Imagine being at someone’s house for dinner and grabbing the salt off the table before anyone else can. Then when the host asks everyone how the food is, saying it’s a little bland.
Not being able to control your impulses can create awkward social moments. And for kids with learning and attention issues, problems with impulse control can make forming friendships very difficult.
What Self-Control Is
When we think through how our decisions might play out and then decide what to say or do, we’re using self-control. It’s a key social skill that keeps our behavior, emotions and impulses in check. Self-control is what stops us from talking during a movie or blurting out that we don’t like someone’s new hairstyle.
We exercise self-control during daily activities like waiting to board the bus and taking turns in conversations. We may not even realize we’re doing it, but everyone would notice if we weren’t. We’d be pushing to get to the front of the line and talking nonstop. Our actions would look impulsive and maybe even uncaring. Our behavior would seem extreme or inappropriate.
“Some kids with certain learning and attention issues have a hard time controlling their impulses. They’re not being impulsive on purpose.”
For most kids, the road to self-control starts in early childhood and continues through their early twenties. The older they get, the better able they are to:
- Wait for things they want without throwing tantrums
- Anticipate what might happen if they do—or don’t—say something or take action
- Manage anger or frustration without outbursts
- Keep their hands to themselves
- Set a goal and make a step-by-step plan for reaching it
- Think through how their behavior affects others and make changes based on that thinking
Some kids with certain learning and attention issues have a hard time controlling their impulses. They’re not being impulsive on purpose. They just haven’t developed the impulse control skills that other kids have. Trouble with self-control is a main symptom of ADHD and executive functioning issues.
How Self-Control Issues Impact Socializing
There are three types of self-control issues: impulse control issues, emotional control issues and movement control issues. They can each have an impact on your child’s social abilities in different ways.
If your child has impulse control issues he may:
- Interrupt conversation often
- Talk excessively
- Speak out of turn
If your child has emotional control issues he may:
- Become easily frustrated and quick to give up
- Be unable to tolerate corrections or criticism
- Have outbursts or tantrums long after peers have stopped
If your child has movement control issues he may:
- Be overly active or restless
- Squirm or fidget
- Have trouble with quiet or seated activities
- Have difficulty taking turns
- Disrupt games and conversations
How Self-Control Issues Affect Learning
If your child has trouble settling down, staying still and waiting to speak, just imagine his life at school! Every day, he’s expected to sit quietly in a chair while the teacher lectures. But how could he? When kids have issues with self-control, they can find it difficult to fit in and behave appropriately in learning environments. And that may make actual learning difficult.
Having self-control issues can call negative attention to your child. The teacher may have to repeatedly interrupt a lesson to talk to your child about his disruptive behavior. Classmates might become annoyed with your child for requiring so much attention.
Your child might feel frustrated and embarrassed. And the whole situation may be so distracting that he falls behind on the lesson he’s trying to learn in the first place.
Self-control issues can make it hard for your child to fit in and make friends. Luckily, you can help your child learn ways to gain self-control. There are different strategies you can try with your grade-schooler, middle-schooler and high-schooler. You can also look to Parenting Coach for specific expert advice.