How to Develop Self-Control in Children

Self-development tactics like self-control are easily practised by adults, but are difficult to be inculcated and used by children. Growing up is all about learning the ways of life and managing to strive in the face of competition. However, for children, life is all fun and games, and being able to get all their desires and wishes full-filled by others.

Whilst adults use self-control in many forms, for children it begins with controlling physical actions. Children, when faced with opposition to their wishes are unable to control their thoughts or emotions, and literally ‘hit out’ in exasperation. All children do this and it is a natural outcome of their mental level. However, unchecked physical retaliation can gain humongous proportions and assume a completely ‘out-of-hand’ situation.

Self-control is an attribute that has to be taught to children, as it is not something that they learn on their own. The concept has to be introduced by adults and in the beginning, there needs to be some level of parental control on actions until the child himself realises that what he is doing or saying is harmful and therefore he needs to control his actions and words.

Discipline, when viewed in a positive orientation, is a way of making the child realise that he has done a wrong act and that if this wrong action is not done (by self-controlling), then there is no need for corrective action (discipline).

Developing self-control amongst children is a joint endeavour by the children and their caregivers (parents, teachers, and guides). Such development undergoes various stages:

Stage One

Kate and Jane are on a play-date at Kate’s house. Jane wants to play with a particular doll, but as that is Kate’s favourite, she refuses to share it. Jane takes it from the toy cabinet and, in anger, Kate hits her.

In this situation, Jane is not mature enough to respect Kate’s wishes and Kate is unable to express her feelings and retaliates in a physical manner. They are too small to understand the nuances of self-control. Parental intervention is required to stop the ‘fight’ and counsel the children. While Jane is told not to take other people’s things unless given permission, Kate is counselled to express her emotions through words and not harmful action.

However, this one incident will not lead to self-control the next time. The second time around, the same situation may arise with similar events or interchanged roles. It is over time, that Kate and Jane realise that their actions are wrong.

Stage Two

Tom and Caesar are brothers aged 4 and 8. While playing, Tom gets angry with Caesar, as the latter is quicker at the video game than he is. Thus, Tom hits Caesar.

They play together and tend to fight as well with each hitting the other. Tom being a toddler, and unable to express his emotions and anger in any other way other than hitting, constantly lashes out at his brother. Caesar, being the older of the two, can think for himself and, if he wants to, can apply self-control on his actions and not hit his younger brother. This self-control will be used at times, but on other occasions, he may retaliate. Hence, as he has grown older, Caesar is able to use some amount of self-control in his behaviour – but, only if he wants to.

As denoted by these two examples, self-control amongst children lies in the physical realm. They are immature and unable to control emotions and thoughts, as they do not comprehend their own emotions. Even adults find it difficult to manage emotions, so how can it be expected of a child?

Therefore, children need to be taught to use self-control in their actions.