Understanding and Developing Three Types of Self-Control in Kids

Self-control is a crucial skill that impacts our lives—from achieving academic success to building healthy relationships. There are three primary types of self-control: impulse control, emotional control, and movement control. Each plays a unique role in our ability to navigate daily challenges. Children often struggle with one or more of these types of self-control, but educators and parents can help them develop these essential skills with the right strategies.

Three Types of Self-Control


Impulse Control

Impulse control is the ability to resist acting on a sudden urge, desire, or temptation and to control how you respond. An example of impulse control might be if a child sees a plate of cookies on the table but chooses to wait until after dinner to take one because they know it’s the rule—in other words, thinking before acting.

Emotional Control

The ability to manage and regulate one’s emotions effectively is called emotional control. Children with strong emotional control can stay calm when faced with disappointment or frustration, allowing them to handle conflicts and challenges more constructively.

Movement Control

This is the ability to regulate and coordinate physical actions and movements of the body. This type of self-control helps kids manage how and when their body moves, such as sitting still when needed or staying out of other people’s personal space.

Struggles Children Face with Self-Control

Children may struggle with self-control for various reasons. Some might find it hard to wait their turn or resist the urge to blurt out answers in class (impulse control). Others may have difficulty managing their emotions, leading to outbursts or meltdowns (emotional control). Additionally, some children may find it hard to sit still during lessons or activities, affecting their concentration (movement control).

Children often experience age-appropriate struggles with self-control, which is a normal part of their development as they learn to manage their impulses and emotions over time. However, without guidance on how to cope with and manage these struggles, their academic performance, social interactions, and overall well-being can be negatively impacted.

How Educators and Caregivers Can Help

Teach and Model Self-Control Strategies

One of the most effective ways to help children develop self-control is by teaching and modeling appropriate behaviors. For impulse control, adults can use games like “Simon Says” or “Red Light, Green Light” to practice waiting and responding appropriately. For emotional control, modeling calm responses to stress (using techniques like Control Check and Reset & Relax) and discussing coping strategies can be beneficial. For movement control, incorporating regular breaks and physical activities can help children manage their energy and focus better.

Create a Structured Environment

A structured environment with clear rules and expectations can significantly aid in developing self-control. Consistent routines help children know what to expect, reducing anxiety and promoting better impulse and emotional control. Using visual schedules and timers can help children manage their time and transitions between activities more smoothly. Additionally, designated quiet spaces can provide a refuge for children who need to calm down and regain emotional control.

Reinforce Positive Behaviors

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in encouraging self-control. Praising children when they exhibit self-control, such as waiting patiently or using calming techniques, reinforces these behaviors. Reward systems, like sticker charts or earning privileges, can motivate children to practice self-control regularly. It’s also important to provide constructive feedback when they struggle, helping them understand what went wrong and how to improve next time.

Strengthening self-control for both kids (and adults) is a journey that requires patience, guidance, and practice. By understanding the three types of self-control—impulse, emotional, and movement control—and recognizing kids’ struggles, educators and parents or caregivers can implement effective strategies to support their growth.

Teaching and modeling self-control, creating structured environments, and reinforcing positive behaviors can help children master these crucial skills, leading to improved academic performance, better social interactions, and enhanced overall well-being.

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