5 ways to teach junior self-control

Showing your child how to respond without acting impulsively is an important life skill you can impart to them.

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Babies are born with little or no self-control — they react naturally to their feelings as they are unable to control their emotions and behaviour.

When you teach your child how to cope with strong emotions like frustration and anger, he or she will learn how to respond to stressful situations, cooperate with others and resolve conflicts. This useful life skill will help your child in her school and social life.

Self-control is the ability to think before reacting, to control your actions and not be ruled by your feelings. Exercising self-control means handling and expressing your emotions in appropriate ways.

Self-control is the ability to think before reacting, to control your actions and not be ruled by your feelings

“Children who are able to communicate their needs and wants are happier as their needs are met. They are also able to follow routines and understand instructions, thus becoming more stable emotionally,” explains early education expert Patricia Koh, chief executive of Maple Bear Singapore, a chain of premium childcare centres.

She notes that children under 18 months of age often struggle to communicate with the adults around them. However, if we can show our children how to communicate their needs and wants using signs or words, they are likely to be able to be able to control their emotions.

Ways to help your kid learn self-control

Here are ways to help your child how to build up their self-control.

1. Recognising emotions and feelings

Children often struggle to identify what they are feeling as well as to communicate with the adults around them. Help your children put a name to the emotion they are struggling with. Let them know that you understand why they are feeling this way. This will help calm them down.


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2. Self-soothing abilities

Teach your child how to calm herself down when she loses control: Taking deep breaths, counting to 10, stepping away from the situation. Teach her to identify triggers and ways to stop herself from reaching breaking point. The faster she calms herself down, the more in control she will be.

3. Understanding what’s acceptable and what’s not

Children often don’t understand what they can or can’t do. Tell and show your child what is acceptable and what is not. Biting, scratching, slamming doors, screaming their heads off are examples of unacceptable behaviour.

Encourage your child to pause and evaluate upsetting situations and respond positively. Acceptable ways include taking some time out, pummelling a pillow, reflecting alone in a corner, or confiding in someone or a diary. Teach your child to talk about a problem and solve it with words rather than aggression.

Children need to acquire patience in order to exercise self-control. Waiting teaches them to think about others.

4. Waiting

Children need to acquire patience in order to exercise self-control. Waiting teaches them to think about others. Keep the wait-time short and make sure junior is occupied doing something else. Teachable moments include making your child wait for his turn on the swing, waiting for dinner instead of indulging in a before-meal snack, or waiting for everyone to be present before starting an activity.

Children have instant access to almost everything. It is therefore challenging to teach them to be patient. However, once they learn to wait, then anticipation, sharing and taking turns can be fun and rewarding.

5. Learning from mistakes

It is more effective for them to learn from experience than from lectures or punishment. When your child makes a mistake, give them the chance to try again after you explain what they should have done. Role-play the scenario again and have your child model the appropriate reaction or behaviour.

Under stress, even the calmest kids might lose their ability to control their emotions. Expect that stresses such as starting at a new school, welcoming a new sibling, their parents’ divorce or death of a family member can make it hard for a child to manage his or her emotions and feelings.

Talk to your child and show them support during these times. Consider reading children’s books that explore such life situations and how to cope with them.

Learning self-control comes with experience and repetition, not with censure and punishment. Be patient and guide your child through one teachable moment at a time. The key is to teach your child to think before they act on impulse.

Photos: iStock

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