Parenting Resources

What is Self-Control


Self control is a person’s ability to stop and think before acting, to resist temptation and to remain focused despite distractions. 


Self-control is self-discipline or willpower – the ability to manage impulses and emotions and to regulate behavior.

Why is self-control important? 

Many studies have demonstrated that children who have self-control are more likely to do better academically - obtaining higher grades in school and higher salaries as adults. They also do better emotionally – having more friends and making healthier choices with less drug use as adults.

You may be familiar with the well known research experiment conducted at Stanford University in the early 1970s by Dr. Walter Mischel among 4 year old children who were offered marshmallows.  Children were offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period of time (15 minutes) during which time the tester left the room.  The researchers found those children who were able to wait for the larger reward, demonstrating self-control and delayed gratification, years later had high educational achievement as well as better physical health.  Brain imaging studies of these children as adults demonstrated differences in the prefrontal cortex (the CEO of the brain) between those who earlier in life had shown self-control and those who had not.  It is important to note that children are only willing to delay gratification when they have a trusting relationship with the adult.

Other studies have shown a relationship between lack of self-control and anxiety, depression, and aggressive behaviors.

Ellen Galinsky in her book Mind in the Making  lists 7 essential life skills, with self-control being one.  Paul Tough wrote How Children Succeed and evaluated children around the world.  He observed that character skills, especially self-control, predicted academic achievement.  Laura Jana compared life skills to those skills required in the business arena and also found self-control to be crucial to success.

So – if self-control is so very important, can we as parents teach this skill to our children?  Fortunately, the answer is yes.

Below is information on teaching children self-control specific to each age group:

  • Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • Preschoolers and Elementary Age Children 
  • Elementary Age Children
  • Adolescents