Learning and Thinking Differences That Cause Trouble With Self-Control
At a Glance
Learning and thinking differences like ADHD can cause trouble with self-control.
Some kids look like they don’t have self-control because they don’t understand social rules.
Trouble with self-control can also be a sign of frustration about school.
Kids can struggle with self-control for lots of reasons. Some kids take longer than others to develop self-control.
So it’s sometimes a matter of catching up—especially when kids are young for their grade.
But trouble with
self-control isn’t always just a matter of catching up. It can be a sign of the frustration and anxiety that go hand in hand with struggling in school. It’s also a sign of
And sometimes what looks like a lack of self-control is actually a lack of social skills. It’s hard for kids to follow social rules if they don’t know when they’re breaking them.
For kids who learn and think differently, trouble with self-control doesn’t just go away on its own. But with the right support, kids can make strides at improving self-control.
How ADHD Can Affect Self-Control
What it is: A common condition that makes it hard to focus. It can also cause trouble with impulse control, organization, and other skills called executive functions.
The self-control connection: ADHD affects the brain’s ability to “hit the brakes” and think through consequences before doing something. Some kids with ADHD are
hyperactive. ADHD can also make it
hard to manage emotions.
What they are: Trouble with reading, writing, or math. Kids who struggle in these areas are as smart as their classmates but are often misunderstood. Others may think they’re not trying hard enough or can’t improve skills.
The self-control connection: Kids with learning differences often get frustrated when they don’t do well at something, even when they’re trying really hard. It’s also common for them to feel anxious about school. That can lead them to quickly give up on homework and tests.
How Sensory Processing Issues Can Affect Self-Control
What it is: Difficulty handling sensations like sights, sounds, flavors, smells, and textures. Kids with
sensory processing issues may also have trouble knowing when they feel full, hungry, thirsty, hot, or cold. It can
affect how kids move, too.
The self-control connection: Kids might try to run away from situations that are overwhelming. They might refuse to wear certain clothes or try new foods. Or they might have a
sensory meltdown they can’t control.
Some kids seek out sensations in ways that annoy other people (like tapping them or pacing around the room). Or they might recoil from a hug or erupt in anger after getting bumped into. Read more about different
reactions of kids with sensory processing issues.
How Trouble With Social Skills Can Affect Self-Control
What it is: Difficulty understanding social cues like body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. Some kids may have trouble communicating in ways that are appropriate for a situation.
The self-control connection: It’s hard to follow social rules when you don’t understand them or don’t notice that you’re breaking them. Kids who struggle with social skills might stand too close to people, cut in line, or ask too many questions. They might
talk a lot or have trouble “reading the room” and
taking part in conversations. Other kids might get
fixated on a topic or idea and have trouble moving on to something new.
Understanding why your child is struggling with self-control allows you to find the best ways to help. Take notes on what you’re seeing. Connect with the teacher to find out what’s happening in the classroom. And remember that struggling with self-control doesn’t mean your child can’t improve. Explore
more strategies to try.
If your child’s behavior seems “out of control” and you don’t know what to do, here are
steps to take.
Problems with self-control can be a sign of ADHD.
Trouble with social skills or motor skills can look like a lack of self-control—but that’s not the core issue.
When kids try really hard in school but still struggle, it can lead to difficulty with self-control.