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Teaching Kids Self-Control

As our children grow, they will be faced with many difficult choices. Each choice they make will determine their success in school, friendships, and their future. Every parent’s goal is to raise kids who make smart decisions. So how do we begin to teach them to make good choices in the moment? The answer is by teaching them self-control. Self-control is defined as the ability to control oneself. In particular, one’s emotions and desires, especially in difficult situations. So, as a parent, how do you go about teaching it to your kids? 

Encourage activities that teach self-control. Activities like sports, music lessons, or clubs, like Boy Scouts, teach kids self-control. Children may not always want to practice, but spending the time to work on their skills will help them become more skilled. In addition, encourage your child to play games that teach self-control, such as Red Light, Green Light and freeze tag. And spending time doing solitary activities, like puzzles, helps children work toward an achievable goal on their own.

Give kids responsibilities. Kids who have regular chores are more likely to learn self-control. Young kids often need reminders to help them be successful, but older children can be trusted to get them done by a certain time each week without frequent reminders. When kids are given tasks that they do not always enjoy, they must use self-control to complete them. Taking the time to figure out what motivates your child will help them be successful, reach their goals, and increase self-control. For some children, this may be a reward for completing assigned chores such as an allowance, a special outing, or spending time with a parent or a friend. Each child and family situation is different, so it may take a few attempts to figure out what works well for your household.

Enforce limits. Setting limits for children and enforcing them is healthy for all families, but it also has the added benefit of teaching young children self-control. If a child’s ball rolls in the street, they have to make a quick decision whether to run after the ball or to stop and ask an adult to retrieve it for them. A child that waits is showing that they understand the limits their parents have set and they are exercising self-control as they wait to get the ball back. Enforcing limits at a young age and giving kids the choice to stay in the limits or step out of them (within reason) helps them develop

Delay gratification and reward self-control. When teaching self-control to your kids, it is important to reward them for waiting, for their hard work over time, and for finishing the task. In today’s society, instant gratification is becoming the norm. By delaying the reward, kids have a goal to work toward and they feel a sense of accomplishment because they have worked toward and completed their goals. This method teaches self-control, builds their self-esteem, and emphasizes the value of hard work.

Self-control and discipline

Quite often, young children become upset when being disciplined. Teaching children to respond positively to correction helps build their self-control.

Try these tips:

  • Teach your children to work through their emotions.
  • Don’t brush off their feelings, talk through them.
  • Model appropriate behavior and self-control.
  • Enforce limits and praise your child when they make a good choice.
  • Be consistent with your discipline.

Sarah is a freelance writer, and a stay-at-home mom who lives with her husband and their six children.


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