Helping young children develop self-control

Recently, the most asked question that has come my way is “what do you do with a child who won’t behave in the classroom?” Well, to tell you the truth, this question isn’t always that simple to answer because it can depend on so many factors including the age of the child, the needs of the child, the classroom environment, the classroom schedule,  the teaching approach in the classroom and more.  But there is one strategy that should be in every teaching approach and that is the process of helping young children develop self-control.

Bam Radio Discussion

I recently participated in the Bam Radio Discussion titled “Five Ways to Get Young Children to Sit Down and Shut Up, Well Sort of” along with Rae Pica, Ellen Galinsky, and Sandra Aamodt.  In this radio show, the experts give some important insight on how to help young children develop self-control…

Yes, self-control can be taught

First of all, it is important to note that self-control can be taught in the early childhood classroom. The key is understanding what kinds of activities help promote the development of self-control and what doesn’t necessarily promote self-control.

Why teach self-control

At the beginning of this conversation, Ellen Galinski shares this research finding…

“There’s a study by Meghan McClellan that uses self-control as a very important predictor of school readiness and school success and showing that during the four year old or five year old years, if children make improvement in their self-control, then they also improve in the kinds of measures of math and literacy that they’re being assessed on.”

The value of self-control

As a teacher, it can be easy to think that the only reason for promoting self-control is so that the children in your classroom will behave. But this can be a poor reason to use as the only reason for teaching young children self-control.  Why you ask? If a child doesn’t exhibit progress in good behavior, teachers can easily give up and decide that the better approach (or easier approach) is to be strict or to take away privileges or to somehow focus on punishment rather than on growth and development.

For this reason, it is important to truly understand that the child who develops self-control will ultimately be more successful in school and home all throughout his life.  So my point here is to make sure you understand that self-control isn’t about making kids behave, it is about giving children the tools they need to guide their own behavior and as they accomplish this goal, they will be building the tools they need to be positive participants in the classroom experience.

What doesn’t promote self-control?

First of all, let’s take a look at what doesn’t promote the development of self-control.  Our experts highlight one main point on what doesn’t work…

  • Strict discipline: Strict discipline may be needed for certain occasions but strict discipline does not teach self-control. Strict discipline is about doing something because someone else told you to. Strict discipline may keep kids quiet and doing what you insist they should do but it doesn’t teach them to regulate their own behavior and to do something because they want to do it.

What does promote self-control?

The experts in this Bam Radio Show share several different strategies for helping young children develop self-control. The exciting thing about each of these strategies is that they are very doable and more than likely, already in place in your classroom.  The key is, recognizing that each of these strategies should be in action in your classroom and do indeed promote self-control…

  • Playing Games Games like ‘Red Light – Green Light’ and ‘Simon Says’ are simple and fun activities that come with rules of play. In order to play the games, children must learn the rules and then seek to follow the rules.  As children play active and fun games such as these, they are developing a sense of fairness, right, wrong, and processing how to successfully follow the rules so they can successfully play the game.
  • Complex Dramatic Play: In the process of dramatic play – children plan their activities, negotiate with other children, and make up rules for play.  Dramatic play encourages children to work together, communicate with each other, and follow those “unwritten rules” of social conduct that they need in the process of developing self-control.
  • Building on children’s interests:  In order for young children to develop self-control, there needs to be a “want-to” aspect in the process. Building on children’s interests makes them want to participate and want to succeed so take time to find out what the children enjoy and bring those elements into your classroom.

One final thought

One thought that really stood out to me in this conversation was this statement…


There is more

These are just a few highlights from this enlightening discussion on teaching children self-control. Click on over to Bam Radio  to learn more about what you can do to help children develop self-control.

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Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

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