Help Children Learn To Control Their Behavior

Posted: September 5, 2012

Children are not born with the ability to control their behavior. It is a skill which must be learned and taught by parents and caregivers...

According the Louisiana State University AgCenter, self-control can take years to learn and is a very important social skill. Children also need to learn such skills as how to resist temptation and how to wait.

These are all skills which parents can teach.

     The most important thing to remember when introducing these concepts to children is the age of the child. Children under age 3 have difficulty with self-control, resisting temptation and waiting patiently. These skills take years to perfect. One should only introduce and reinforce these concepts to 2 to 3 year olds. As the child ages, more can be expected. 

     Below are some suggestions for helping your child achieve self-control from Louisiana State University AgCenter:

* Young children have a difficult time resisting temptation. If something is in sight, they are likely to reach for it. Parents can help by putting temptations out of sight. For example, put breakables in a safe place, put cookies out of sight, and pick up toys that need adult supervision until you can adequately supervise. If your child is under the age of 2, you may want to baby-proof your house. This can be done by removing anything that can be hazardous to the child. Have one room in your house where the child can play freely. 

     * Children have a difficult time delaying rewards. Telling them to wait is not helpful. Parents can help by getting children interested in something else so they will not think of the reward. A parent might say, "I know it is hard to wait for cookies, so let's go play outside. When we come back inside, the cookies will be ready to eat." This helps children practice learning to wait. 

     * Children are more likely to follow rules and be responsible if they see their parents doing the same. If parents say "no eating in the den," parents should not eat in the den. If parents say "no using profanity," parents should not use profanity. Parents are the examples or role models for their children. 

     * Children learn to control their behavior best when parents have clear, consistent rules. If parents change the rules, children become confused. When parents are not consistent with their rules or consequences, this teaches children they do not have to obey. Why should a child obey when there may or may not be a consequence to a broken rule? 

     * Children learn how to control their behavior when they have a close relationship with a responsible parent who explains the rules and the reason behind the rules. When parents "react" by slapping or hitting a child for breaking a rule, the child will not learn to control his or her behavior because no explanation has been given. Children need to know why they should or should not behave in certain ways so they can eventually regulate their own behavior.

Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension of Lackawanna County.