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Teaching Kids Self-Control

7 Ways to Help Your Child Learn Self-Control

Have you ever witnessed a child who constantly dominates a conversation, or a child who grabs objects out in public, even after being told not to touch? What about a child who just doesn't seem to know how to wait his turn? Are these kids "bad," or are they kids who need help learning how to control their impulsive natures?

Why Kids Lack Self Control

Marcia G., a reader who is a teacher explains what nonspectrum impulsiveness looks like: "As soon as he gets to school they line up, and he just has to push somebody [who's] already in the line, just because he wants to stand in a certain spot or next to a certain friend, and that starts a whole problem with the kids that were already in line following directions."

Children like those I've described seem to be falling between the cracks these days. They're sent for testing that reveals no ADD, ADHD, Oppositional Defiance disorder, or any disorders on the spectrum.


So why can't these kids control themselves? Is there something else wrong? No.

This type of behavior is nonspectrum impulsive behavior. These kids all need to be taught that controlling yourself is something you do, not something a parent or a teacher does for you.

We tend to think children are more advanced than they are because they're walking, talking, and arguing with us, but small children's brains are not fully developed yet.

Learning about self-control happens through discovery and repetition, not through lectures and punishments. And that discovery and repetition happens slowly, throughout childhood.

Reader Michele B. says it best: "You can't teach a child how to control their impulses with a one-time lecture. You have to do one teachable moment, one situation at a time." Here are my seven tips for tackling that challenge.

1. Help Your Child Notice His Impulses

Impulses can feel like they've overtaken you, bypassing any rational thinking, causing you to disregard what you know you should do. In order to help your child learn about self-control, you need to break down that process for him, helping him to become aware of his impulses before they lead him to a bad choice.

2. Give Specific Strategies For Self-Control

Focusing on what your child did wrong is only half the equation. Make sure to tell your child what you want him to do instead. Try saying something like "You're not allowed to hog the video game, especially when you have a guest. Think of four things you can do while your friends play so you're able to share."

3. Don't Lecture

Children need time to process and integrate information. When you lecture, your child becomes overwhelmed with too much information and shuts down and stops listening.

4. Be Succinct

Use short statements and use instructive action. (To see how this works in real life, you can watch a video I created that illustrates how to handle a young child's impulsive behavior in public.)

5. Give Cues

Use reminder cues. For example, if your child won't stay on the deck and play as you asked, then use some painters tape and outline the boundaries you're asking your child to stay within. Sit outside with him, and if he leaves the deck, enforce the boundary by taking him inside for a count of 20, as I describe in the video.

6. Be Willing to Repeat Yourself

The key to curtailing impulsive behavior is to teach your child how to think before he acts, and that requires repetition of your lessons. (If you think your child really does know how to control himself and needs to be reminded more often than you'd like, then read my article on street safety. It illustrates how and why to use an action repeatedly to teach internal self-control.)

7. Give Do-Overs

Children learn from experience far more than they learn from words. The best way to increase their learning is with repetition. After you've completed any instructive corrections, make sure to give your child a chance to "try again." Doing this serves as a punctuation point on the lesson.

Finally, if you think your child really doesn't understand how to control himself, then look into my eseminar #9, The Art of Self-Control. Teaching a young child how to control himself now is the best insurance you can have that he will know how to apply internal self-control when it's really important — during the teen years.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and the Skills eclass. Visit to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs.

Image Source: Thinkstock
Imagination-Playground Imagination-Playground 4 years
Studies have praised the benefits of playgrounds to help children learn a few critical skills, especially when it comes to teaching them self control. The best part is that it is education wrapped into play, which makes it so much more engaging for kids. Our playgrounds in particular have several benefits: - sparks creativity and fun - develops social skills and collaboration - builds confidence through self-expression - improves concentration and problem solving - encourages physical activity and movement If you want to learn more, let us know:
BrandiAleman BrandiAleman 4 years
hitting your child, no matter how hard is showing them it's ok to hit people. a persons a person no matter how small.
ProactiveParentingTips ProactiveParentingTips 4 years
Radha32427 5 yr. olds are developmentally pretty bossy. Without knowing a lot more about your child, all I can say is try some role play. 5 yr. olds depend on the daily routine remaining the same. Counting on lunch at the same time, rules for playing to be the same each day, helps them deal with all the changes they're experiencing on the inside. To role play use puppets, dolls or socks. The idea is replay the situation using make believe names and a slightly different situation so he doesn't feel threatened. Role play allows you to show him how others might feel when someone bosses them around. Then you ask him how he would feel if someone did that to him? What he would say if someone bossed him around? And how he could make some changes so everyone gets a turn to make the rules or whatever he is trying to control as they ride bikes. Role play is a good way to begin to make some changes. I hope this helps.
Radha32427 Radha32427 4 years
After I read this article, I realized I have a sililar issue but a little different.. My 5 year old wants to control his friends..For ex, there are four kids riding their bike including my son and he will tell his friends to follow an order in which they should ride their bike and of course, his friends don't want to follow his instructions. So if someone crosses his/her order, my son will start screaming, crying and start fighting with that friend. To add to the problem, the mothers of the his friends tell their kids to listien to him and the other kids sometimes listen to him. I think this gives him more encouragement. I tell him to ride and enjoy his ride and practice more if his wants to come first. But he becomes so out of control that does not listen. This kind of ruin the whole playtime for all the kids and mothers. This is just an example of how he wants to control his friends.\ How to handle this situation?
tina26563 tina26563 4 years
Hello, My son is 7 years old. He was a good student and was studying very well till U.K.G, but after the vacation and started going to school for the first few months he was ok but later he started telling headache and later he had eye problem and now he is wearing glasses. He know everything which is taught in the school and he does well in the house also but next day when he goes to school he does not answer his teacher nor either writes in the class. Everyday i get a complaint about this. I have also consulted doctor regarding this and he is taking few tablets. Please suggest what to do? There is only one month for his exam and i dont know what to do. He does everything at home. but in school he does not answer his teacher. Please do mail me at immediately. I will just wait for your reply. Please do the needful for my child
BrittneyVarnado BrittneyVarnado 4 years
I think its 100% OK to swat your child. Especially if it will prevent dangerous behavior. I would much rather my son take some pain from me from a spank on his butt than get ran over by a car or something. He may be mad at me for a minute, but at least he'd still be here and well. I respect that some don't agree, but I'd like to keep my baby, and sometimes that's the only way to get through.
NicoleNugier NicoleNugier 4 years
Sorry, but i do believe in spanking your child not beating them, so how is that losing your self-control and resorting to violence? Calling someone a bad mother because they say they spanked their child is very disrespectful and judging others. Shame on you. I have 5 children aged 14 - 7, they were all spanked at some point. So am i a bad mother also?? This is the reason nowadays children rule everything, not enough discipline. Until u have walked in that mothers footsteps, u shouldn't JUDGE!!!!!
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