When very 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 as they reach grade school, most kids start developing the ability to check their impulses, think before acting, and wait for what they want.
Some kids, though, continue to
struggle with self-control long after their peers. If your child has trouble controlling emotions and impulses at this age, you may need some extra help.
Try these tips for helping your grade-schooler build self-control.
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 an activity is going to be boring or unpleasant:
“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 kids are coming to visit. You might need to let them play your video games, so put away any that are special.”
If your child can learn to recognize feelings before they fester, together you can learn to prevent outbursts. You can say something like:
“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 your child learn to use language that shows self-control. That can help put the brakes on impulsive, thoughtless behavior. Teach phrases like:
“May I borrow that?”
“It’s OK, I can share with you.”
“I’ll wait my turn.”
“I’d like it now, but I’ll wait until later.”
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 your child freeze when you say “Potato!” These types of games teach kids to stop and think before acting—a self-control essential.
Create a quiet place at home where your child can calm down. It can be a pillow-filled corner or any cozy spot. This teaches kids that there’s a way—and a special place to go—to collect themselves when things get out of hand.
Young kids often do better at a task
if they get a reward at the end. You can do this when your child shows self-control, too. For example, if your child stops playing to set the table when you ask, the reward might be choosing dessert.
Praise your child’s efforts.
When you see your child practicing self-control, acknowledge it out loud. This kind of
positive reinforcement helps kids feel proud that they can successfully control their behavior. You might want to say things like:
Self-control may not come naturally to your grade-schooler. But by helping your child learn how to keep behavior in check, you make it easier for your child to make and keep friends and handle feelings. And that can improve