How To Teach Kids Self-Control
Is it possible to teach self-control? It is possible, according to studies. When we eliminate temptations and distractions from children’s lives and establish situations that promote self-control, they profit. Kids also want regular reminders to keep on track, as well as clear, actionable guidance on how to stay motivated, overcome difficulties, and stick to a goal.
Here’s the backstory — and 12 pointers on how to make it happen.
What is an Expectation Gap
It’s aggravating when your kids don’t obey the rules but have you ever considered if the rules or limits you impose are age-appropriate for each of your children’s development? Could it be that they aren’t complying with your demands for reasons other than utter disdain for authority, testing your limits, and toying with making you angry?
When we establish expectations and standards for our children that aren’t developmentally appropriate, we might become angry, frustrated, stressed, and even shout if they aren’t met.
Sure, parenting each of our individual children requires a lot of focused work and patience on a daily basis, but if we don’t provide a foundation of fair standards and reasonable expectations, we’re setting ourselves up for failure as well.
The expectation gap is the difference between what parents anticipate of their children and their actual abilities and brain development to regulate and exhibit self-control with their emotions and bodies.
What Is Self-Control?
Willpower, self-discipline, and conscientiousness have all been used to describe self-control. Self-control, whichever you define it, is the ability to manage oneself.
Is it possible for a child to stay focused in the face of distractions? Is it possible to stifle impulses? How can you get back on your feet after having a bad day? Why not postpone gratification and prepare ahead?
Obviously, a lot depends on the age of the child. Toddlers do not have the same level of self-control as older children. Self-control evolves during time, with the most significant changes occurring between the ages of 3 and 7.
In the long run, children with low self-control are more likely to develop health problems such as obesity and drug addiction. They have a higher risk of committing crimes and have a lower chance of being affluent.
So, how can we teach childrens to be self-disciplined?
Some would argue that we can’t sense it’s “all in the genes.” However, science contradicts this assertion.
Genes may have a role in the development of self-control, according to research.
Age-Appropriate Expectations On Self-Control
When it comes to impulse and self-control, parents’ expectations of their children’s skills are higher than what they are actually capable of, according to the ZERO TO THREE national Parent Survey.
Before the age of three, 56 percent of parents believe their children can avoid doing something that is banned.
At the age of three or older, 44% of parents felt their children could avoid breaching the banned rule.
By the age of six months, 18% of parents feel their infants are capable of resisting.
By the age of one, 24% of parents believe their children can control their emotions and throw tantrums.
By the age of two, 42% of parents believe their children have gained control of their bodies and are throwing tantrums.
What Is the Reality?
Children do not learn impulse control and self-control until they are between the ages of 3.5 and 4.
There is a significant age gap between what parents anticipate of their children and their actual biological capabilities, according to the poll.
This is similar to when I asked my son to pick up his pyjamas and put them in the hamper four feet away every day for over a year… The pressure on him to develop this regulated behaviour was too much for his small physique to handle. However, as he turned four, the condition was no longer an issue. Why? At the age of two, my expectations of his talents were too high, and I had to decrease them until they were age-appropriate.
How many times have you told your child not to touch the remote, keep their hands to themselves, not to step off the pavement, or not to run in the house… yet they still do it?
These are typical events in families with toddlers, and it’s tempting to believe that you’ve told them no a few times and that they should know the rules by now. This, however, is not the case. Toddlers lack self-control, which is why they appear to be constantly “breaking the rules” and pushing boundaries.
Toddlers do not have the brain development to regulate the impulsive and emotional parts of the brain until they are older than three years old. This is why children act on their wishes and have impulsive answers, leaving you scratching your head as to why they didn’t think about the consequences of their actions BEFORE doing.
Between the ages of 3.5 and 4, children master self-control and impulse control.
Between the ages of 3.5 and 4, children have mastered sharing and taking turns.
For more on children’s brain development, read this!
Teach Kids Self-Control
Help Children Avoid Temptation
At the sight of a doughnut, even high-functioning individuals have been known to lose their willpower. Changing the surroundings is thus one of the most essential strategies for sustaining self-control. Keep temptations out of sight!
For small children, this may mean putting away a toy that is likely to create a fight during a playdate, or avoiding the grocery store’s sweets section when shopping together.
It may involve keeping technological distractions out of locations where children complete schoolwork for older children. With older children, though, you may go even further: teach them how to recognize temptations on their own and take the necessary steps to avoid them.
Character strength isn’t necessarily associated with kids who stay out of trouble – and achieve more. They’re better at predicting and avoiding situations that lead to rash decisions.
The renowned “marshmallow test” could be familiar to you.
Preschoolers were given the option of consuming one reward now or two treats later, and the children who showed the greatest ability to wait fared better in the following years.
They did better on standardized examinations, were more likely to complete college, and were less likely to develop substance addiction issues.
When Celeste Kidd reviewed the study, she questioned how much of it was based on a childrens expectations.
Why should you wait patiently for a hypothetical award if you’ve learned from experience that grownups don’t follow their promises or that institutions don’t ensure the equitable distribution of rewards?
Kidd put her theory to the test in a groundbreaking experiment, and the findings back her up. It just took a few of setbacks for children’s willingness to postpone gratification to be shattered.
The willingness to wait is determined by how we balance the dangers and advantages, according to subsequent research.
When adults have reason to doubt the individual promising to deliver a future award, they choose instant satisfaction.
Even two-year-olds have withstood the cookie temptation when the rewards for waiting were great enough.
It’s difficult to stay on track if you don’t recall the rules, and young children have a harder time remembering our instructions. They are prone to becoming quickly sidetracked. As a result, it’s beneficial to remind young children of our expectations.
Three-year-olds were asked to execute a basic activity involving impulse control in a recent experiment by Jane and Yuko Munakata (2015).
To receive a prize, open a box after receiving the right signal. If you see a blue square, that indicates that you may proceed. A red triangle indicates that the box should be left alone.
What is the most effective method for preparing childrens for such a task?
The researchers put two techniques to the test and discovered that one was obviously superior.
Children were more likely to check their urges when an adult reminded them of the rules right before each trial.
Giving childrens a few seconds to pause and ponder without any prompting, on the other hand, had no such impact.
Play Games To Support Self-Control
When we urge children to follow the rules, we are teaching them to learn self-control. However, some games are more difficult than others.
Take, for example, the classic game “Red light, Green light.” A child is expected to go ahead when he hears the words “Green light!” He must stop moving when he hears “Red light!”
The game is all about following directions in this old version. It gets difficult with a twist:
Reverse the rules when the childrens have become used to them. Make “Red light!” the go signal and “Green light!” the stop signal.
The game now assesses a childrens ability to deviate from his or her routine. He must control his urges, which psychologists refer to as “self-regulation.”
Are such games beneficial? That’s what Shauna Tominey and Megan McClelland, two researchers, wanted to know. So they assessed the self-control abilities of 65 preschool children before randomly assigning half of them to play a series of games (Tominey and McClelland 2009).
The game sessions included a modified version of “Red Light, Green Light” as well as additional games to help kids practise self-control:
- Freeze is a fun game to play. When the music plays, the kids dance, and when it stops, they freeze. For fast-tempo songs, dance rapidly; for slow-tempo ones, dance gently. Then switch the cues around: Slow dancing = fast music. Slow music equals quick dancing.
- Freeze with a colour match. When the music stops playing in this version of the freeze game, the childrens don’t merely stop dancing. They begin by standing on a colourful mat. They then do a specific dance move before freezing. On the floor are numerous different-colored mats, each of which corresponds to a particular dance step.
- Being in charge of an orchestra. When an adult waves her baton, the children play musical instruments (such as maracas and bells), raising their pace when the baton travels swiftly and decreasing their speed when the baton slows down. Then the rules are reversed (e.g., kids play faster when the baton moves slowly).
- The sound of drums. A teacher instructs students to react to various drum signals with precise body gestures. When children hear a quick drum beat, they may jump, but when they hear a calm drum beat, they may crawl. After a while, the children are instructed to reverse the cues.
The children played these activities twice weekly in thirty-minute sessions, and the researchers re-assessed the children’s self-regulation abilities after eight weeks.
Children who started the programme with above-aveanger self-control showed little improve (growth mindset)ment, while children who had been struggling did.
Preschoolers who had low self-regulation scores at the outset (below the 50th percentile) had improve (growth mindset)d.
Other researchers put a fantasy-themed game software in front of 5-year-old school kids.
Three times a week, children pretended to assist two helpless goblins by completing “magical activities.”
One game, for example, required children to attentively listen to a tale about an elephant’s travels before reenacting his journey by placing representational objects in the right spatial order.
Other activities, such as “Red Light, Green Light,” were similar to traditional games (e.g., asking kids to either jump or stop according to rules that shift over of the course of the game). And children were frequently forced to coordinate their actions, such as when each child was needed to remember and locate a separate component for a magic potion they were preparing.
Overall, the games were created to improve (growth mindset) inhibition, rule switching, and working memory.
The childrens outperformed their control group classmates on a number of measures after four weeks, including impulse control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory.
See the original study for more information, and download the “extra data file” to learn more about the games utilized.
Allow Kids To Take A Break
Allowing kids rest – pauses from following orders and working hard — is beneficial to them.
Why? People do not keep the same levels of self-control over time, according to studies. When people are given two difficult jobs to accomplish one after the other, they generally lose self-control during the second assignment.
This might be due to at least two factors. One prevalent theory is that self-control is depleted throughout the day. We simply don’t have the energy to keep on.
Another theory, presented by Michael Inzlicht and colleagues (2014), is that our brains are built to hit a balance between drudgery and the pursuit of quick gratification.
A species that cling to the same old job pattern and never takes a break is more likely to overlook significant environmental changes. We enhance our chances of uncovering profitable new possibilities by spending time to experiment and explore.
Regardless of whatever storey is true, the end result is the same: if you force a child to jump from one unpleasant task to the next, self-control is likely to deteriorate.
Provide Proper Motivation
A student who refuses to participate in class may appear to be the poster child for weak self-control. When he’s playing with his favourite Lego set or a favourite video game, though, he’s all focused, persevering, and determined.
He isn’t lacking in self-control. He is unmotivated. He needs to find enjoyment in the things he’s asked to do, and that’s where he needs our help.
Adults who are well-versed in the art of getting psyched up for a task know how to discover methods to get personally invested in it, or how to blend work with pleasure.
They also understand that approaching a task as if it were a dreaded chore always makes matters worse, even if it is a dreaded chore.
Children, on the other hand, have a difficult time understanding all of this, especially if parents are modelling the wrong attitude.
It takes time and effort to turn a job into fun. Finding the proper hooks to pique children’s attention may need a great deal of patience, observation, and adaptability. But, as many effective teachers and therapists know, it’s a worthwhile investment.
It might also be the secret to overcoming “self-control weariness” (Inzlicht et al 2014). When you’ve learned to love at least part of your schoolwork, it’s a lot simpler to get through a bunch of it.
Here are some more resources on motivation:
- Types Of Extrinsic Motivation
- Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
- Intrinsic Motivation: What Is It and How Does It Work?
Teach Correct Mindset
Many people consider intellect and skill to be “given” that we are born with and cannot develop. When they fail, these folks feel powerless and give up.
People who believe that brains and talent are shaped through work, on the other hand, are more resilient. They are more willing to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
By being attentive with our criticism, we can help childrens develop this kind of resilience and determination.
Experiments indicate that complimenting children on their general characteristics (“You’re very smart!”) causes them to acquire the incorrect attitude. General criticism (e.g., “I’m disappointed in you”) has the same effect.
Praise for effort and comments that inspire childrens to try new techniques (“Can you think of another way to accomplish it?”) are more effective.
For additional information, check my articles on praise and intellect, as well as the best method to aid childrens who are feeling powerless.
Work On Memory Skills
It might be difficult to follow through even if you have the correct mentality.
What if you can’t seem to stay focused? Are you paying attention? Are you having trouble remembering what you’re meant to do next?
Working memory capacity is low in many distracted, impulsive children. That is our mental workspace or notepad for keeping information “in mind.” Working memory is used while you are attempting to solve an arithmetic problem or remembering spoken directions to the post office.
On working memory activities, young children do not do as well as adults. That’s quite typical. However, some children suffer more than others, and although there is no one-size-fits-all solution to working memory problems, there are a number of things we can do to help.
See these evidence-based suggestions for improving working memory performance in children for more information.
Be An Emotion Coach
Adults react to a childrens unpleasant feelings in a variety of ways.
Some people are dismissive (“There’s no need to be depressed.”).
Others are critical (“Stop weeping!”).
These methods are ineffective because they do not teach children how to self-regulate.
Children, on the other hand, benefit when their parents talk to them about their feelings, soothe a crying child, demonstrate empathy, and offer positive coping strategies.
This is known as “emotion coaching,” and it has been linked to better child outcomes. Adolescents who were taught by their moms, for example, exhibited a tendency of reducing behaviour issues over time in recent research. Teaching and being a helicopter parent are different things!
Self-discipline requires the ability to plan ahead. People are more likely to succeed when they consider the challenges they confront and devise concrete plans for when, when, and how they will address them.
Is it possible to educate children to plan? Everyday experience shows that practising is beneficial, and research backs this up.
People’s performance on certain puzzle-like activities can be improve (growth mindset)d simply by reminding (ego state) them to prepare ahead.
People in experiments on children and adults did not always prepare ahead when tackling an issue. After being expressly told to ponder before taking action, individuals modified their approach–and frequently had better success.
Some games reward players for foresight, and these games may teach children principles that they may apply to other circumstances.
In one study, participants were instructed to complete a typical planning assignment known as the Tower of London. Some were seasoned chess players, while others were not.
The chess players were no smarter than their classmates, but they had superior planning abilities and spent more time strategizing their moves. Is chess a game that teaches childrens to plan ahead? Maybe.
Self-talk can be beneficial to children.
Have you ever addressed an issue by conversing with yourself? According to research, our capacity to plan is influenced in part by our language talents.
Use Positive Parenting
According to a study of American preschoolers, children with parents who agreed with comments like these were more likely to have weak self-regulation abilities.
“I overlook my childrens poor behaviour,” and “I give in to my child when he or she creates a ruckus over something.”
According to another study, permissive parenting during middle childhood increases the likelihood of social aggressiveness in children. It’s logical. How can you learn self-control if no one ever asks you to do so?
However, it appears that parents can also go too far in the opposite direction.
Children with parents who followed a “obey me without question” attitude were not as poorly behaved as children with permissive parents in the preschool research. However, they still lacked self-control abilities.
Using Positive Parenting because Strict Parenting, Fear Conditioning, and Authoritarian parenting have been proven to raise children who are not as resilient, have less self-control and self-regulation/emotional regulation skills overall.
Dive into the psychology of parenting to learn more.
Kids all around the world have similar attitudes towards adult authority. They are willing to follow some of our guidelines and requirements. However, there are limitations.
When children believe we are interfering in their personal lives, they are more inclined to resist (like telling them what to wear, or insisting that they engage in a particular recreational activity).
Adults can attempt to be dictatorial, but if children see we are overstepping our bounds, they will believe our authority is illegitimate.
They may react with outright disobedience. They may also sneak up behind our backs. In any case, their refusal to comply does not imply that they lack self-control.
References: Teaching self-control
Children are making an informed decision: they feel they have the right to refuse.
If you and your kid seem to be caught in a war of wills, examine your childrens autonomy requirements. You could be able to alter your requests and inspire greater collaboration if you communicate with your child and consider his or her point of view.
Read more about this in Schedules Of Reinforcement.
Parents: How to Manage Your Own Emotions
Being a parent is a wonderful experience, but it needs a great deal of patience on a daily basis. Being a parent is an extremely emotional experience in which you may feel a range of emotions over the span of an hour, ranging from pleased and delighted to sad, angry, and attempting to stretch your last ounce of tolerance.
For example, before your guests come over for dinner, you’ve instructed your kids to clean up the mess they created downstairs. When you return 10 minutes later to check on them, the mess is still there, and they’re now playing with new things. Before you know it, you’re snatching toys, tossing them in the trash, and yelling at your kids for not doing a job you asked them to perform.
Is it because your children didn’t listen that you’re angry, or is there anything else that prompted you to scream….
Do you want your house to be spotless before your guests arrive?
Are you worried out because you have to clean the home and have requested for help but haven’t gotten it, and now you have to clean another section of the house as well?
Are you frustrated because your children refuse to listen to you and you feel powerless?
It’s critical to be aware of your surroundings while you work through impatience, irritation, and anger, and to zero in on the real triggers that are causing you to get angry. You might easily project your personal baggage and expectations onto your children, causing you to take out your frustrations on them.
What You Should Do Next:
1. Subscribe To My Parenting NewsletterSign Up For My Parenting Newsletter for tips on creating a happier home and becoming a more positive parent. As a bonus when you subscribe you’ll get a copy of my FREE Growth Mindset Printout For Kids which is the KEY to raising resilient kids with a growth mindset.
2. Register For A Pretty Awesome FREE 60-Minute Class:Register for a free class called GET KIDS TO LISTEN THE RIGHT WAY; an exclusive FREE class from nationally recognized parenting coach, Amy McCready.
3. Sign Up For A 7 Step Positive Parenting CourseEnroll now in the most in-depth parenting class. After discovering these common sense, easy-to-implement, research-based tools you can learn how to:
- Easily get kids to listen – the FIRST time. No yelling or reminding…not even once!
- Put an end to daily power struggles. Bedtime became a breeze, and all the dawdling, chore wars, sibling rivalry, and mealtime meltdowns disappeared.
- Reduce backtalk by HALF! It’s simple once you know the secrets of these two ‘buckets.’
- Say goodbye to punishments that DON’T work. There’s a 5-step formula that works WAYYY better than time-outs.
- Feel amazing, confident, and empowered as a parent, every day. I NEVER go to bed feeling guilty anymore! (Okay, well maybe sometimes…’ mom guilt’ is still a thing.)
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