6 tips to teach your child self-control

Posted on April 20th, 2018

We asked occupational therapist Samantha Toweel-Moore to share her tips on how to help your child learn the life skill of self control.

How to teach your child self-control

Have you ever caught yourself losing control – threatening grievous bodily harm or an unthinkable action? You know it’s less than ideal, but it just comes pouring out. And the solution isn’t something you’ll find in a parenting manual. Perhaps you’re just stressed, or perhaps you feel like you’ve run out of ways to handle your defiant toddler. Whatever the reason, it’s probably not a habit you’d like to keep.

It’s not what you do, but what you do after that counts. Garry Landreth is the Regents’ Professor at the University of North Texas Center for Play Therapy. His work with children has uncovered many thought-provoking techniques to help ensure you prevent bad habits.
When you behave in a manner you don’t like, it isn’t irreversible. When you calm down, explain and apologise to your little one that you were wrong. Demonstrate your love physically with a hug or kiss, if your child is willing.

ALSO SEE: 9 ways to reconnect with your kids

Your child will learn from your apology that:

  • Relationships can be recovered.
  • It’s okay to admit you’ve made a mistake.

The powerful message he’ll receive is that he’s loved. So loved that his mom has taken time to apologise.

How to foster self-discipline

A healthy lifestyle demands good choices and the ability to act on those choices. This means fighting impulsive behaviour where action precedes thought. It means learning self-control. Children need to be given the opportunity to make good choices rather than have choices made for them. They need to learn to take responsibility.

ALSO SEE: How to teach your child to make decisions

Provide choices and consequences

Punishment teaches consequences, but it leaves your child feeling angry and disempowered. If you provide choices and consequences, your child is placed in a position of power. He is provided with information before he acts. His choice is respected and he is respected. With this comes the development of responsibility.
Say, for example: “If you choose to draw on the wall, you choose not to eat cake. If you choose to draw on the paper, you choose to eat cake.” Repeat this several times with gestures, such as pointing to the mentioned items to enhance clarity.

Grab his attention

Use large words. For example, “Elijah, once you have placed conscious thought upon me I will commence speaking to you.” This will grab his attention every time.

Size matters

The choices must be equal to your child’s age. Don’t provide big choices to small children. Let your toddler choose between two choices only: “Do you choose to eat the yoghurt or the apple first?” Don’t provide choices that are non-negotiable: “Do you choose to bath or do you choose not to bath?”

Enforce the consequences

When your child makes a choice, state it: “I see you have chosen to draw on the wall, which means you have chosen not to have cake.” Enforce this consequence. If the child contends this by saying, for example:
“I have wiped it off. Sorry. I won’t draw on the wall again,” explain that the very moment he chose to draw on the wall, he chose not to have cake. This is the tough part, but it’s also a learning point. If your child chooses to get into a car and drive drunk, and has an accident, it’s too late to decide to change his mind. It may take a few times for your child to grasp this concept, but he will eventually. Dr Garry Landreth recommends this method for children from 2-3 years of age.

Ration choices

Ensure that you provide only one or two choices per day to avoid overwhelming your little one. As he grows and you can see he’s taking the choices in his stride, you can increase the number with monitoring and caution. Allow him to digest the increase for weeks before bumping it up. Less is more. Whenever you want to falter by giving in, remember it’s your self-discipline your little one depends on to develop his own. You won’t be there to help him make his decisions when he’s facing peer pressure as an adolescent. Dig deep and see it through. It’s worth it.

Xanet Scheepers

About Xanet Scheepers

Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.