how to teach self-control to a child?

Self-control is essential not only for our emotional and social development but also for our mental health and achievements later in life. But is self-control a trait we are born with, or rather a skill that you need to learn and develop? And if so, how do you teach it to a child?

The Marshmallow Test

Perhaps one of the most well-known studies on self-control is the Marshmallow Test conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel and his colleagues in the 1960s and 1970s. In this study, children were offered a choice between receiving one marshmallow immediately or waiting for a short period of time (usually 15 minutes) to receive two marshmallows. The researchers found that children who were able to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow demonstrated better outcomes in areas such as academic achievement, social competence, and mental health later in life.

But is this really true? Does a lack of self-control when you are a 4-years-old really predict your future development?

Does it mean, that self-control and ultimately willpower are something we are born with? Or are they rather skills that need to be developed?

Turns out, the children who struggled to wait and consumed the marshmallows simply lacked the skills that other children had acquired. However, once they learned these skills, they improved their ability to delay gratification.

How to teach self-control to a child?

At what age is self-control developed?

Why do children lack self-control? The first question you should ask yourself is, how old is the child you expect to have this skill?

A friend of mine is exhausted by her nearly 3-year-old not listening to her, doing whatever he wants, and crying bitterly when denied. She wonders if this is normal behavior or if there is something wrong with her child.

Well, willpower is a complex skill that develops gradually over time, with significant milestones occurring at various stages of childhood and adolescence. While there is no specific age at which self-control is fully developed, children typically begin to demonstrate increasing levels of willpower as they grow and mature.

Self-Control at Ages 2-5

During early childhood (ages 2-5), children are still developing their ability to regulate their emotions and impulses. They may have difficulty waiting their turn, controlling their reactions to frustration, or resisting immediate gratification. So, it’s pretty normal to be exhausted when trying to teach a toddler self-control.

how to teach self-control

Slef-Control at Ages 6-12

By middle childhood (ages 6-12), things get better. Children typically show improvements in self-control as their cognitive and social skills continue to develop. They become better at following rules, managing their emotions, and considering the consequences of their actions.

Self-Control at Ages 13-18

Even if it’s hard to believe, during adolescence (ages 13-18), there is further refinement of self-control as teenagers gain a better understanding of their own thoughts and feelings. They become more capable of making responsible decisions, controlling impulses, and resisting peer pressure.

However, not all children will develop self-control at the same rate or in the same way. Factors such as temperament, environment, and parenting style can influence the development of self-control.

How do you control an uncontrollable child?

Managing behavior in a child who seems uncontrollable can be challenging and exhausting. But there are strategies that can help.

Stay Calm

First and foremost, it’s important to stay calm and composed, even when dealing with challenging behavior. Take deep breaths and stay calm, so that you can respond more effectively.

Try to Understand Their Behavior Instead of Reacting

Try to understand the underlying reasons for your child’s behavior and offer support and guidance in a calm way. Nothing easier than that, when the only thing you want to do is scream and yell at them, right? But remember, to control yourself is a matter of self-discipline and you need to lead by example.

So, keep calm and consider whether there may be underlying factors such as stress, anxiety, or unmet needs contributing to their behavior.

How to control an uncontrollable child

Listen and Offer Support

Ask them why are they behaving the way they do. Listen carefully to them without judging. Try to bring the situation down. The situation gets better, when they start explaining what triggered them.

Then it’s time to hug them and reassure them that everything is going to be good.

Use Distraction

Redirect your child’s attention away from challenging behavior by offering alternative activities or interests.

Remember that every child is unique, and what works for one child may not work for another. It may take time and patience to find strategies that are effective for managing your child’s behavior. Here are our most important long-term strategies to control an uncontrollable child.

Long-Term Strategies to Teach Self-Control

This simple strategies can help you to instill this important skill and teach a strong willpower to your child. Prevention is better than medicine, so follow the long-terms strategies to avoid challenging situations.

By consistently implementing these strategies and providing a supportive environment, you can help your child develop the self-control they need to navigate life’s challenges effectively.

Set Clear Limits

Establish clear rules and boundaries, and consistently enforce them. Make sure your child understands the consequences of their actions.

Provide Structure and Routine to Teach Self-Control

Children often thrive on routine and predictability. Establishing a consistent daily schedule can help reduce anxiety and provide a sense of security for your child.

Offer Choices

Give your child choices within limits to help them feel more empowered and in control. This can help reduce power struggles and increase cooperation.

How to control an uncontrollable child

Use Positive Reinforcement

Acknowledge and praise your child’s positive behavior and efforts. Positive reinforcement can encourage them to repeat those behaviors in the future.

Teach by Example

Children learn by example, so demonstrate willpower in your own behavior. Show patience, manage your emotions calmly, and problem-solve effectively.

Practice Self-Control

Give your child opportunities to practice self-control in everyday situations, such as waiting their turn, sharing toys, or managing frustration.

Teach coping strategies

Teach your child healthy ways to manage their emotions, such as taking deep breaths, counting to ten, or using positive self-talk.

Use Role-playing and Storytelling

Engage your child in role-playing scenarios or read stories that illustrate the importance of willpower and how to exercise it effectively.

Encourage Problem-Solving

Help your child develop problem-solving skills by encouraging them to brainstorm solutions to challenges or conflicts they encounter.

Be patient and Supportive to Teach Self-Control

Remember that developing self-control takes time and practice. Be patient with your child. Respect them and offer support and guidance along the way.

Ultimately, self-control is a skill that continues to develop throughout adulthood, with opportunities for growth and improvement at every stage of life.

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