Setting Up Your Child For Success: Why Self-Control Matters


Recently I have been reading about The Dunedin Study, a 40 year long study that has followed the lives of 1000 children.  The study revealed the most important determiner of future health, wealth and happiness.  Some may be surprised that it isn’t IQ, intelligence or personality, the strongest factor was in fact self control.   The good news is that anyone can learn self control, it is not something that we are naturally born with and it can be improved with practice.

What exactly is self control?

Self control is our ability to manage our behaviour and emotions in order to reach a goal. In children this includes:

  • Waiting patiently
  • Persisting with challenges
  • Inhibiting impulsive behaviour
  • Controlling emotional outbursts
  • Coping with frustrations

5 simple activities to assist in teaching self control:

  1. Encourage independence:  Give children responsibility for what their daily jobs or chores are. A crucial step in self control is knowing that we can’t always do fun things that we want to do. Sometimes we have to get must-do jobs done before we can go back to playing and having fun.  This can be extended to having particular chores that are linked to pocket money.  Children can learn about having to save up and work towards goal.  Visual charts can assist them to see how they are going with reaching their target.
  2. Discover delayed gratification: Part of self control is realising that good things take time.  A great way to teach this is through gardening.  Kids can take part in the planting, watering, weeding and eventually picking food or enjoying the beautiful flowers that they grow.
  3. Learn to play games: Pick games that have rules like Snap, Uno, Memory, Jenga, Simon Says, Freeze or What’s The Time Mr Wolf.  These games provide lots of opportunity for developing skills such as concentration, turn taking and managing emotional responses, especially if they don’t win!
  4. Encourage hobbies: Expose your child to a range of different activities and discover what they enjoy.  It could be painting, engaging in crafts, building model aeroplanes, playing a musical instruments, learning facts about dinosaurs or even collecting stamps or Pokemon cards.  Engaging in hobbies assist children to practice working towards achieving their goals.  Some of their hobbies may even end up being lifelong pursuits.
  5. Try mindfulness or yoga: This can really assist children to develop self calming skills.  Helpful online programs that I often use with kids include:

If your child is finding it challenging to develop self control.  Individual Occupational Therapy sessions can be helpful in fostering their skills. Contact us for more information.

Kate Kleinau (Occupational Therapist)

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