How Do I Teach My Child Self Control?

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When a child can wait without throwing tantrums, does this mean he is less likely to have impulse buys and more likely to manage money better? Studies show that self-control in childhood has a lasting impact on several aspects of life that require control-relationships, health, finances, and even aging.

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What is self-control in a child?

Parents and caregivers can best assess how much self-control a child has. Some pointers to assess include:

  • Persistence in activities
  • Attentiveness
  • Ability to concentrate
  • Takes turns
  • Thinks before he speaks or acts
  • Ability to delay gratification
  • Stays calm under stress
  • Can wait without throwing tantrums
  • Handles teasing without bursting into tears
  • Anticipates consequences of doing or not doing something
  • Manages frustrations and anger without outbursts
  • Can keep hands to himself
  • Considers the effect of behavior on others
  • Does not interrupt conversations
  • Not overly active or restless
  • Does not give up easily when frustrated

Self-control includes the ability to control impulses, emotions, and movements. The child needs the strength to control the self as well as standards of self-control taught to him. Teaching self-control also involves monitoring of one's thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Tips on How to Teach Child Self-Control

Since self-control in childhood has positive impacts well into adulthood, it is wise to teach children this ability from an early age. But, keep in mind that children are unable to begin learning self-control until around 3.5 to 4 years old. With that in mind, here are some pointers on teaching children self-control:

Get Temptation Out of Sight

If they cannot see it, they are less likely to keep nagging their parents about getting what they want. Even high-functioning adults can lose their willpower when they see sweets and chips in front of them, Parenting Science reported. Likewise, put away toys that cause conflict, avoid the sweets aisle, keep electronic gadgets out of sight when kids are doing homework.

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Self-control Games

Like any skill, self-control takes practice. Before the actual event, prepare a makeshift scenario and explain your expectations. For younger kids, turn the play into a teaching moment. Here are some self-control games to get you started:

Freeze Game

When the music starts, the kids dance. When it stops, they freeze. Alternate fast-tempo and slow-tempo songs so kids dance fast or slow, then reverse the cues to make kids dance slower to fast-tempo and faster to slow-tempo.

Red Light, Green Light

The traditional "Red light, Green light" game is good for teaching self-control. The child is supposed to freeze when it is red and move forward when it is green. Make it trickier by reversing the rules after the first round or two. Make red the cue for go and green for the stop. This game teaches the child to inhibit his impulses.

Orchestra game

Kids play a musical instrument when the adult waves the baton. The quicker the baton moves, the faster the tempo of the instruments. When the kids get the rules of the game, reverse the rules. Make the kids play slower when you wave quicker.


The children show different actions for every type of drum cue. The adult will specify body movements. For instance, they crawl for three beats, jump for a single beat, and run for a fast drum beat. Then, reverse the cues.

Get them Motivated

Instead of telling kids what they "must do," encourage them to "want to do" the tasks. Children may need the help of teachers and parents to get them psyched for a particular activity. Observe, be patient, and flexible so you can pinpoint how to make kids enjoy what they are doing.

Resist the Urge to Reward Self-control

Some offer advice to give rewards for showing self-control. However, there may be drawbacks to this as children will only display self-control so they can get a treat or a star on a chart. Instead of the child learning to control himself or herself, the parent is controlling their actions.

Without rewards, the child will be genuinely self-motivated to show control. They will do it themselves with better outcomes. But, for this to happen, the child needs to fully trust the parent. For instance, with the marshmallow test, kids showed better self-control when they realized that the adult means business and keeps his word.

Be Aware of Your Own Ability for Self-Control

It is difficult for kids to have self-control when the adults model otherwise. For instance, children are more likely to show tantrums when they see their parents are easily angered over little things. It can also be tough to learn to wait for your turn when adults cannot even wait in line. When adults learn to better manage feelings, children are better able to develop self-control, PBS reported.

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