Fostering Self-Control in Your Child
Teaching your child self-control skills will enable him to succeed socially, emotionally, and academically and later enter society as a responsible and self-reliant adult. Unfortunately it is all too common to see children throwing tantrums, screaming, yelling, disrupting others, and generally behaving as if they can do as they please with no consequences.
Fostering self-control involves a balance between the extremes of unrealistic demands on one end and a lack of structure, guidance, and clear expectations at the other. A sense of safety and trust is essential for a child to develop self-control. This means that parents must intentionally establish an environment in which the child knows that parents can be counted on, are in authority, and have clear boundaries and expectations for behavior.
- Establish routines: Regular times for eating, sleeping, and playing allow a sense of continuity and predictability from day to day.
- Provide clear expectations: Be specific in what you expect. For example, the direction to “put toys away before moving on to another activity” is much more effective than saying “clean up”.
- Encourage waiting: While responding immediately to an infant’s discomfort or need for feeding is appropriate, it is important to give older children opportunities to learn to wait and thus set the stage for the development of the ability to delay gratification.
- Help your child understand emotions: Assist your child by labeling and acknowledging his emotions. Validate his feelings and encourage him to use words instead of behavior to express emotions.
- Encourage independent play: Allow time for solo, unstructured play; overscheduled and constantly stimulated children often do not easily learn self-regulation skills.
- Play with your child: Turn-taking games such as “Red Light, Green Light”, “Freeze Tag”, or “Mother May I?“ are fun ways to use gross motor play to teach self-control. For older children, board games are useful in teaching about taking turns and handling emotions associated with both winning and losing.
- The development of self-control is a life-long process. Children, especially when tired or stressed, will not always be able to regulate their emotions or behavior. It is important that parents model self-control by not losing their temper or becoming too frustrated with their child.
- Acknowledge positive behaviors: Make a bigger deal over good behavior than bad.
If your child is having difficulty with his or her self-control, working with a therapist specializing in working with children and their parents in this area may be helpful in optimizing conditions for your child’s development.