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Tips on Helping Develop Self-Control for Kids

Even if you’ve raised more than one child and consider yourself a veteran when it comes to child care, the best parents will struggle with how to discipline a toddler. 

As you know for sure, toddlers have the tendency to be very stubborn. And what’s exhausting about it is it might feel like you are having a constant battle as you try to teach self-control for kids

It’s almost a never-ending struggle when it comes to training them to behave better. One moment they’ve already figured out how to play without whacking their sibling in the process, the next they’re on the floor screaming their heads off. 

So if you feel like you’re always back at square one every single day. . . Welcome to the world of parenting!

Deep breaths, dear parents. You need them. 

When it comes to parenthood, we know better than losing our calm, don’t we? But let’s be honest. That’s not easy.

We, parents, still need to learn how to process our feelings and find our balance before giving our toddlers the discipline they need. Having the ability to model emotional regulation to kids is a good example and one of the most important things to encourage your children to practice self-control.

So how exactly do we do that? In this article let’s talk about…

  • Understanding your child’s behavior and development
  • Helping your child develop self-control
  • Time-in vs. Time-out

Understanding your child’s behavior and development

understanding your child's behavior and development

Parents typically have high expectations when it comes to their children. Maybe because as adults we’ve already forgotten how it was like to be kids?

More often than not, parents make the mistake of having clear expectations that their kids can keep their emotions and actions in control sooner than they could actually handle at their age.

The end result? Frustration and resentment.

But have you ever wondered why toddlers ‘misbehave’ or become easily frustrated? And no, it’s not because they enjoy watching us flip out because of them. It’s simply because they’re immature, impulsive, and naturally curious.

If your kids are in the stage of what many call the “terrible twos”, that’s because children only start to develop a sense of self-control and self-regulation at around 3 and a half years of age.

Did you notice the keyword? START

At this stage, they are still in the process of learning about the world around them. And learning means making a lot of mistakes, which are often mistaken for misbehavior. And because they’re still young, kids struggle to learn to stop themselves from doing something they want.

So when your toddler starts to grab and take toys, when they refuse to share, or when they’re generally being a headache, it only means they’re still learning to control their actions and emotions.

It’s completely normal for young children to have a hard time practicing self-restraint and control. It’s not an overnight process, unfortunately. It’s a learning curve.

Helping your child develop self-control

Self-control means having self-regulation or the willpower to cope with strong feelings. It can be as simple as having self-discipline, being able to sit quietly and wait patiently, or being able to delay gratification.

There are many types of parenting techniques out there.

And while we do not want to promote one over the other, we support parenting styles that encourage young children to grow and learn with love. 

Supportive parenting choices allow your toddler to learn how to safely explore and stay curious, and at the same time meet your expectations.

Knowing that your toddler is trying their best to keep themselves under control can also help you see things in a better light.

Remember: Their academic performance in the future and their emotional health are at stake here.

The best way toddlers learn self-control is through their interactions with you and their other caregivers.

When they see how you are able to stay calm and solve problems, they will learn to do the same.

In time, instead of grabbing things or whining in frustration, they’ll most likely learn to say, “May I have that, please?”

Support young children and guide them through the process. Help your child develop their abilities and encourage them in learning self-control.

Exercises and other activities to develop self-control for kids

There are a lot of self-control exercises you can practice with your child, which early childhood educators and pre-school teachers also use to practice self-control in young children. You can disguise them as games and encourage children to play.

Red Light, Green Light

This game consists of one “it”, who shouts “Red Light, Green Light”. During “red light”, kids need to stop moving and stay still, and wait until the “it” shouts “green light” to be able to move around again. This game is great for helping kids practice patience.

Freeze Game

This game involves young children dancing as the music plays and “freezing” as the music stops. This physical activity helps children practice their ability to control their actions.

Marshmallow Game or Marshmallow Test

This famous game is helpful in teaching cognitive flexibility, self-control and delayed gratification to your children. It also strengthens the development of the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that helps people set and achieve goals.

You start by giving your kid one marshmallow and then tell them they can have more if they can sit still and wait for you to come back.

If your children were able to successfully wait, give them more marshmallows as a reward. By giving children the option of having one treat now, or two treats later, their patience and impulse control are put to the test.

Time-in vs. Time-out

mom trying to calm her kid throwing tantrums

Most of the time, we hear of parents asking their kids to do time-out every time they misbehave.

Whether it’s “face the wall” or “go sit on that chair” for a certain period of time, the goal of a time-out is to take the child away from the matter at hand and away from you.

While time-out allows your child time to reflect on what they’ve done, it doesn’t really help them understand the difference between what is wrong and what is right. 

Time-in, on the other hand, is all about allowing your children to use their growing empathy skills so they can reflect on their own choices.

Rather than separating them from you and leaving them on their own to think things through, time-ins allow you to gently correct them without leaving their side.

In this way, your toddler gets to release pent-up stress and control their emotions before they are ready to be disciplined or taught.

Think of it as a way for you to bond with your children before you correct their behavior.

How do you do time-ins?

helping your child develop self-control

When your toddler misbehaves, it can be tempting to just resort to spanking or threats. But in most cases, if not all, such strategies only result in making your children fear adults instead of getting them to cooperate with you.

In the end, it is easier to win your toddler over through time-ins. This does not cause shame, fear, or the threat of separation. Here are some things you can do BEFORE you do the time-in.

Tip #1

Having a good relationship with your child is your greatest natural power. Always remember that a child is likely to follow the directions of someone they feel attached to and would naturally go against those they are not attached to.

Before requesting anything:

  1. Get down on their level and make eye contact.
  2. Show interest in what they are doing.
  3. Then make the request.

Tip # 2

Help your child understand that boundaries are clear and respectful expectations. You can say things like:

Baby, we need to go. Can you please say goodbye to your friends and put on your shoes now or would you like me to help you?

Tip # 3

One of the best ways to get your child to cooperate with you is by being playful. Remember, you’re dealing with a child who has little impulse control, so there’s no need to get all worked up over their antics.

For example, if you’re trying to get them to wear their shoes, you can pretend to play dead after smelling their shoes. Nothing serious as your kid won’t even understand it if you try to address them like adults.

Tip # 4

Whatever they do, remember that their behavior is simply an indication of their inner feelings. So if they’re behaving naughtier than usual, try to help them release their negative emotions by getting them to engage in physical activities.

Big movements like swinging, playing, and wrestling can help them release their pent-up feelings. Even crying can help them find the reset they need.

AFTER using these tips you can start timing-in

Your first step is to build safety and trust so that your toddler can be ready to learn. Then slowly offer simple and kind corrections. Remind them of certain rules and explain these again. 

Remember, when talking to your child, use simple and short phrases and focus on what you want to see next time instead of over-explaining. Kids just don’t have the patience for so many words.

Let your child make amends, learn something from their mistake, and make plans to do better. Let them process their mistakes.

Keep in mind that it is NOT helpful to teach your child a lesson in the middle of an incident. 

It’s moments like these when it’s best not to teach your child anything, as their emotions are most likely to get in the way of their minds.

Your child will be able to understand you better when your connection with them is strong and emotions aren’t overwhelming. Some would need a few hours while others need one to two days. Sometimes, though, it only takes a good amount of tears for them to find the reset they need.

A Final Note

The goal of discipline should be to help your child to be successful and to show that you trust that they can do better next time. As toddlers grow and learn, they’re bound to cross many boundaries and expectations. 

So it is very important that you lovingly guide them and focus instead on building an encouraging, loving, and understanding relationship. 

Make it your goal to create an environment where your toddler feels safe to make mistakes, accept guidance, and foster learning. And keep in mind that repetition is key during the toddler years. This way, you can successfully help develop self-control for kids.

In the end, how you perceive your child’s behavior determines how you’ll respond to the situation. So always remember that you’re dealing with an individual who lacks maturity. This will help you to be more compassionate towards them.


Enjoyed this article? Share it with the other mommas out there too! And don’t forget to check out our other posts on the blog.

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