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10 Ways to Teach Self-Control to Grow Your Child's Willpower

In Mission: CONTROL! A Big Feelings Adventure!, Joseph learns a lot about self-control. In his imagination, he faces the conflict of doing what he wants vs doing what is expected.

Can he and Gretchen calm and solve the problem? It certainly will take a lot of Will Power!

Here are 10 ways to teach your child self-control:⁠

  1. According to Michele Borba’s book, Thriver, some sobering facts include: “The ability to control your attention, emotions, thoughts, actions, and desires is one of the most highly correlated strengths to success and a surprising untapped secret to helping kids bounce back and thrive. Also, it is a better predictor of academic success than IQ or those SAT scores. In fact, self-control influences virtually every area of our children’s lives; it’s that crucial.”

  2. In one study reported by Michele Borba in her book, Thriver, self-control was more than twice as important as intelligence in predicting academic achievement. So, children need to learn academic skills as well as how to control their attention, emotions, thoughts, actions, and desires in order to be ready for the unpredictable world they will be entering once their academic years end.

  3. Fun facts from Thriver:

    1. Through play, children learn many skills such as managing emotions, inhibiting impulses, and using self-control.

    2. Self-control is like a muscle that gets stronger from regular daily exercise.

    3. Breathing helps kids gain control.

    4. Kids are more likely to use self-control if they practice it repeatedly.

  4. The author states that to learn self-control, children can practice attentive focus, which strengthens focusing and waiting skills, self- management, which strengthens coping skills for regulating unhealthy emotions, and healthy decision-making for making safe, healthy choices.

  5. Some suggestions from the author for helping your child learn self-control:

    1. Model it. What does your child see you doing? The mom in the story models sharing her calm.

    2. Create a self-control motto. For example, I can be a kid who can control myself when something feels like “too much”!

    3. Talk about self-control. Joseph’s mom helped him process his big feelings at the end of the book and helped him imagine the possibilities that tomorrow brings for growing a smarter and stronger brain as a result of controlling his big feelings.

  6. Learning about self-control can be entertaining. Here are some suggestions to try out with your child:

    1. Watch movies. Frozen, Kung Fu Panda, Finding Nemo, and Fantastic Mr. Fox are movies that have a theme of self-control.

    2. Read mindfulness books. Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey, Master of Mindfulness by Laurie Grossman, What Does It Mean to Be Present? By Rana DiOrio, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde.

    3. Use an app. Breathe, Think Do with Sesame, Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings

  7. In the early 1970s, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted what is now known as the marshmallow test; he found that children who, left alone in a room with a plate containing a marshmallow, were able to resist eating the candy in order to be rewarded with two in the future, later showed numerous positive life outcomes. Notably, these children and fewer behavioral problems and better grades than did those who were unable to delay gratification in the test. There is debate about whether this test truly does reflect self-control. (summary from Psychology Today, Control)

  8. People who think about “why” they do something are able to exert greater self-control and persist longer at a task than those who think about “how” to do something. (Psychology Today, Control) Because Joseph focused on the goal (being a kid who can be in charge of his big feelings), rather than how he’d be that kid, he could imagine himself doing hard things like turning off the TV when Joseph’s mom asked. He was picturing his future self being able to show self-control tomorrow because he wanted to be a kid who can be in charge of his big feelings.

  9. Self-control improves life in 3 ways, according to American Psychological Association: individual well-being, relationships, society. (Self-control: Teaching Students Aabout Their Greatest Inner Strength)

  10. Glucose is the chemical in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain, muscles and other organs and systems. In simple terms, glucose is fuel for the brain. Acts of self-control reduce blood glucose levels. Low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks and tests. Replenishing glucose, even just with a glass of lemonade, improves self-control performance. (American Psychological Association, The Power of Self-Control

Get ready to "BLAST OFF" with Joseph and Gretchen in their exciting big feelings adventure "Mission: CONTROL! A Big Feelings Adventure!" Buy your copy here.

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