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3 Ways to Help Children Develop Self-Control

Learning self-control is an important part of healthy social and emotional development. Obviously, when kids lose their self-control and start throwing a tantrum in the middle of a crowded store or during a family gathering, it can be immensely frustrating for parents. Fortunately, there are plenty of things that parents and caregivers can do to help kids learn how to manage their emotions and behaviors.

 Set Limits

By setting limits for your children, you help them develop a sense of self-control. Because you will not always be around every minute of every day to set rules and limits for your child, it is important that he learn to set limits for himself.

This process of learning self-regulation actually begins early in infancy as babies begin to learn more about their bodies and gain a sense of self. Even during those earliest months of life, parents can begin laying the foundations for later self-control by setting firm limits and proving explanations. For example, if a baby begins to bite during feedings, this mother might say, “No biting! That hurts mommy.” By offering an explanation, the parent provides a clear reason why such behavior is unacceptable.

Deal With Frustration

Helping kids learn to deal with frustration without lashing out is important. Kids will naturally face many sources of frustration every day, from not getting to have their favorite food for lunch to another child being first on their favorite toy at the playground. The key is to help kids deal with such frustration and look for ways to solve problems without resorting to aggression.

For example, if your child becomes upset when she does not get to have her favorite chicken nuggets for lunch, give her the option of having that particular food at tomorrow’s meal. However, make it clear that not everything is negotiable. Children should be encouraged to make choices and contribute their opinions, but sometimes parents simply have to say “no.”

Manage Physical Aggression

Physical aggression in response to frustration can be quite common, especially in young children. Toddlers and preschoolers in particular may not have developed the abilities to manage their frustrations in non-physical ways. However, adults need to make it very clear that behaviors such as pushing, hitting, throwing, and biting are absolutely unacceptable.

When such behaviors occur, there are actions you can take to turn the situation into a period of learning:

  • Immediately tell your child to stop the behavior and give clear directions of what you expect her to do next.
  • If necessary, physically remove the child from the situation by having her follow you into another room.
  • Once she has started to calm down, discuss her feelings. Remember to talk about how her actions may have made other children feel.
  • Ask her if she feels ready to return to the earlier activity.
  • Help her go back to the previous activity, encouraging her to respond more appropriately this time.
  • If the aggressive behavior reoccurs, remove her from the situation once again.

Sending kids to “time out” is a common way of dealing with misbehavior. While it can be quite effective at helping the child calm down and regulate her feelings, you should avoid sending your child to another room to sit alone. By placing a child in time out in a separate room, the child may begin to feel even more upset or may even feel abandoned.

Instead, sit the child in an area of the same room as the parent, teacher, or caregiver. Giving her some time to calm down and gain self-control in the presence of an adult can help her regulate her emotions without adding addition anxiety to the situation.

  1. Adam Read says:

    Hi Kendra,

    I’m not sure if you’re still checking these posts for comments, but I am very interested in your work, as it may be very applicable to adult behavior as well. Drop me a note if you have a chance.



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