Beyond Games: 3 Easy Strategies for Teaching Kids Self-Control

Does your child get angry easily? Does a difficult homework question send them off the deep end? Is it common for them to procrastinate or neglect responsibilities altogether in favor of having fun? These may be indications that your child has difficulty with self-control. Teaching children how to delay gratification and handle frustration is necessary in order for them to be capable, adaptable, well-rounded individuals. In this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games you’ll find 3 easy strategies for teaching kids self-control.

Talk the walk. Talk to a child about the strategies you use to exercise response inhibition and self-control and then model them as you go about your day. Children benefit from seeing that self-restraint isn’t just reserved for high-stress situations. When parents say things like, “We would really like to watch TV, but we have to clean the basement first,” we show kids that self-control is a skill we use every day. Talk out loud about how you are going to wait to eat dessert until after you finish dinner, or that you need to wash the dishes before you can relax on the couch with your iPad.

If conflict arises, demonstrate how you respond to an argument by allowing that other people have the right to their opinion or that you want to take some time to consider what they are saying. You may even demonstrate the use of self-talk by quietly instructing yourself to “calm down” or “take it easy” in stressful situations. If your child has a tendency to have negative self-thoughts or use negative self-talk when they are frustrated, hurt, or angry — “I’m stupid,” or “everybody hates me” — help them shake these negative self-appraisals by affirming their strengths rather than just dismissing their concerns. An app like SuperBetter can make habits like negative self-talk easier to defeat.

That brings us to our next strategy:

Idea Bucket is an app you can use for teaching kids self-control

A decision-making app like Idea Bucket promotes mindfulness by allowing users to weigh pros and cons

Don’t argue. Remember that you are the parent, so try very hard not to argue with a child, particularly when they are angry. Arguing puts a parent on the same level as a child. Stay calm and display appropriate behavior. Taking your own time-out and walking away from the situation for a few minutes could help, and it also models a helpful self-control strategy for a child. Give them a few choices for being heard that allow you to remain in control, such as giving them a certain amount of time to make their point about the matter. Use active listening, and then either make a decision or set a future time to decide the consequences.

Self-control star. Video can be helpful for teaching kids self-control by showing a child the right and wrong way to behave. Let them know you’ll be conducting an experiment with a camera for a few nights in a row. Play back examples of both impulsive behavior and self-restraint. Stepping back and looking at their own actions can be helpful for prompting them to come up with new strategies for similar situations in the future. You might also have your child “act” in a video, challenging them to show self-control even if they are teased by a sibling or losing in a game, and then watch and discuss it with them afterwards. Using a decision-making app like Idea Bucket to come up with other strategies or examine the pros and cons of behavior can help kids take responsibility for their actions and practice being more mindful.


Featured image: Flickr user Johnny Silvercloud

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