The development of self-control should be a critical goal for children’s development -we now know how important it is for positively impacting life outcomes.

According to a new study, self-control may be the secret ingredient to future health and wealth. In a long-term study led by psychologist Terrie Moffit from Duke University, 1,000 New Zealanders were followed for 32 years –starting at birth. Surprisingly, if you fast-forward to adulthood, the children who had lower scores on measures of self-control when they were 3 years old were more likely to have health problems, financial difficulties, substance addictions, academic issues, aggressive behavior, and a criminal record at age 32.

These findings shed light on the importance of self-control. Focusing efforts on properly strengthening self-control skills during the early years can have long lasting benefits for children, their families, and society.

As parents, one of our main responsibilities is to teach our children how to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It has been well established that self-control is critical for a child to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. However, it is important to note that babies’ and toddlers’ prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain associated with self-regulation and control) is not fully developed. Therefore, we cannot expect a kid that age to display the self-control of an adult. Your approach to setting limits should be according to your baby’s developmental stage. If your child is very young, she will have trouble effectively controlling her emotions, thoughts, and actions.

The home environment plays a critical role in developing self-control during your daughter’s early years. It is during infancy that babies begin to develop a sense of self, and providing responsive care and a secure attachment is key to facilitating its developmental process. In fact, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Early Child Care Research Network found that the home environment of children age 0-5 can predict self-control skills in first grade. Having warm and supportive guidance from parents, as well as the necessary physical and social resources, is important to establishing the environment that fosters the development of self-control.Given the importance of fostering this skill, we wrote up some strategies you could use to encourage the regulation of your little one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Here are some suggestions that can help you get started:

  1. Make sure your child knows what’s coming next. For example, when you go to the grocery store, tell her “We’re going shopping, but today we are not going to buy candy. We are going to buy fruit, which is also sweet and delicious, but is not candy”. If your child repeats what you told her previously, she can use the rule to guide her own behavior internally.
  2. Provide a planned and predictable daily routine and schedule.
  3. Role play with your child on what to say or how to act in certain situations.
  4. Teach and talk about feelings and go over home rules frequently.
  5. Stay calm and firm in your voice and actions, even when your little one seems out of control.
  6. Encourage pretend play. You can provide items so your child takes different roles, for example playing a parent, a police officer, a rescue worker, a doctor, or a magician. Pretend play is great because it allows your daughter to learn to follow the rules of the role she plays.
  7. Play “stop and go” or “freeze” games, where your child starts and stops doing different actions as directed by the game’s “leader”.

Overall, look for opportunities for your toddler to practice waiting and sharing. As your kid grows and develops more self-control, you will be able to set more limits. With patience and consistency, your little one will develop this ability, just remember to be patient and that nothing will work every time for a toddler, so keep adjusting your strategies!

Here is an activity from Kinedu that works on self-control and that can help you get started!

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