Here's How to Help Kids Master the 3 Types of Self-Control
Self-control is a key component in our children’s ability to effectively function in day-to-day life, and is a lot more complicated and detailed than you might suspect.
In our children’s early years, self-control is expressed by their ability to trust adults, integrate the concept of rules, delay gratification, control their angry impulses, find internal methods of practicing patience despite their frustrations, empathize with the feelings of others, exhibit an understanding of fairness by waiting their turn, and find ways to make them self feel better when facing sadness.
We want our children to be able to regulate their behavior and emotions. The goal is to “delay, defer, and accept substitutions without becoming aggressive or disorganized by frustration, and [to] cope with arousal, whether due to environmental challenge or fatigue”.
Self-control develops when our child begins the process of differentiating between short-term and long-term outcomes, and the understanding that a long-term outcome is far greater than the one they might experience at the moment through instant gratification. This ability to project into the future and grasp the idea of cause and effect is what allows our children to comprehend the concept that first they must do their homework before they are allowed to play.
Establishing a working model to delayed pleasure is a necessary component for our children to eventually live responsible and balanced lives.
There Are Three Kinds of Self-Control
Impulse Control is our child’s ability to stop and think before they act upon a thought.
It allows our little ones to visualize the future consequences of their actions.
Without it, they may:
- Constantly interrupt and speak when it’s not their turn
- Talk too much
- Not practice self-regulation, and procrastinate with tasks like homework
- Carelessly rush through assignments or chores
- Be inconsistent with following rules from one day to the next
Emotional Control is the ability of our kids to manage their feelings by focusing on future goals.
It helps our children keep powering through, even when they are confronted by upsetting or unexpected circumstances.
Without it, they may:
- Become easily frustrated and prematurely give up
- Become sensitive to constructive criticism/being corrected
- Have a difficult time winding down enough to focus on tasks (like homework)
- Become easily agitated by others and unable to control their temper
- Struggle with the concept of delayed gratification, thus can’t prioritize homework or chores before playing
Movement Control is our children’s ability to control their body movements.
It allows our kids to regulate their physical actions and reactions in an appropriate way.
Without it, they may:
- Be constantly fidgety, hyper, or anxious
- Have difficulty sitting still through quiet or seated events
- Be disruptive with their movements during games or conversations
- Struggle standing patiently in line and waiting their turn
Affirming relationships are vital components in the healthy development of our children. More specifically, a strong attachment between us and our children increases their ability to control impulses, and develop a healthy level of self-control.
Teaching Kids Self-Control
In order to teach and reinforce the value of self-control, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Consistency: Self-regulation has a greater opportunity to develop in our children if they are in a coherent environment, where expectations are clear and rules are consistently enforced. We can’t tell them they have to do their school work one day and forego playing, only to let them play before their work is completed the following day. In order for self-control to be meaningful, it must be consistent. It’s our job as parents to instill and enforce that consistency.
Praise: Children who successfully master self-control are typically those who have supportive parents or caregivers. Our children need to know that they are special little people to us, and that we value their struggles to work toward self-control. Self-control is not an easy task for anyone. Lecturing our kids about their lack of control – when they are clearly out of control – is not the most effective method, because their brain’s receptivity becomes compromised during stress. Words of admiration and praise reinforce positive behavior, so encourage them to do better and praise them when they do great.
Reward: Let’s be honest – practicing self-control isn’t a walk in the park. So when our children are successful in their efforts of delaying gratification, reward them!
Positive Self-Talk: Teaching our children to foster healthy self-talk is a key element in maintaining balance and self-control in their lives. Successfully talking themselves through a task that needs to be completed, doing their best to ignore distractions – that’s self-control!
Modeling Self-Control: Our children have a greater chance of developing self-control when they see us focusing on problem-solving instead of punishment, retribution, and anger. When we calmly use words to express our feelings, our children have the opportunity to model after our positive behavior, and in turn, do the same. We are the greatest teacher our children will ever have.
How do you teach your kids the virtues of self-control? Share with us!
Bronson, M. (2000) Self-Regulation in Early Childhood. New York, NY: The Guildford Press.
Honig, A., & Lansburgh, T. (1991) The Tasks of Early Childhood: The Development of Self-Control Part II. Day Care and Early Education, 18(4), 21-22.
Honig, A. (2002) Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant/Toddler Attachment in Early Care Settings. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.