Parenting Resources

Self-control and Unstructured Play


1. Allow unstructured play. A very important tool that helps children develop self-control is often not recognized – the incredible benefits that accrue from unstructured play.  Unstructured play is that play which is created by children and not orchestrated by an adult.  Children are allowed to create their own games, with their own rules and consequences, and are allowed to work out difficulties and problem solve without adult intervention.  Thus, unstructured play allows children’s activities to be self-directed, providing self-confidence and self-control.  Although the exercise and sportsmanship that is learned by participation on athletic teams is beneficial, self-control is best learned through unstructured play.

To read more about the benefits of unstructured play, see the newsletter at


2. Play games that help children practice self-controlPlay “red light, green light” as you are walking down the sidewalk.  Dance at home to music and play the “freeze game” when children have to stop dancing when the music stops.


3. Provide motivation for cooperative behavior.


4. Remind your child of what behavior is expected – especially immediately before she participates in a new activity or experiences a new environment.


5. Practice STOP, THINK, ACTHelp your child practice stopping and thinking.  Try to catch your child just before he lashes out in anger and help him stop and think how we can appropriately express his displeasure.


6. Be a good role model.


For more information on teaching children self-control: