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How can I help my child develop self-control and self-regulation?

mom carrying a crying baby

Key Points:
1. Self-control and self-regulation are essential skills that children develop from birth and throughout their lives. These skills are critical for social development, success in school, and overall well-being.
2. Parents can play a significant role in teaching self-control and self-regulation to their children through reassurances, setting clear expectations, presenting alternatives, and providing calm explanations to help children manage their emotions and impulses.

During your adventures in parenthood, you’ll come across a wide range of typical baby and toddler moments that can basically come down to one thing: self-control or (most times) the lack of it.

First off, when talking about self-control we’re referring to the ability to inhibit strong impulses (like running off or biting a friend). On the other hand, self-regulation is all about reducing the frequency and the intensity of those strong impulses by proper management (for instance the ability to resist sweets). In a way, self-regulation is what makes self-control possible. So, what can we do to teach our little ones these very important set of skills?


Developing self-control begins at birth and continues across your little one’s entire life. It’s critical in helping your baby’s social environment, overall development, and to succeed in school. It will help your child learn to cooperate, cope with frustration, and solve conflicts properly. When it comes to these skills, your simple day to day interactions as parents are the ones that mean the most:

  • For a newborn, it’s all about reassurances: being quick to respond when they are upset, cuddle and comfort them. Each time your little one has a feeling of discomfort, they learn that it will eventually pass. With your help, your baby can and will develop the capacity to self-regulate and learn to take time to think, plan, and come up with an adequate response to any challenge.
  • For a growing baby, presenting solutions to a set of rules can make all the difference. If, for example, your little one is playing with something they shouldn’t, simply state “This is not a toy, how about you play with this instead?”, and by presenting an alternative, your baby is learning good behavior, coping with disappointment, while accepting second options or alternative solutions.
  • With a toddler, each time there’s a strong burst of emotion (almost each day!) a calm explanation can be all it takes for your little one to learn to self-soothe, manage and express their emotions in order to make adequate behavioral choices later on! Explaining why it’s not a good time to eat candy can do wonders, instead of simply taking away the candy.

Behind self-control and self-regulation, a huge amount of cognitive skills are playing their part in helping your little one decide exactly on which impulses to act on. So, even if your child does not follow rules by now (they will probably get around to it when they hit the 3-year mark), expectations need to be set from an early age. Your baby is constantly learning from your cues, so be sure to set a clear, rational example early on!

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