Childhood Self-Control and Adult Success

Christopher C. Jones, Licensed Educational Psychologist

Recent research finds that children who demonstrate more self-control at an early age are more likely to be more successful and healthy than those with the least self-control. Self-control is vital to one’s ability to plan ahead, for getting along with others, for asking for help, and for waiting for long-term payoffs rather than impulsive short-term gains. These characteristics are important for success in all levels of education and into the workplace. Children learn to build self-control by:

  • Expressing Emotion– Learning to use words rather than actions to express their feelings.
  • Responding to Stress– Learning coping strategies to manage different stressful situations.
  • Understanding Body Signals – Our bodies use various sensations (fear, frustration, anger, anxiety) to warn us of potential “threats” (starting something new, hunger, disappointment, hurt).
  • Learning to Wait– This builds as children grow as they learn to put time between the meeting a need and taking time to think of appropriate solutions to that need.


Children who overreact to minor challenges, are disruptive, hypersensitive, and impulsive can be disruptive to a classroom and an entire family. How can you support your child’s development of self-control and responsibility? Some ideas include:

  • Model self-control in your words and actions. Children are sensitive to emotional tone. When you are angry, anxious, or overwhelmed walk away and calm down.
  • Keep a structured and predictable routine. Children with self-regulation challenges are internally unstructured. Routines help increase their sense of security and control.
  • Maintain a calm environment. When you sense your child is getting upset, lower the lights and volume (TV, voices), play some soft music, engage in quieter activities.
  • Avoid talking to your child when they very upset. Use firm, quiet actions.
  • Take a break. Helping your child manage these emotions can require a lot of attention and energy on your part. Stay healthy and take care of yourself so you can be the best support to your child.
  • Ask for help. These problems are common. The earlier you help your child learn effective strategies to manage emotion and gain control over their environment, the sooner they will begin to advance on their path to successful adulthood.

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