How to help high-schoolers gain self-control

At a glance

  • Many high school students have trouble knowing how to think before they act, but some struggle more than others.

  • You can help your teen gain self-control by laying out clear expectations and talking about moods and feelings.

  • Other ideas: Model good self-control yourself and praise your child when you see similar behaviors.

High school is a time of firsts. First time behind the wheel. First job. First college interview. It’s an exciting time. But it can be stressful for kids who have trouble with self-control, and for you, too.

Gaining control over emotions and impulses is a process for all kids. And it continues into early adulthood. For some kids, though, it takes longer to get there.

“Giving voice to emotions helps teach your teen to recognize difficult feelings before acting on them.”

Teens who have trouble with self-control might need extra help to learn to stop and think, and then act. Try these tips for helping high-schoolers gain self-control.

Lay out clear expectations.

Because of their busy schedules, teens may get anxious or angry if they feel like chores or events are sprung on them. Try to let your child know ahead of time if something they might not want to do is coming up.

  • “SAT prep is next Thursday. You’ll have to miss your drum lesson, but you can take a make-up lesson on Saturday.”

  • “Please have the car back at the house by 4:00 tomorrow. I need it to pick up your sister.”

  • “If it snows on Tuesday, Grandma will need you to shovel her walk. We’ll look at the weather again on Monday to see if you’ll need to head over after school.”

Acknowledge emotions.

Many high-schoolers have the language skills to tell you how things make them feel. Help your child use those words to gain more control over actions and reactions. Giving voice to emotions helps teach your teen to recognize difficult feelings before acting on them.

  • “It seems like that coach’s call made you frustrated. Do you want to talk about that?”

  • “She said no? That sounds really disappointing.”

Set an example.

You’re still a role model for your teen, even if it doesn’t feel like it most days. When kids see their parents or caregivers showing self-control, they’re more likely to do the same.

If you’re dealing with a crashing computer, for instance, talk through possible fixes. It helps to see that you’re staying in control instead of blowing your lid.

Ask your child for solutions, too. When teens come up with their own strategies, they often feel more invested in the project or goal.

Catch your child using self-control.

When you see your teen thinking before acting out of emotion, acknowledge it out loud. Say that you respect and appreciate the effort. This kind of positive reinforcement helps kids think of themselves more positively. It also helps them build confidence that they can control their behavior in the future.

  • “I was proud of you when you walked away from your brother earlier. I know his teasing can make you mad.”

  • “I know you’d rather be at practice right now, but your aunt’s birthday party means a lot to her. Thanks for coming with me.”

  • “I liked the way you accepted that criticism at your art show. It can be hard to hear feedback, but you were very gracious.”

Giving teens praise that builds self-esteem not only boosts confidence. It also helps kids develop self-awareness, which is key on their path toward independence.

Key takeaways

  • The road to self-control starts in early childhood and continues through the early 20s.

  • You can help your teen learn to stop and think before acting.

  • Set expectations, acknowledge your child’s emotions, and praise efforts at self-control.


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