Making self-control more tangible for your kids


Self-control is hard. Seriously hard. It is hard for me so I can only imagine how hard it is for my kids.

My 5-year-old struggles with self-control more than the rest of my kids so I have worked to find ways to make it more tangible for him. I want to give him tools that will help him grow in self-control. These are some of the tools that we use and that have been working well for us.


I give them an action to do — like jump and they jump like crazy until I say freeze. It is great practice for when situations get a little crazy; then I can say freeze and it stops whatever is going on. Freeze is often the signal Judah needs to stop and think. If needed, I follow it up with a reminder to think about what is going on and to make better choices.


I am a huge fan of role-playing situations. I will often role-play when there is a situation that repeatedly causes a problem. I will pretend to be the child and act in a way he might typically act. I have him tell me what I could do differently; then I let them try it. Role-playing almost always involves a lot of silliness and laughter, but it also tends to stick in their memory.

Clear expectations and reminders

I try very hard to be extremely clear with my expectations. Before we walk into a store, I will remind my kids that I expect them not to touch things unless they ask first. I remind them I expect them to speak in quiet voices and have respect for the people around them. What I choose to remind them about is usually whatever issue has been a problem the past couple of trips. It is not a huge list, just a quick reminder or two. Any more than that and they won’t remember any of it.

Put their hands in their pockets

Recently, we’ve had issues with Judah and Levi annoying each other when we are in stores — they touch each other just to be bothersome. So when they begin to get a little crazy, I remind them to use self-control and ask them to put their hands in their pockets. This also works well in stores to keep them from touching things. If they don’t have pockets I tell them to hold their hands together like in the image above.

In the car, I have been known to tell them to sit on their hands if they are bothering the person next to them. It works very well, and for whatever reason they think it is funny.

Know their limits

All kids have different limits on how much self-control they are capable of at the current time. Only you know what your child’s limits are. I have pretty high standards for what I expect out of my kids’ behavior, especially in stores or other public places, but I also try to remember their limits.

My 5-year-old son does not have the same limits my daughter did when she was 5 years old. We all know that each child is different, but do we remember this when it comes to our expectations of them?

Requiring Judah to sit quietly for 40 minutes at an appointment will not happen. I know him and his heart.  He will try his hardest, but he will start to lose the ability to sit quietly after 15 minutes. So, unless it is absolutely necessary, I won’t put him in that situation. If I really have no other choice, I will try to be prepared with several activities to occupy him.

Tiredness, hunger, and sickness also need to be taken into account.

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