Big Kid

6 Expert-Recommended Ways to Develop Self Control in Kids

In collaboration with Nestlé Start Healthy Stay Healthy.

Have you heard of the marshmallow experiment conducted in the 1960s by social psychologist and university professor, Dr. Walter Mischel? In this experiment, a 4-year-old child was made to sit in front of a table in a laboratory. On this table was a plate with a marshmallow. The child was told that they could eat the lone marshmallow on their plate at the moment, or they could wait as Dr. Mischel left the room and did some work. And when he came back, if the marshmallow was left untouched, then the child could have an extra marshmallow. At the end of the research, it was found that self-control in this experiment predicted, among many other factors, the high school and career success of the kids in the experiment.

If this was your 4-year-old, what would he do? Would he eat the marshmallow, or wait? Before we delve deeper into this, let’s understand what self-control is.

What Is Self-Control?

Self-control is part of the group of skills (Executive Functions) that allows children and adults to manage their actions, emotions, and thoughts to get something done. In short, it is the ability to pause and think before taking action. Waiting in a line, sitting still, and taking turns — these actions require self-control in ways that may seem simple. But, in reality, self-control is a much more complex skill that develops over a period of time. Children start building self-control when they’re very young and continue developing it into their 20s.

As children get older, they develop self-control in three areas:

  1. Impulse control
  2. Movement control, and
  3. Emotional control

Having self-control is important in all areas of life. But, it’s more important when it comes to socialising, especially for kids.

Why Is Self-Control Important?

Self-control is a long-standing challenge and one that is beneficial if established at an early age. Dr. Walter Mischel found that the children who displayed considerable amounts of self-control at even four years of age went on to do better at academics, were more popular with their classmates and teachers, and were highly successful in their careers as adults. Self-control also leads to good choices, which are the building blocks of self-esteem.

How to Develop Self-Control in Your Child

Here are six key ways to building your child’s self-control, which you can begin right away.

1. Create a routine or schedule.

Create a fixed schedule for each day, so that your child gets used to the routine. When he knows what he’s supposed to be doing, he will be less likely to get distracted by other activities. You can establish a morning and bedtime routine, and help your child learn to follow it independently. For an older child, assign suitable household chores, and make it his responsibility to remember to complete them.

2. Be an example.

Remember that your child is observing and imitating everything you do. So, if you lack self-control, your little one will learn from you and behave accordingly. When he sees you spend too much time in front of screens, eat junk food, or do anything else that may be considered a poor example, he’ll assume it is okay for him to do it, too.

3. Ensure your child eats a balanced diet.

Yes, a balanced diet plays an important role in your child’s mental and socio-emotional development. The importance of good nutrition is often underestimated when it comes to mental development. The right nutrients, along with the right stimulus, are known to enhance a child’s learning abilities. So, ensure your child eats healthy, as this will improve his executive functions (which includes self-control) that are important for him to navigate life.

4. Praise good behaviour.

Most of the time, good behaviour goes unnoticed. It’s important to praise your child and provide positive attention whenever he shows self-control. Point out the good behaviour that you would want to see from him more often. Also, don’t forget to praise your child when he does something without any reminder!

5. Enforce limits.

One way your child can learn about self-control is to experience what happens when he does not exercise his self-control. If your child does not respond to you or his peers appropriately, he needs to understand that he should have thought about his alternatives before acting. In this way, he would have had a better chance to make a good choice. A loss of privilege or a timeout will help your child learn that exercising self-control and thus making a respectful choice is always the best option.

6. Play games that require self-control.

Games like ‘Freeze Dance,’ ‘Red Light, Green Light,’ ‘Simon Says,’ and ‘Follow My Clap’ require a child to listen to certain patterns or instructions or patterns, follow them, and make changes accordingly. You can try these games with your little one and have some fun while he learns the value of self-control.

Do understand that self-control doesn’t come naturally to kids. But, by helping them understand how to keep their behaviour in check, you can make it much easier for them to control their impulses and handle their emotions in a better way. And this can improve self-esteem in the long run!

In case of any further questions and clarifications regarding your child’s development, health, and nutrition, do get in touch with your paediatrician.

This post was last modified on August 27, 2021 1:40 pm

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