How to Teach Toddlers and Preschoolers Self-Control
By learning self-control, kids can make appropriate decisions and respond to stressful situations in ways that can yield positive outcomes.
For example, if you say that you’re not serving ice cream until after dinner, your child may cry, plead, or even scream in hopes that you will give in. But with self-control, your child can understand that a temper tantrum means you’ll take away the ice cream for good and that it’s wiser to wait patiently.
Here are a few suggestions on how to help young kids learn to control their behavior.
Up to Age 2
Infants and toddlers get frustrated by the large gap between the things they want to do and what they’re able to do. They often respond with temper tantrums.
1. Distract your child. Try to prevent outbursts by distracting your little one with toys or other activities. (Think about it, this is how many grown-ups enable themselves to resist snacking on unhealthy treats. They divert themselves with another activity or option.)
2. Give it a name. Name what you’re trying to teach. Say, “We are growing your self-control muscle! See, you can wait like a big kid!”
3. Time out. For kids reaching the 2-year-old mark, try a brief timeout in a designated area — like a kitchen chair or bottom stair — to show the consequences for outbursts and teach that it’s better to take some time alone instead of throwing a tantrum.
4. Kudos. Sing your child’s praises when he does show self-control.
Ages 3 to 5
1. Adjust time outs. You can continue to use timeouts, but rather than enforcing a specific time limit, end timeouts once your child has calmed down. This helps your child improve his sense of self-control.
2. Build your child up. Help your child believe in his self-control ability. Say, “I bet you can wait five minutes until we get home to have something to drink. And I bet you can do it without complaining.”
3. Reward your child. Praise your child for not losing control in frustrating or difficult situations. Make a big deal of his success with our Printable Self-Control Award Certificate.
Adapted with permission from KidsHealth.