You might feel as if you are constantly reminding your child to stop doing something: stop yelling, stop hitting, stop whining, stop begging—the list could go on. Or perhaps you find yourself repeating the same requests such as “clean your room,” or “finish your dinner.” The truth of the matter is that your child isn’t just ignoring what you’re saying, but that they simply haven’t honed self-control, yet, and is just acting on their impulsive behavior.
Self-control is what helps your child turn off the TV when you say, “Five more minutes!” It’s what helps them put down the videogame or decide to ask nicely instead of whine or cry for something they want. It’s the voice inside of us that guides our behavior in lieu of acting on every little impulsive emotion or behavior that emerges within us. If your child is struggling with their self-control, don’t lose hope. Child therapists at ELEOS Psychology Center of Minnesota are here to help your child gain control of their emotions, resist distractions and delay gratification to help them be successful in many situations, including school, social events and even while you’re out running errands.
What Is Self-control?
Self-control is also known as willpower or conscientiousness. Simply put, self-control is when you think before you act. Developing self-control means children can make thoughtful decisions that will help them respect themselves, progress in school and build good relationships in and out of the home. This impulse control actually starts to take shape when your child is still a baby—they can start to understand your simple requests like “no grabbing” or “no screaming” within a year’s time. A toddler’s ability to delay gratification can even begin to show before they reach two years of age. Every month can show a new milestone in regard to developing self-control, but there are steps you can take to help them along the way.
Why Is Self-control Important?
When it comes to assessing what parts of your daily life are affected by self-control, the answer is simple: all of them. Self-control is what made you get up to the sound of an alarm clock this morning, go to school or work, talk cordially with those around you, and act in a nondisruptive way. It’s what made you keep your cool when a driver cut you off this morning and it’s what enabled you to stand in line at the coffee shop without becoming too impatient. While you may not consciously always be crediting self-control for these things, it’s always playing its part.
When children are able to develop impulse, emotional and movement control, they are better able to control themselves in any situation. Sometimes, though, your child may have a hard time exhibiting self-control as life for a kid seems to be full of big emotions and the tendency to want to defy authority.
There have been studies conducted that explore how better established self-control at a young age affects someone later in life. For example, one study found that “low self-control in childhood was associated with the emergence and persistence of unemployment across four decades.” Another study by the University of Chicago found that “the more self-control people reported having, the more satisfied they reported being with their lives.” And another linked a lack of self-control to increased debt and a failure to make payments on a debt management plan. Why, though, would self-control contribute to such things like unhappiness, unemployment and high debt later in life?
Developing self-control enables children to realize the potential consequences of their behavior early on. They will be able to realize that hitting a playmate in order to get the truck they’re playing with will result in them not getting the truck at all, but instead they’ll get a timeout. It will keep them from lashing out when something they don’t like happens and it will help them realize the importance of successfully finishing tasks that are boring or difficult. It will aid them later in life when it comes to choosing between paying a credit card bill instead of new shoes. It’s this realization of the consequences of actions that will drive children to do things like react calmly, be patient, follow the rules or finish homework. All of which will help them succeed in school, work and relationships.
Different Ways to Help Teach Self-control
If it seems like your child’s self-control isn’t as far along as you would want—they’re disruptive in class, they hit or scream to get what they want, or they have a hard time being told what to do—there are steps you can take to help them. The therapists at ELEOS Psychology Center can work with you and your child to show you the skills you need to help better develop their self-control. Some steps to improved self-control include:
Staying Calm – When your child’s impulse is to lash out or have a tantrum in reaction to an event, you as the parent need to react calmly. When you act calm in a calamitous situation, suddenly everything becomes a lot less scary for your child. Calmness will help your child feel safe instead of scared. When a child starts learning that staying calm will have better results, the better they’ll be able to respond to sudden changes, unwanted events and even arguments with their siblings.
Tell Them What They Can Do – Children will become angry or frustrated if they are constantly being told, “no.” When they have no control of their actions by being told to not do everything, they will have a harder time learning acceptable behavior. Instead of always telling them to stop doing something, tell them about what they can do as an alternative to an unwanted behavior. Is your child bouncing a ball inside when they aren’t supposed to? Instead of demanding they stop, tell them where they are allowed to act like that—perhaps in the basement, a playroom or in the yard. This will help your child learn how to behave and control themselves in different scenarios.
Let Your Child Choose – Eliminate some of your child’s frustration by giving them a choice in regard to their actions. Instead of demanding they follow strict guidelines, let them pick between two options. For instance, ask if they would like to eat breakfast or put on their school clothes first. Maybe they’d like to have an apple instead of a banana in their lunch today. Giving them simple choices allows them to grow their ability to make decisions and imagine the effects of those decisions, which is a large part of self-control.
Give Them an Emotional Vocabulary – When your child does lash out or lack self-control physically or emotionally, don’t shut them out. Doing so will make them feel isolated and misunderstood. Instead, tell them you understand their feelings. If your child sees that you acknowledge that they are mad and why, the greater their own emotional vocabulary will grow. This will help your child recognize different emotions in the future as well as identify what they can do manage them. Emotional self-control will help them persevere in different situations even when they get upset or frustrated.
Learn the Skills for Self-control with Your Child
The therapists at ELEOS are ready to help your child with self-control. The tips above are a good starting point toward better self-control, but they can be difficult to get into the habit of doing. When you come to ELEOS, you and your child are taught the necessary skills for self-control in a safe and empathetic environment so that the same skills can be applied outside of our office.
Better self-control for your child could mean more success in school, making friends and being with family. They’ll be better able to manage and regulate their actions and emotions by realizing the repercussions that can come from their decisions. Have questions about child therapy and self-control? Call us today. We’re ready to help families in and around Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding cities.