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Teach Your Child Self-Control

Teaching your child self-control will help them get along with others, make good choices and stay safe. Teaching self-control starts early and truly never stops.

The thoughtful parent knows that each child is an individual with a will of its own. Respect for a child’s will and need for autonomy must be balanced with respect for the needs of others and the limitations placed on us to ensure safety and survival.

Teaching your child self-control involves helping them to:

  • Think before acting
  • Control impulses
  • Weigh consequences
  • Make safe and acceptable choices

Knowing what to expect from your child at each stage of growth – what is normal and what is not, will provide guideposts as your child grows. Lessons in self-control need to be age-appropriate. Parents also need to agree on clear limits and boundaries as well as reasonable consequences for lack of impulse control at each stage of development.

It is important to be a model of self-control for your child. Controlling the urge to yell when in a frustrating situation will show your child it can be done. Considering consequences by thinking aloud will give your child a living example of thinking before acting. Your everyday display of kindness, patience and thoughtful regard will go farther than anything else!


Babies and toddlers experience frustration often as they do not have the means to communicate or acquire what they need and want. Distracting the very young child with movement, soft music or introducing an interesting object can work sometimes. Initiating fun activities or changing the setting can also work.

As preschoolers get older, say age two and beyond, they may need a brief “time-out Eto cool down. Placing them on a sturdy chair for a minute or two may stop out of control behavior. As soon as the child settles they should be allowed to move from the time-out area. This can be an effective way of teaching early self-control. However, a child should never be made to sit longer than a minute per year of age.

Mild tantrums can often be ignored. Praising your child for getting back under control will help them know you understand their frustration. Again, at this age, when babies and toddlers are learning so much by observing, your example can be the best teacher.

If you find you are not able to handle your young child’s frustration, it is important to get help from a counselor or physician. They will help you to cope and to find ways to deal with your own feelings of frustration.

Main points to address:

  • Children learn by watching you. Handle them calmly, modeling self-control.
  • Use soft music, movement or introduce a fun activity to distract a frustrated preschooler.
  • Use a brief “time-out Eto help an older preschooler cool down. If you need a time-out, step back from the situation, think and get help if you need it.
  • Praise your child for exercising self-control in frustrating situations.

Grades K-3rd

As a child is ready to enter school they are beginning to understand the meaning of “consequences Ewhich heralds a new readiness for self-control. Understanding simple cause and effect can help a child of this age understand the results of their actions, leading them to make conscious choices. This is a good time to talk about good, better and bad choices.

Children are also ready and able to learn how to relax long enough to stop and think. Teaching them to stop and take a few deep breathes or to count to ten can give them the grace period necessary to make the better choice.

If a poor or impulsive choice has been made, asking “What would have been a better choice? Emay help the next time a similar situation occurs. You may also find it useful to practice in advance when you know your youngster is going to be facing a stressful situation. Role playing can be a fun way to do serious preventive teaching.
Children at this age also benefit from explicit instruction in manners. Asking your child to reflect on how they like to be treated is a powerful way to increase awareness of the rights of others.

Children who have more difficulty with self-control and impulsiveness may like using a behavior chart to track their progress. Whether the problem is interrupting others, lying, or failing to listen to directions a behavior chart with built in rewards for success can show your child you believe in their ability to develop self-control.

Main points to address:

  • Not all children have good self-control by the time they enter school.
  • Teaching your child to be reflective about their behavior can help develop self-awareness and responsibility for their choices.
  • Manners are important enough to be taught and practiced.
  • Using a behavior chart tailored to your child’s present development can encourage compliance and convey faith in their ability to use self-control.

Grades 4- 6th

Most older children are now able to understand the consequences of their actions. Helping your child figure out what went wrong and at what point can help them catch control problems before they occur.

Letting them know that everyone loses control sometimes allows them to view themselves and others with compassion. Frustrations and disappointments are universal experiences. Pointing out the times and ways your child is successful will encourage them as they grow older and face new challenges.

If your older child seems to be having a great deal of difficulty in school, on the playground or at home it would be wise to visit your doctor, school counselor or social worker. They can help you know what is normal and what if anything needs to be addressed with expert help. Certainly, anytime a child’s behavior is seriously threatening or hurtful to himself or others, you need to seek outside help.

As a child becomes more able to exercise self-control they will develop confidence in their ability to make good choices, an awareness of what is fair and right, and a working knowledge of how to use their personal power appropriately. Helping your child learn self-control is not an easy job, but may be the greatest gift you have to offer.

Main points to address:

  • Help your child come up with alternative courses of actions prior to stressful events.
  • Praise them for successfully dealing with a frustrating person or situation in a calm, sensible way.
  • Seek help if your child is not successfully controlling hurtful emotions or actions.
  • Remember that learning self-control is a life-long process!

Resources that can help you in your venture include:

Posted in Character.

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