Help your child learn self-control

5-8-year-olds sometimes struggle to manage their thoughts, actions and emotions

Little boy aged 7 is jumping off a swing. Sunny summer day on a modern playground.

Without self-control, your child may react impulsively, and tantrums may be frequent. Encouraging your child’s self-control is one of the most important things you can do as a parent because it will determine success later in your child’s life.

What is self-control?

Self-control allows your child to manage their thoughts, actions, and emotions. Without self-control, your child may have frequent tantrums, get frustrated easily, interrupt, and struggle to wait or take turns.

Self-control is a complex skill that is developed over time. The skills begin to develop when your child is a toddler and will continue to grow into their teens and 20s. Understanding self-control is the first step. The second step is encouraging your child’s self-control.

What is developmentally appropriate?

When your child is 5-8 years of age, they are more likely to:

  • Understand consequences
  • Choose between appropriate and inappropriate behavior
  • Think about a situation before reacting
  • Walk away from a frustrating situation to cool off

Each child is unique and may respond differently to certain situations. Be encouraging and supportive while your child learns these skills. Praise them as they learn so they will be more likely to use these skills in the future. Point out when you notice your child practiced good self-control and compliment them.

Encourage your child’s self-control

Find time throughout your day to support your child’s self-control.

  • Stay calm and quiet during a tantrum. Avoid matching your child’s intensity. Ask your child, “What can I do to help you feel better and safe?”
  • Be clear and set limits. Do not give in to your child’s tantrum. Let them learn a tantrum is ineffective in getting their needs met.
  • Model good self-control. If you find yourself in a frustrating situation, verbalize your frustrations and brainstorm potential solutions. For example, if you lose your keys, stay calm and come up with a plan where your child can help you search for them.
  • Identify and validate feelings. Help your child to learn and recognize feelings before they happen. Talk about feelings, read books, look at pictures, listen to music, etc. Validate your child’s feelings. “You seem very upset because we couldn’t get candy at the grocery store today.”

Remember, it can take time for your child to develop self-control. Be patient and understanding as your child continues to grow and develop through this stage in their life.

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Posted In Children's, Family Medicine, Parenting