A child of character demonstrates self-control in his actions and words. Easier said than done my friends! Developing self-control is as beneficial to the child as it is to those around them.
Any parent, teacher, or bystander for that matter will tell you a child who demonstrates self-control is more apt to learn, keep friends, follow rules, and be welcomed in public. The path to self-control begins in early childhood, develops throughout one’s life, and is highly influenced by nature and nurture. Meaning, your child’s path to self-control is influenced in part by brain development as well as environmental factors.
Here are effective strategies you can use to develop self-control in your children and maximize their learning and developmental potential.
Activities that require physical control is a fun way for children to learn how to control their bodies.
- Games like Freeze Dance, Simon Says, tag, balancing tricks, and Red Light Green Light are fun for all ages.
- Yoga poses teach children how to move their bodies and reinforce that they can control their physical actions.
Teach your children how to regulate their behavior when their feelings are out of control.
- Self-talk is a strategy that affects self-regulation. Teach children to say: “You can stay calm,” “You can slow down,” and “You can be patient.”
- Relaxation: Count to 10; take three deep breaths; tense and relax muscles.
- Teach replacement behaviors that allow children to express intense emotions in healthy ways. Scream into a pillow, instead of at a person. Go on a run, walk, or bike ride. Scribble on scrap paper, not the wall. Tear up recycled newspaper, not a book. Pound on a mattress, not your sibling.
Emphasize to your children THEY are in control of their words and actions.
- Use a marionette as a model and ask your child “Who is pulling the strings?” Have your children pretend they are the marionette and teach them they control their own strings when making decisions.
- Reinforce your children’s decision-making skills and sense of control by providing opportunities for them to make choices. Help children focus on knowing if their choices are helpful or hurtful, healthy or unhealthy, good or sad.
Developing self-control affects another character trait, patience. For example, learning not to interrupt an adult is not only polite, it teaches self-control and patience. When my children started interrupting me, my school psychologist hat came out. I analyzed the reasons behind their constant interrupting and developed some strategies to address the behavior. My children needed to learn how to control their need for my attention when I was engaged in something else (e.g. conversation, phone, computer).
Together we reviewed different scenarios when I might be occupied with something or someone and couldn’t give them my immediate attention. They also shared scenarios when they had been interrupted and how it felt. We discussed polite vs. rude behavior so they could learn how their actions affected those around them. We developed a nonverbal cue they could use to let me know they needed me if I were otherwise engaged. They touched my shoulder, and I touched their hand, so they knew I was aware of their presence. Then they would wait “patiently” until I could politely excuse myself from whatever I was doing. This helped them learn to be patient, get my attention in a polite manner, and assert some self-control when they really wanted to interrupt.
These are but a few ways to nurture self-control in your children. Modeling self-control yourself is very powerful. In fact, observing your child when they are not in control may be like looking in the mirror. Also, acknowledging when your children demonstrate self-control reinforces the behavior meaning you will likely see that behavior again. When you do praise your child, be specific and highlight their action or choice. “You were patient waiting in line.” “You used a calm voice when you were angry.”
Children of character who demonstrate self-control learn they are in control of their decisions and develop self-reliance.