Developing Skills

Developing Skills: Ways to Help Children Gradually Gain Self-control

At first sight, self-control is a person’s ability to control his/her emotions and behavior. When children do not have ability to control themselves, it is highly possible that they will have difficulties in dealing with daily challenges and will react in unexpected or stormy ways. You can help your child learn to control gradually his/her emotions and reactions by regularly practicing the following:

Ways to Help Children Gradually Gain Self-control.


Name the emotions
Strong emotions can be very threatening to a child, and, as a consequence, a strong reaction might appear. But if you provide space and time to your child to express what he/she feels, as well as to understand what caused it, this makes emotions weaker and manageable. For example, if the child is angry, say “You seem angry to me”. Put the emotion into words together. After that, ask “where he/she thinks anger is in his/her body”. The child can say that his/her stomach feels tight, or heart is beating very fast, or also that head is hot.

You can also help the child understand what caused his/her emotion. The child can think about what happened right before he/she felt this way. When he/she is ready, try to reiterate: “You get angry when your brother breaks your castle”.

If your child has trouble expressing in words or producing speech, he/she can find it very difficult to talk about his/her emotions. In this case you can use visual stimuli, such as, for example, pictures with emotions, asking the child how he/she feels.

Find the stimuli which provoke your child’s reactions.  
Talk about the situations which bother him mostly. Then, think how you can change your own behavior to help him/her deal with them better. For example:

  • Your child starts shouting when you ask to turn off the TV. Let him/her get ready for it and better give a warning 5 minutes earlier.
  • Maybe your child has trouble dealing with morning routine and grumbles every time you ask him/her to get dressed? Put the pictures which illustrate the process, demonstrating in this way what you expect from him/her.
  • Maybe changing activities is especially difficult? Try to organize a break between activities.

Think about what the child likes
What activities does the child like very much? Cycling, reading, music, talking to a friend. The next time you see him/her angry ask whether he/she wants to make a break using one of these ways to calm down. Remind to the child that he/she already knows some ways of relaxation.

But if the child has not identified things which help calm down, help him/her find some.

For example:

  • For children of preschool age: “When I am angry with my brother, I can jump on a trampoline for a while.
  • For children of the primary school: “If I have trouble with mathematics today, I can listen to two songs and then try again”.
  • For older children: “If I get nervous because of a test, I can go for a run”.

Be understanding.
When your child feels worried, give him/her enough attention. If he/she notices that you are busy with other things at these moments, he/she will feel less control. In simple words, focus on the child and delay the household chores. Use active listening. When the child finishes talking, repeat what you have just heard using the child`s words, not your own. “You say that you get angry every time Peter takes your ball”. Or: “It seems that you felt that Christine disrespected you”. This helps the child feel that you listen and understand him/her. Also, ask simple questions which concern the matter. Help him/her work out several positive steps. “What could you do if this happened again?”