Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
Preschoolers: Building Self-Control
Gaining self-control is one of the biggest challenges that children face between the ages of 2 and 5. Children need guidance, clear limits, and patient parents during this time of behavioral and emotional struggles. They also need interaction with other children and adults to help them learn self-control and self-confidence.
Recommended methods of promoting self-control
Children learn to control their emotions best when parents and caregivers:
- Consistently model self-control. Children learn by example.
- Teach children what it means to behave well. Children who are rewarded for behaving well learn to get attention in positive ways. For example, by hearing "Great job! You used your words when you were angry instead of hitting," a child feels good and learns that this attention is better than being reprimanded for aggressive behavior.
- Teach children to understand the feelings of others (empathy). For example, asking "How do you think your friend felt when you were teasing her?" helps your child understand that his or her actions affect others. Children are not born with a sense of empathy. Parents and caregivers help them learn this important trait.
- Use distraction. Finding a replacement activity for a misbehaving child works well during the first year or two. For example, a child who is bothering a pet may be distracted with a toy. The technique may continue to work with preschool children. But its effectiveness will gradually fade.
- Use time-outs properly and sparingly.
- Withhold attention selectively. Children, especially preschoolers, crave acceptance and attention. Completely ignoring a misbehaving child is effective in curbing minor but annoying behavior problems, such as whining or complaining. This technique takes patience on behalf of the parents, but when it is used repeatedly, it can be very effective.
Avoid physical punishment
Do not spank or hit your child. Some parents use spanking, hitting, or other forms of physical punishment to discipline children. Despite a common argument that physical punishment works because it makes a memorable impression on the child, this type of discipline teaches children:
- To resent and fear their parents.
- That aggression works to get people what they want. Parents who model aggression by physical punishment encourage their child to use aggression themselves.
- To feel shame or humiliation, which damages their emerging self-esteem.
Current as of: December 12, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.