMENETZ: I love that. It's so creative.

TURNER: Takeaway number five - be smart about distractions. When waiting is hard or kids need to cool down, read a book. Sing a song. There is a long list of things they can do that will help.

KAMENETZ: On the other hand, if they're trying to finish their homework, put that video game system out of view. Set them up for success.

TURNER: Yeah. Distractions work both ways.

Takeaway number six - the world is full of opportunities to self-regulate.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. Martial arts, music, yoga, even learning a foreign language - they can all improve our self-control and our self-regulation, both for kids and for grown-ups.

TURNER: And that's all for this rambunctious, cookie-filled episode of NPR's LIFE KIT for parenting, with Sesame Workshop. Thank you so much for listening. We appreciate all of you. Special thanks to Cookie Monster, David Rudman, Rosemarie Truglio and all our friends at Sesame Workshop.

KAMENETZ: And one more big thank you to the other awesome experts who helped us with this episode - Ken Fujita, Tom Lickona, Aija Simmons and Rick Weissbourd.

TURNER: For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other guides. There's one on how to buy a home and tips for getting a better night's sleep. You can check those out at npr.org/lifekit.

KAMENETZ: And while you're there, subscribe to our newsletter so you don't miss anything. We've got more guides coming every month on all sorts of topics. And, you know, on LIFE KIT, we like to bring you a completely random tip on every episode. This time, we went to one of Cookie Monster's neighbors.

ERIC JACOBSON: (As Oscar the Grouch) Hey, LIFE KIT. I bet you were expecting some helpful tips, or even worse, a life hack. Yuck. I'm Oscar the Grouch. Us grouches don't go in for that mushy junk. What is a podcast, anyway? It's like the radio, but without all the great static. Who needs that? Here's a tip for you. Just because you listen to podcasts doesn't mean I want to give you any of my hard-earned grouchy wisdom. So scram (laughter).

TURNER: (Laughter) If you've got a better tip for us or a parenting challenge you want us to explore, please let us know. Send us an email. We're at lifekit@npr.org. Just don't be grouchy.

KAMENETZ: I'm Anya Kamenetz.

TURNER: And I'm Cory Turner. Thanks for listening.

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