When young kids don’t get what they want, they can really lose it. They don’t yet have the self-control to keep it together when you say “We’re not buying candy today.” But in grade school most kids start developing the ability to check their impulses, think before acting and wait for what they want.
Some kids continue to struggle with self-control long after their peers. That’s especially true of kids who have ADHD and executive functioning issues. If your grade school child has trouble controlling her emotions and impulses, she may need extra help to learn how.
Try these tips for helping your grade-schooler stop and think, and then regulate her own behaviors, emotions and impulses.
Be clear about expectations.
Some kids react badly when they don’t know what to expect in a situation—or what’s expected of them. Fill your child in ahead of time if she’ll need to be patient or do something she doesn’t want to do:
- “We’re going to visit Grandma, and she and I will be talking for a while. Why don’t you bring some things to play with so you won’t be bored?”
- “My friend and her children are coming to visit. You might need to let them play your video games, so put any away that are special.”
Help identify feelings.
If your child can learn to recognize what she’s feeling, she may be able to catch herself before she has an outburst. You can help by giving her the words:
- “Boy, you were really mad when I said you couldn’t have a quarter for the gumball machine.”
- “You seemed sad when your sister said you’re too little to play with her and her friends.”
You can also help her learn to use language that shows self-control. That may help her put the brakes on impulsive, thoughtless behavior. Consider teaching:
- “May I borrow that?”
- “It’s OK, I can share with you.”
- “I’ll wait my turn.”
- “I would like it now, but I’ll wait until later.”
Play at self-control.
For young kids, one of the best ways to learn something is through play. On the way to the bath, or in the supermarket, have your child stop and start different actions. For example, have her freeze when you say “Potato!” These types of games teach kids to stop and think before acting—a self-control essential.
Take a break.
Create a quiet place at home where your child can calm down if she’s out of control. It can be a pillow-filled corner or any cozy spot. This can teach her that there’s a way—and a special place to go—to collect herself when things get out of hand.
Provide a related reward.
Young kids often do better at a task if they get a reward at the end. Instead of giving a toy or treat, offer a related “consequence” for showing self-control. If she stops playing to set the table when you ask, the reward might be choosing the dessert.
Praise your child.
When you see your child practicing self-control, let her know. This kind of positive reinforcement will help her think of herself as a person who can successfully control her behavior. You might want to say things like:
- “I love how you waited patiently for your turn.”
- “This is the third time this week you didn’t interrupt me when I was on the phone. I really appreciate that you waited to talk with me.”
Self-control may not come naturally to your grade-schooler. But by helping her learn how to keep her behavior in check, you may make it easier for her to make and keep friends, handle her feelings and improve her self-esteem. The expert behavior advice in Parenting Coach could also help you navigate your child’s trouble self-control.