Promoting Self-Control in Children

Everyone that has stepped foot in a preschool classroom knows that all children have self-control problems.  You may have experienced a two-year old put his hand in a bowl of finger-paint just 30 seconds after you warned him not too. Or you may have witnessed your co-teacher discuss with the children in the 3-year old room the importance of keeping their hands to themselves, only to find two young boys hitting each other just minutes later.  Of course their are a million examples of lack of self-control displayed by children in a childcare setting, and they seem to be never ending, and as educators we feel helpless while dealing with them, but we aren’t.

What is Self-Control? defines “self-control” as “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of their behavior, especially in difficult situations.” Common synonyms include but are not limited to, “self-discipline,” “restraint,” “impulse control,” and “self-command.”

Why does Self-Control Matter?

Children are capable of learning self-control, and it is essential that they do.  According to, kids with self-control tend be more successful socially due to their ability to avoid peer pressure and solve problems.  Additionally, they are higher achievers academically.  Self-control is twice as important as intelligence in predicting academic success!

Why do Kids Struggle with Self-Control?

  • Children  struggle with self-control because they lack the knowledge to know what they can and cannot do.  Their abilities don’t allow them to do things they wish too, and so they become frustrated.  This frustration is manifested through temper tantrums, sadness, and misbehavior. As children age they obtain a better sense of their limits, but this takes time and risk-taking!

What can teachers do to assist in a child’s development of impulse control?

  • Make the children practice patience
    • It is inevitable that children will lack patience, but patience is like a muscle, and the only way to obtain more of it is to flex the patience muscle (in other words, to practice it).
  • Teach children to identify their emotions
    • No emotion is inherently wrong, but how we react to an emotion we are feeling is very important. We are not judged by the emotions we feel, but our actions.
  • Establish classroom rules of etiquette and a positive discipline system should rules be broken
    • To establish self-control children need to know what is considered “ok” and what is not.  When they do something that violates classroom rules, they will learn through positive discipline that is not “ok,” and they should refrain from doing that again.
  • Encourage children to practice activities that build self-discipline
    • Any sport, instrument, daily routine, act of memorization, etc. requires self-discipline, and forces children to complete a task even when they may not want too. Self-discipline takes patience, and fosters self-control.
  • Develop a daily schedule and stick to it
    • Children want and need consistency. Consistency in schedule displays that teachers are able to practice self-control themselves. Teachers too don’t want to do the same tasks each day, but doing so builds discipline.
  • Let children make small daily decisions (example: how to complete an art project, or how to build a house in block corner)
    • Allowing children to make decisions helps them realize that decisions and actions have consequences and will help them build their self-control.

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