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How to Teach Children to Control Their Behavior and Emotions

How to Teach Children to Control Their Behavior and Emotions
Posted on September 23, 2016 by CHS

How do you teach a child to control their behaviors and emotions?

Whether your child won’t sit still, doesn’t understand that what he says hurts others’ feelings, or has a complete meltdown waiting for his turn on the slide, self-control is an important skill that most parents are anxious to teach their children.

What is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation (or self-control) is the ability to set limits on actions, control impulses and feelings, and respond appropriately to situations and people. It essentially means having the ability to

  • Pay attention and follow directions
  • Negotiate and cooperate with others
  • Comfort oneself
  • Identify and share emotions

Practically, this may look like a child asking for a turn with a toy, versus taking it from another child; telling you that he feels angry versus throwing a tantrum; or putting his toys away when you ask.

Learning these skills at an early age helps develop healthy social and emotional behaviors that allow us to cope well with life’s challenges and get along well others. They produce the ability to be independent and manage behavior in positive ways.

Self-regulation grows over time through life experiences that begin in infancy and continue into young adulthood. These behaviors are not automatic and take time, so remember to have realistic expectations and patience with children as they learn.

Ways to Help Your Child or a Child in Your Care Learn Self-Control (Self-Regulation)

  • Establish predictable routines and structure – children who grow up in stable environments develop these skills better than those in situations where families are exposed to high stress and instability.
  • Set Limits and Expectations – children respond well to structure and boundaries. Establish and adhere to daily routines and rules on which they can depend.
  • Provide Positive, Responsive Interactions – when an infant cries to signal discomfort, the caregiver’s response creates a learning experience for the infant. If the caregiver smiles and says in a pleasant voice, “I hear you crying; I’m here to help,” the infant learns how to soothe herself and wait for help. In time, the sound of the caregiver’s voice alone will calm her cries because she will know help is on the way.
  • Offer opportunities for independence – for example, give a toddler a spoon to feed himself. If he is hungry he might ignore the spoon and eat with his hands, but in time he will learn to be patient enough to use the spoon.
  • Help identify and label emotions – caregivers can role-model how to handle emotions in order to help toddlers manage aggressive impulses. For example, “When we feel mad we can stomp our feet!” Incorporating music such as “If You’re Happy and You Know It” to help toddlers learn to control their bodies and emotions.

Adults can continue to support self-regulation skills by role-modeling strategies for handling conflicts and providing activities that strengthen children’s self-control.

Ways to Encourage Self-Regulation Skills

  • Try playing games like Red Light, Green Light or Simon Says, and continue using music where children listen (wait) and respond, like the song “B-I-N-G-O”.
  • Take turns with activities such as obstacle courses, hopscotch, hand clapping games, and ball games also build self-regulation skills.
  • Offer choices to create a sense of empowerment and confidence, such as which snack to eat or what outfit to wear.

By encouraging good self-regulation skills, you help build the foundation for positive behavior.



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