5 Quick Tips for Toddler Self Control

Self-control — having the ability to regulate your own behavior — is an important life skill with long-term benefits. Research shows that children who exhibit self-control tend to have fewer behavior problems in school and are less likely to struggle with aggression, anxiety, and depression. Self-control has also been linked to school readiness.

Many of us believe you either have it or you don’t. But did you know you can actually train your child to develop self-control; and did you know you can even start in the toddler years? Below are a few ideas to guide your children in developing self-control, employing aspects of The Urban Child Institute’s “Touch, Talk, Read, Play” strategy.

1. Start Early

Even younger toddlers can begin to learn how to regulate their behavior. One method is the activity called “Still and Quiet.” Two or three times a day, just sit your little guy down close to you without any distractions (no toys, no lovies, no books).  Tell him, “we’re going to practice ‘still and quiet’ for just a minute.” And really, just do it for a minute, or less, at first. Be sure to model what you want to see. It may take a while for him to succeed, and that’s ok. Self-control is a work in progress—even for us adults! Be sure to praise him when he’s able to truly sit “still and quiet,” and then slowly over time increase the length of the sitting.

2. Reward Self-Control Consistently

Encouragement and verbal praise will reinforce behaviors you want to see. Be sure to tell your daughter how proud you are of her when she expresses her emotions appropriately or sits quietly in the waiting room. Acknowledge her successes. Consistent and specific praise will give her the guidance she needs to continue succeeding.

3. Take a Break

Little ones have a limited attention span. To help them do their best, keep any instructions you give them to 1 or 2 simple, simple steps: “Please come here and wash your hands.” It’s also important to give them a break between tasks that require a lot of effort on their part. For example, after being “still and quiet” at the library, let him run around at the park for a few minutes before you tackle the grocery store where he will again have to be “still.” Back-to-back tasks that require a lot of focus will often set your toddler up for failure. Give him a chance to succeed by allowing him to “get the wiggles out” between tasks.

4. Motivate

Sometimes the key to encouraging focus and compliance in your toddler is motivation. Help her “want to” cooperate at first, rather than feeling like she “has to.” Make a task enjoyable or offer a small reward. Turn “clean up your mess” into a “beat the clock” challenge. It’s a win-win: the mess gets picked up, and she has fun with the contest!

5. Play Games

There are quite a few games that can help you teach your little one to listen, cooperate, and exercise self-control. In “Red Light, Green Light,” he gets to move while mom holds up the “green light,” but has to stop as soon as she switches to “red.” Playing the “Freeze” game is great for kids who love dancing to music. Simply dance your craziest while the music plays, but “freeze” as soon as it stops. Lastly, bubbles can help you teach self-control. For a minute or two, simply blow bubbles all around your little guy while he is very still, but tell him he can NOT pop them, even if they land on his nose.  When you are done, talk about how it felt to want so badly to pop them while controlling his body to NOT pop them. That is a lesson that you can return to over and over with a reminder to “control your body just like you did with the bubbles.”

Teach toddlers #SelfControl! Dance crazily & freeze when music stops! Tweet this!

With so many benefits to learning self-control, it is a blessing to your children when you begin teaching them while they are very young. There is an adage floating around Pinterest that says simply, “You can not teach what you do not practice.” Model self-control for your children; let them see what it looks like and what its benefits are. After all, you are your child’s first and best teacher.

The First Years Last a Lifetime.TM