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How to Help Grade-Schoolers Gain Self-Control

By Lexi Walters Wright

At a Glance

  • Most kids start to build self-control in grade school. But some kids take longer than others.

  • You can help your child work on skills like waiting and controlling emotions.

  • Praising the effort at self-control encourages your child to keep trying.

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.”

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Help identify feelings.

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.”

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 your child 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. 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.

Give a related reward.

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:

  • “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 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  self-esteem, too.

Key Takeaways

  • It takes time for some kids to develop self-control. 

  • Simple changes in the way you talk and interact with your child can help.

  • Give kids the language to identify their feelings and reward good self-control.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom