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Helping Your Child Learn Self-Control

22/06/2013 | Child Health, Parent Health, Room to Grow | by Catherine Godiva

Did you know that 30% of all 4-year-old children are able to adequately handle some emotions, anxieties and impulses and are able to resist temptation, at least part of the time? It’s true, and it’s also true that the self-control that a person exhibits when they’re 4 can sometimes be a telltale sign of the kind of self-control that they will have later in life.  That’s why, as far as being a well-adjusted adult is concerned, learning to use self-control is vital for any child.

That’s the impetus of our blog today as well. Below are a number of things that you can do to help your child to learn self-control. Using this advice and performing these exercises with your child will help them to gain an ability that can have an influence over their entire adult life. With that in mind, take a look below and find out the best ways to help your child to learn self-control.

First and foremost, self-control comes from trust. From the early days when we’re infants we learn to trust that, when we’re hungry and we begin to cry, food will come. Every time this happens a baby’s brain and the neural pathways in it are strengthened, soothing their anxiety and regulating their emotions, something that will one day allow that baby to soothe him or herself.

This is more important than you might think. A child that realizes that its mother will always be there and that, if it wants to eat later, it can, will see that it doesn’t always need to get milk (or a hug, or a nappy change) immediately.  Any parent that can help their child to reach this more mature stage in life faster is doing them a favour.

One of the most important things that you can do to help your child to learn self-control is to control your own emotions as well. When your child is out of control this means that you need to stay cool and calm. If you don’t, your child will get the message that not controlling their emotions is okay.

Keep in mind that children will often take their cues about anxiety from their parents. For example, let’s say that your child is scared to swim in the deep end of the pool and gets pushed in by accident. A parent that can calmly and soothingly guide them back to the shallow end will teach them a much better lesson than the parent who quickly jumps into the water to try and ‘save’ them. When that happens, the only thing a child will learn is that anxiety is hard to overcome as well as emotions like fear.

Like almost all things in life, self-control can be practiced and developed. For example, we referred to the fact that 30% of all four-year-olds are able to moderately resist temptation. Toddlers on the other hand do not have this ability whatsoever while virtually all adults do have it (although with some adults it may not appear that way). The reason is that, every time a child, teenager or adult is able to practice self-control, their power of self-control gets stronger.

There’s also a fine line between encouraging your child to develop their  abilities of self-control and forcing them to be obedient. The problem with forcing a child to practice their self-control is that it can backfire and cause them to be even more resistant. The fact is that life gives children plenty of opportunities to practice their self-control on a daily basis and, at least with most children, forcing them to develop self-control is not necessary.

Indeed, many aspects of self-control are naturally learned as a child grows and starts to make associates and friends outside of the home. Many kids learn self-control due to the motivation of something that’s important to them. For example, if a child is allowed to bake cupcakes they will soon learn that it takes a bit of patience waiting until they are done. A child that wants to become good at kicking a football will have to kick the football over and over until that day comes  and a child that wants to play and have fun with other children will quickly learn that they have to manage their emotions in order to be accepted by the other kids.

At the end of the day self-control is simply about learning how to best regulate our thoughts, our attention and our emotions. As a parent the best thing that you can do is teach your child by example. Children learn by seeing and doing and, if they see you using self-control, they will use theirs and develop it as well.


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