11 Simple but Effective Self-Control Activities for Kids

Help your children become less impulsive with these fun self-control activites for kids.

Published February 5, 2023
Grandmother And Granddaughter Playing Jenga At Home

Temptation can get the best of us, but there are ways to enhance a person's willpower and improve their ability to manage their emotions. For the parents looking for self-control activities for kids, try these old school games from your childhood. There's a reason why they've stayed so popular!

Self-Control Activities for Kids

Impulse control activities for kids should involve turn taking, decision making, problem solving, movement, and active listening. These processes can help to make kids more decisive, teach them to better control their emotions, become more patient, and to think before they act.

Simon Says

Simon says touch your nose. Simon says hop on one foot. Follow Simon's instructions and you stay in the game. However, if Simon mixes in a command without saying the words "Simon says," and someone follows those instructions, they're out! This game seems simple enough, but it has an array of benefits. First, Simon Says helps kids work on their ability to focus on multiple tasks at a time. This is extremely important for honing a child's self-control skills. Why?

One reason young children are impulsive is because they have trouble concentrating when their senses are overloaded. This leads to moments of frustration and sudden outbursts. Simon Says allows them to practice handling these stresses in a fun and controlled environment, improving their ability to self-regulate. This game also enhances a child's body awareness. Many people do not realize that fidgeting can be a subconscious action. If a child has a better understanding of their movements, they are more equipped to regain control when they find themselves in stressful situations.

Variations: Part of teaching self-control is labeling a person's emotions. Thus, turn the game into a feelings lesson. "Simon says make a happy face." "Simon says pretend you are sad." "Simon says show how you move when you're excited." This game is best played in the bathroom in front of a mirror. This not only allows you to see how your child interprets emotions, but it also lets them see the expressions of others.

Red Light, Green Light

This is another fun game that teaches movement control and patience. To play, you need to have a start and finish line. Everyone lines up at the starting mark, and when the referee shouts GO, everyone speed walks to the finish line. When the referee says STOP, everyone must freeze. If you continue to move, you have to go back to the starting line and begin again. This is a great example of cause and effect. Children become less impulsive when they understand that there are consequences to their actions.

Variations: To keep the game exciting, change up the movements in each turn. Have the kids make their way to the finish line while:

  • Walking backwards
  • Skipping
  • Crab walking
  • Crawling
  • Bear walking
  • Frog hopping
  • Waddling


Part of building better self-control is pausing to analyze a situation before making a decisive move. In order to win the game of Jenga, you need to think strategically, have patience, and use slow and steady movements. This makes it one of the best impulse control games for kids. Players must also take turns, which can further promote self-discipline and restraint.

Hide and Seek

Playful little girl plays hide and seek in a sunny domestic environment

Another aspect of self-control is problem solving. In order to find the best hiding spot, one cannot simply jump into the first nook or cranny they see. They must evaluate the space and find the most discrete location in a quick and efficient way.

Freeze Dance

This game is always entertaining for kids and adults alike! Start the music and get grooving! However, when the music stops, so does the dancing. Everyone must turn into a statue until the music begins again. This game further enhances a child's movement control, and it works on their ability to pause an action and change course. This can be extremely beneficial for kids who are beginning their potty training journey or those who are learning life skills like crossing the street.

Would You Rather

Would You Rather is another impulse control activity for kids that teaches problem-solving skills, open-mindedness, and critical thinking. We don't always have control of our situation, but we do control our decisions and actions moving forward. This game gives kids the opportunity to look at the big picture, analyze their options, and make a choice.

Count & Clap

Choose a number - let's say it is five. The first person will say one and each subsequent person will count upwards by one (1,2,3...). When you reach a number that has five in it, the person must stay silent and clap out the number instead of speaking it. If they talk, they're out! This makes certain that kids stay focused and follow instructions. While these seem like simple tasks, they allow kids with self-control issues to pay closer attention to their behaviors and see how they impact the grand scheme of things.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Patiently sitting still and waiting to see if you will be selected can be a hard task for young kids. What is even harder is when the player chooses others over you multiple times. Duck, Duck, Goose requires patience and good listening skills. It also teaches kids to maintain their emotions in moments when they become frustrated with the outcome.

Musical Chairs

Kids run around playing musical chairs game

Similar to Duck, Duck, Goose, musical chairs is another self-control activity for kids that improves listening skills and allows kids to get a better handle on their emotions. It's disappointing when you don't win, but these opportunities teach them to calmly accept their defeat and try again in the next round instead of having a meltdown.

Palace Guard

Has your child mastered the art of staying still? The Queen's guards are famous for their ability to stand at attention and ignore the distractions of others. This game follows the same premise - one person is the guard, and they must keep a straight face as the other players try to make them laugh! This can be done with jokes, silly faces, or goofy dance moves! This helps fine tune movement control and improves a child's ability to maintain their composure.

Variations: For older kids, you can designate multiple guards. Each person takes a sip of water, but does not swallow. The other players try to make the guards laugh, and the last person to spit out their drink wins!

The Snack Challenge

"The Marshmallow Experiment" was a study conducted in 1972 at Stanford University. The purpose was to study self-control and delayed gratification in children under the age of five. During the COVID-19 pandemic, new versions of this challenge took social media by storm. The premise is simple. You sit your child down at the table and place a snack in front of them. This can be a marshmallow, a fruit snack, a chocolate, or anything that they may find enticing. Then, you tell them they can eat this one item now, OR they can wait a designated period of time (five to fifteen minutes) and have two of the item. This is an easy and fun way to help your child build up their patience and work on their impulse control. Also, as they gain a better grasp of the concept, up the ante- offer more treats for more time!

Employ Impulse Control Games for Kids Every Day

You don't need a big group or an exciting theme to teach your kids to be less impulsive. You just need to look for small ways to incorporate these lessons into daily life. That means play the Red Light, Green Light game while coloring or filling up the family's water cups for dinner. Play musical chairs around your sofa during the commercial breaks to see who snags the best spot for the next part of the show. Engage in Would You Rather while deciding what to buy at the grocery store. Get creative with your games and remember that the more often you play, the better your child will become at self-regulating and limiting their impulsive tendencies.

11 Simple but Effective Self-Control Activities for Kids