Why is it that self-control is so hard for kids?
I could see it in his eyes. His little hand was waving in the air and he was all but jumping out of his seat.
It was taking everything in his five year old power to contain himself and practice the self-control we’d been working on for weeks.
Well, our son had been developing a habit of interrupting in the middle of conversations that his dad and I were having and we were really working on helping him develop the skills he needed to not interrupt.
Self-control is not easy! Even as an adult, it can be hard to not lose your temper or to stop yelling, but we are the first models for our children.
After a few minutes of our son waiting for us to stop talking, we looked at him and told him that it was his turn.
He let loose with all of the amazing things he wanted to share. His ideas were pure innocence and his enthusiasm for sharing was overwhelming.
The part that I remember the most is that at the end of his speech, he excitedly said, “I did it! I waited and I didn’t interrupt!” That right there was worth the countless hours of reminding and reinforcing that we’d been doing to help him. He was proud of himself.
Why Self-Control is so Hard for Kids
Self-control, or the ability to exercise restraint over your impulses, feelings, and desires, is a learned skill. We are born being the center of attention and getting what we need when we need it.
Tired? We’re given a place to sleep.
Hungry? We’re fed.
Bored? We’re entertained by toys and caregivers.
We don’t have to learn self-control, because we’re just beginning to explore the world.
Pretty soon though, that all changes. As we get older and start to interact with others, we realize that taking something someone else has just because we want it is not going to make us any friends. We learn that throwing a tantrum when we don’t get our way isn’t really going to get us our way after all. And we hear adults tell us to “Stop!” and “Behave!” Welcome to Introduction to Self-Control 101 – it’s not an easy course.
As caregivers and parents we are now tasked with helping kids learn about self-control and how to behave in society. It’s a daunting job to be sure, but teaching kids how to exercise self-control is as simple as 1-2-3.
3 Steps to Teaching Self-Control
Self-control means stopping.
Think about the options and the possible outcomes. For example, hitting someone else because you want the toy = time out and no toy. On the other hand, asking someone to share the toy = probably getting the toy and no time out.
Choose the option that makes the most sense and gets you closest to your desired outcome.
So, stop, think, and choose. When you’re helping kids remember the steps, do actions to reinforce the steps. For stop, hold out your hand with your palm pointing toward them just as a crossing guard would do. For think, use your index fingers to point to your head. And when you get to choose, place both hands out with your palms up as though you’re choosing between two options. The simple hand motions will reinforce the steps and make it more fun.
It’s especially good to have signals you can do silently when you’re out in public and your child is having a difficult time maintaining self-control. Remember that with all things, learning how to control oneself takes time and practice. But when you see your child beaming with pride that he was able to wait and not call out or interrupt, it will all be worth it!
Resources to Help Teach Kids Self-Control
How do you teach your children self-control?
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