Life Skills – How to Teach Kids Self-Control

In this post I will be going over how to teach kids self-control.  Self-control is a difficult skill to acquire.  As babies, we learn quickly that when anything goes wrong, we just need to cry, and someone will help us.  As toddlers, we start learning other communication skills as well as physical coordination.  Not only does crying get attention, but now physical tantrums get us attention.  It is a difficult process to learn how to control our emotions and actions from babies to toddlers, to children, to teens, to adults.

Self-control is not letting actions reach a certain level
Self-control is not letting actions reach a certain level

When kids don’t learn self-control as kids, they will experience a multitude of problems as adults.  We all know adults with self-control issues ranging from overeating and binge Netflix watching to more serious issues like drug/alcohol abuse or domestic violence.  Setting the stage for proper use of self-control early on is much easier than addressing the serious issues that emerge in adults with a lack of self-control.

As I outlined in Part 1 of this series, the 4 steps to teaching kids life skills are: define the word, discuss what the definition means, use examples, and discuss why it is important.  If you need more detail on the process, please go back and read Part 1.

The three steps to teach kids self-control
The three steps to teach kids self-control

Let’s apply the process to self-control.

  • Define the word/topic in words they understand
    • Self-Control means “Not letting your emotions or actions reach a certain level.”
    • During this step, simply have the kids repeat the definition after you 3-5 times.  Do this 2-3 times during the week.
  • Discuss what the definition means in more detail
    • Emotional self-control means to stop yourself from overreacting.  Getting too angry and yelling/shouting or throwing a temper tantrum would be an example of not controlling your emotions.  If left uncontrolled, emotional self-control will typically lead to lack of physical self-control.
    • Physical self-control means to stop your body from doing a certain action.  Hitting someone or throwing an item at the wall are examples of not controlling your actions.
    • How do you know what levels are appropriate?  We need to listen to teachers, parents, and coaches.  They will tell you what the appropriate level of self-control is.  Parents will teach you the appropriate way to react to something.  Teachers will show you how to control yourself in order to be respectful to others.  Learning these different levels is a non-stop process.
    • During this step, have the kids repeat the definition after you 3-5 times then have a short discussion on the topics above.  Do this 2-3 time during the week.
  • Use examples in everyday life
    • Example of self-control in karate: you are practicing kicks with a partner.  Your partner is kicking much harder than you with better skill.  When it is your turn, you want to kick even harder than your partner because you are upset.  You try to kick so hard you end up hitting your partner right in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him.  This is an example of not having self-control.  Rather than letting the emotions control how hard you kick, take a deep breath and stay focused on doing the best you can, not comparing to someone else.
    • Example of self-control at school: the teacher is asking questions regarding some math problems.  You are really good at math.  She asks a really hard question and only you and one other student raise your hands, knowing the answer.  The teacher calls on the other student rather than you.  You are so frustrated that you just yell out the answer before the other student, who was called on, can answer.  This again shows a lack of self-control.  Rather than yelling out the answer, take pride in knowing you were one of two students who knew it.  Be patient, next time you might get called on.  Also, perhaps the other student gets it wrong, now you have a chance to answer.
    • Example of self-control at home: your mom is baking some delicious chocolate chip cookies.  She leaves the kitchen and tells you not to eat any because dinner is in 30 minutes.  You are so hungry because you did not have a snack after school.  If you give in and have a cookie, you will be showing a lack of self-control.  If you use self-control and resist eating a cookie before dinner, chances are your mom will let you have one after dinner.
    • During this step, have the kids repeat the definition after you 3-5 times then have a short discussion on the topics above.  Feel free to replace the examples with ones of your own.  Substitute a different activity for karate if they don’t practice karate.  Be sure to ask them for an example first before providing yours.  Do this 2-3 time during the week.
  • Discuss why it is important
    • Why is it important to have self-control?  For the most part, when we show a lack of self-control, someone will get hurt, either physically or emotionally.  If you emotionally hurt someone, they will be sad or angry.  Not only could we hurt someone else, but not having self-control could result in getting hurt ourselves.
    • During this step, briefly go over all steps 1-3 before going into this step.  Be sure to ask the kids why they think it is important before providing them with the answer.  Do this 2-3 times during the week.
There are many steps to take when we teach kids self-control
There are many steps to take when we teach kids self-control

Remember, it only takes less than 5 minutes, 2-3 times a week to go through these steps.  Feel free to comment or contact me with questions.

Stay tuned for my next post which will be on how to teach kids humility.

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