Teaching Your Child Self-Control

Having self-control is possessing the ability to rise above immediate pressures, such as hunger, and not giving in to impulse. Having self-control as a child is also associated with many positive personality characteristics, coping skill and academic performance. Mastery of self-control develops gradually throughout the childhood years, but you can help your child develop better self-control.

Be a Role Model for Good Self-Control
As you can guess, parental behavior directly influences a child’s willpower. Studies were done wherein children were presented with the choice to either choose a small, immediate reward or wait for a larger, more appealing reward. Kids who watched adults choose the smaller, immediate reward imitated the adult’s behavior. The same was true for children who watched adults wait for the more appealing reward.

Set an example for your child by exercising self-control. Giving them an explanation for your ‘self-controlling behavior’ is of the utmost importance. Use explanations such as ‘I’m not going to buy this cookie right now, even though I really want it, because that way I can save my money and spend the money at the fun carnival next week!’

When they face a decision between delay of gratification for a big reward or immediate satisfaction for a smaller reward, help them work through the benefits of delaying gratification. Your child should be able to make the right decision with your guidance. Just remember to focus on the benefits of delaying gratification!

Temperament Plays A Role
Although it is parents who influence their child’s self-control, a child’s temperament also enters the equation. Toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children who are particularly emotional have difficulty with self-control. Emotional children will need more guidance in developing their willpower.

Your child’s temperament also plays a role in how you should guide their self-restraint. Let’s divide children into two categories—those who are fearful of wrongdoing and those who are not fearful of punishment.

If your child is particularly fearful or nervous about wrongdoing or getting caught in the act, provide them with reminders about self-control, such as ‘don’t eat those cookies until after dinner.’ Gentle discipline works to reinforce compliance in your child.

If your child is not fearful of wrongdoing and punishment, then it’s necessary to ask your child to cooperate using a positive, warm manner. Basically, you want to appeal to your child by reminding them of your strong, nurturing relationship. They will comply in order to avoid upsetting the parent-child relationship.

Improving Self-Control
An individual usually resists temptation by first reminding themselves of the benefits of long-term over short-term goals and then distracting themselves from the temptation or reducing its attractiveness.

You may be shocked to discover that preschoolers begin to develop these coping strategies. How do kids stop themselves from giving in to temptation? They usually have a concrete coping strategy:

- remind themselves to stop looking at the tempting object (friend’s toys or plate of cookies)
- remind themselves of the rules prohibiting them from the tempting object
- design activities to distract themselves from the tempting object

Some kids sing a song to themselves about rules against eating cookies while others try to leave the room. These concrete strategies help develop willpower.

Give Up Your Own Control
Studies have found that children of parents who are controlling or very strict with their kids have poor self-control. This is because by always controlling the child’s behavior, the parent never allows the child to act on their own and learn from the consequences of these actions. It’s important to give up your control on your child’s actions so that they can develop their own self-control.

Learn about the other reasons you should give up control over your child’s life and let them make decisions in our sense of control.