6 Ways to Teach Self-Control to Kids & Minimize Impulsive Behavior

Prevent impulsive behaviors and help your kids better understand the impact of their actions by using these helpful techniques!

Published February 2, 2023
Girl shopping in a supermarket

Don't touch that. You need to wait for mommy. Put your toys away before your snack.

From the moment your baby becomes mobile, they want to explore the world. While this is a wonderful thing, as they get older, their need for instant gratification becomes seen as a lack of respect and a safety concern. In order to prevent behavioral problems in the future, parents need to teach their kids the importance of self-control.

What Is Self-Control for Kids?

Self-control is a person's ability to think before they act. This requires a child to resist their immediate temptation to touch, say, or do something. Most parents notice these impetuous behaviors peaking between the ages of three and seven. This lack of restraint is normal. This is how children investigate and learn. In order to teach kids self-control, parents must introduce the concepts of self-discipline or self-regulation.

How to Teach Kids Self-Control

Impulse control requires practice and patience. This means working with your child regularly and giving them ample time to learn, apply the concepts, and grow.

Teach Cause and Effect

The first step in teaching self-control for kids is helping them to understand the concept of cause and effect. Why does something happen? What triggers a change? What occurs if you alter one factor in the scenario? Many times, children repeat the same impulsive actions because they do not comprehend the repercussions of the activity.

How do you teach this? You start with playful situations. For instance, build a tower of blocks and then knock it over with your hands. Repeat this action. Then, verbalize what happened. "Mommy built a tower, but when she pushed on it, the tower fell down." Find opportunities throughout your day to point out cause-and-effect scenarios.

Once your child shows a basic understanding of this concept, give them the opportunity to make predictions about how certain situations will pan out. You can easily accomplish this through storybooks! Sit down to read a book and as you progress through the narrative, pause and let them guess what will happen next. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a fantastic choice to help children understand cause and effect.

Finally, you want to take the time to explain how an action could lead to a bad reaction. "We have to look both ways before crossing the street. That way, we can see if any cars are coming. If they don't stop, we could get really hurt." By understanding that all of our actions are connected, you can much more easily explain self-control to a child.

Label Expectations & Give Choices

If a child does not know that an action is problematic, then they are more likely to engage in an inappropriate way. Thus, prior to starting an activity, parents need to establish clear guidelines for what their children can and cannot do. For instance, "We are going to the grocery store, and we are going to keep our hands inside the cart."

Then, once inside the store, it's important to include your kids in the shopping process. This reduces temptations and improves their decision-making skills. "Which snack should we buy? The granola bars or the applesauce pouches?" Once they decide, let them place the item in the cart. By making them an integral part of the process, they're more likely to behave and even verbalize what they need instead of hastily reaching for it.

Recognize Emotions

Another trigger for self-control issues is a child's inability to identify their feelings. This can lead to aggressive behaviors like hitting and biting. One of the easiest ways to help your kids understand emotions is to read stories that showcase these various feelings.

The Slumberkins book series is a spectacular choice that was created by a special education teacher and family therapist. These books serve as emotional learning tools that can help kids to better understand how emotions make us feel and act. We also love that they provide affirmations to improve a child's emotional health and wellbeing.

Need to Know

For younger toddlers, it's hard to recognize emotions. It is a parents' job to take the time to label these feelings. This can help your little one associate the feeling with a word and better handle these situations in the future. That means noting when you're happy or sad and explaining why you feel that way.

Redirect Bad Behaviors

Once you have noted what they've done wrong, it's imperative that you show them the correct behavior or action. Otherwise, they will continue to act out. For instance, if you notice your child hitting your pet when they are frustrated, get down on their level, make eye contact, and firmly tell them no. Next, take their hand and show them how to appropriately touch their pet.

Finally, acknowledge that you understand they're angry, but hitting others will not solve the problem. Inquire why they are mad and try to give a constructive solution. If the hitting continues, give them one warning. Let them know they will get a five-minute timeout if they can't treat others nicely. Follow through with the timeout if the behavior continues. The intent is to not only stop bad behaviors, but to also help your child understand that there are repercussions to their actions.

Reward Progress

Positive reinforcement is an amazing tool for promoting positive behaviors. If you want your kids to show self-control, then praise them when they make steps in the right direction. Let's say your child used to hit in the past when they got angry, but today, they paused and breathed deeply until they regained their emotions. Stop what you are doing and let them know how proud you are of them!

For those kids who need a little extra motivation, consider a reward system. For example, every time they show control over their emotions or actions, they get a star. If they get 20 stars, then they get to pick an excursion or choose what you eat for dinner one night. If you decide to go this route, pay attention to how they behave in all situations. Did they sit patiently at the doctor? Did they maintain their composure when their little brother stole their toy? Did they wait for everyone to sit down and pray before digging into dinner? These little moments matter and deserve recognition!

Promote Impulse Control Through Play

Children learn through imitation and play! This makes games like Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light the perfect tools for teaching self-control techniques. Best of all, your child will probably not even know that they are practicing practical life skills.

How to Control Impulsive Behavior in a Child

Self-control for kids can be hard, but by regularly implementing these techniques, it won't take long to see noticeable changes in your child's behavior. However, it's important for parents to remember that a lack of impulse control in kids can also stem from boredom, stress, or exhaustion. Children thrive on a routine and they require both stimulation and a good night's sleep. This means getting on a schedule, talking about feelings regularly, and designating a time every day to wearing your kids out! Research has proven that physical activity can help children with self-regulation, decrease stress levels, and bolster cognitive development. These steps, along with the techniques above, can play a big role in teaching your kids restraint, patience, and self-regulation.

6 Ways to Teach Self-Control to Kids & Minimize Impulsive Behavior