Kids Connection – Self-control: a life-long lesson.

Kids Connection
September 26, 2012
Chaffee County Early Childhood Council

Self-control: a life-long lesson.

Self-control and the ability to stop undesirable behaviors is an important skill. It is a skill that takes time and is primarily part of children’s development from 12 months through preschool and kindergarten years. Self-control is the foundation of how we function each day, how we learn, and how we get along with others.  As with any learning, the approach to helping children with self-control can vary from positive to negative.  Effective, positive methods can be simple and make a big difference for you and your child.

Children begin to learn self-control as babies and continue developing as they get older.  Parents and caregivers can provide support and guidance so that children learn how to manage emotions and understand expected behaviors.

From birth to 12 months babies learn how to sooth themselves, which helps them understand how to calm themselves.   This process begins with parents giving physical support through hugs, holding, and rocking.  Sometimes babies prefer to be put down calmly and spoken to in a gentle voice.  Children learn to be calm when the adult is also calm.  This leads to babies and children learning to soothe themselves when they are feeling sad. Developing routines with naptime, meals and snacks, and play time helps young children stay calm and know what to expect.  They learn to create some order in their life.

Toddlers, ages 12- 24 months, begin developing independence, part of their learning is through testing rules and repeating what they are learning.  Providing meaningful choices to this age group is a healthy way to help them learn control in ways that are manageable for them and the parent. You may provide options in what the child can eat or which toy they want to play with.  This is also an important time to help a child begin understanding feelings.  For example, when a child becomes frustrated, they tend to become physical or emotional.  Consider this approach, “I see that you are mad, but throwing blocks is not okay.  Would you like to look at your favorite book instead?” This helps kids understand what they are feeling and how to express it in the future

Older toddlers that are 24- 36 months are still understanding and expressing feelings appropriately.  You may be having some success in the steps listed above, yet children are still experimenting with their impulses and how to deal with it.  The next step is helping them to identify feelings and solutions on their own, not only helping them control their behavior, but using self-control.  This is important as they become more independent and enter situations without you such as preschool.  This age group is also ready to begin learning how to wait. Practice with short moments, “We need to wait four minutes until the water boils for the pasta.  Would you like to sing a song with me while we wait?”  Sharing toys and taking turns is another exercise in waiting.

Self-control is a lesson we all work on.  Be patient with your child.  Be patient with yourself.

Lezlie Burkley is the marketing coordinator for Chaffee County Early Childhood Council.  For more tips on raising young children visit the Council’s website at or call Chaffee County Early Childhood Council at 221-5114.