3 Techniques for Improving Self-Control in Children

Self-control in children is indispensable when it comes to their proper development. Therefore, it's important to help little ones work on this area that is so important in daily life.
3 Techniques for Improving Self-Control in Children

Last update: 19 December, 2019

In this article, we’ll suggest three techniques you can use to help improve self-control in children.

Self-control in children is the ability to direct their behavior properly, managing their emotions, feelings, and thoughts. However, in their first years of life, during their infant stage, little ones have yet to develop this ability. Therefore, they need to learn it, work on it, and practice it through certain exercises.

The techniques and activities that you’ll discover below can be beneficial both with their families and at school. This is great because these are the contexts where children do the most learning.

“Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.”

– James Allen –

3 techniques for increasing self-control in children

The stoplight technique for increasing self-control in children

3 Techniques for Improving Self-Control in Children

In this sense, when children find themselves in one of these situations, they can remember the colors of the stoplight. Each color corresponds to a specific action, as follows:

  • Red: Stop everything and take a moment to breathe deeply and calm down.
  • Yellow: Think about possible alternatives.
  • Green: Take action and put the best solution into effect.

As you can see, the process is simple and easy for little ones to understand. By putting it into practice, children learn to identify the sensations that come before an impulsive behavior and learn to calm themselves down. In turn, they manage to resolve their conflicts in a satisfactory way and act appropriately.

Finally, you can play a game with children to really test their understanding of the technique – and reinforce it. You can act out and discuss different potential situations where they’ll need to resort to the technique and see how they would react.

Identifying what’s right and what’s wrong

In this exercise, children work on regulating their behavior based on their knowledge of what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are inappropriate. To put the exercise into practice, children should observe a series of pictograms that portray a variety of behaviors, both good and bad.

Then, little ones should describe the meaning of each pictogram they observe. If the meaning is hard for them to interpret, then you can help them. Lastly, you can ask them to divide the pictograms (or behaviors) as follows :

  • On a green piece of posterboard, they should place the behaviors they consider to be acceptable.
  • On a red piece of posterboard, they should place the behaviors they consider to be unacceptable.

3 Techniques for Improving Self-Control in Children

“Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.”

– Elie Wiesel –

If… then… Exercise

The If… then… exercise increases self-control in children by helping them reflect. Here, they think about how they would act in the face of a series of hypothetical situations.

To do so, children receive a sheet of paper where they can observe a table with two columns. At the top of the first column will appear the word “If.” At the top of the second column, the word “then” will appear.

In the column under “If,” children will place images that represent situations that:

  • Represent a conflict. 
  • Are frustrating.
  • Cause anxiety and stress.
  • Cause boredom or tiredness.

Then, children observe a series of different pictograms: A mother, a father, a teacher, and the actions of breathing, speaking, thinking, saying sorry, etc.

Children should select the pictograms they think are necessary to respond to the situation in question. Once they’ve made their selection, then they’ll place the chosen pictograms in the “then” column, according to the order in which they should perform each one.

So, for example, the “If” section may show a child who’s feeling frustrated because he can’t manage to finish his homework. So, in the “then” column, children can place the following pictograms, in order: Breathe, think, tell the teacher. That way, they learn to dominate situations in a theoretical way and can later put this into place successfully.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.