Self-Control

     Having strong self-control (also known as self-regulation) is a key to success in all areas of our lives.  Self-control/self-regulation is the ability to regulate our emotions while feeling uncomfortable or while in conflict with another.  It is being able to resist being distracted and accepting delayed gratification.  It also means managing impulse control.  These are things that adults sometimes have difficulty with yet we expect the children in our care to have it under control.  Self-Control/self-regulation is something that we must teach children how to manage consistently as children who lack self-control often exhibit challenging behaviors.  Children with good self-control/self-regulation tend to get along better with others and be independent.  Kindergarten teachers rank self-control/self-regulation as the characteristic most necessary for school readiness.

     There are three types of self-control/self-regulation issues that we as teachers need to help children learn to handle in appropriate and positive ways.

  • Impulse Control Issues.

Interrupting often

Excessive talking

Speaking out of turn

  • Emotional Control Issues

Unable to handle corrections or criticism from others

Having temper tantrums or outbursts which are not age appropriate

Becoming easily frustrated and giving up

  • Movement Control Issues

Unable to stop constantly fidgeting

Difficulty taking turns

Disruptive in group games or conversations

     Researchers believe a child’s early environment can cause disruptions in the development of self-control/self-regulation.  We as educators do not have control of a child’s home environment so we must provide a healthy, safe school environment.  When teachers react in authoritarian ways or with anger and frustration, it often causes the challenging behavior to worsen.  It is important that teachers set clear boundaries that they follow consistently for all children and that they have logical and appropriate consequences (If you throw the blocks you will come out of the center).  We must gauge when to step in and provide guidance and also know when to step back and allow the children to solve their own problems.

Researchers believe a child’s early environment can cause disruptions in the development of self-control/self-regulation.  We as educators do not have control of a child’s home environment so we must provide a healthy, safe school environment.  When teachers react in authoritarian ways or with anger and frustration, it often causes the challenging behavior to worsen.  It is important that teachers set clear boundaries that they follow consistently for all children and that they have logical and appropriate consequences (If you throw the blocks you will come out of the center).  We must gauge when to step in and provide guidance and also know when to step back and allow the children to solve their own problems.

Rotate your materials regularly to keep the children interested in what is on the shelves.  Ask the children if they have an opinion of what kinds of materials they might like to use.  When children are actively involved in the choices of where they want to go and are engaged in meaningful hands-on activities, they are less apt to act out with challenging behaviors.  Preschoolers should not be expected to wait for long periods of time and ideally group times can be kept to small groups verses whole class activities.

In order to be able to develop self-control/self-regulation, children need to be able to name their feelings then learn how to express them without hurting themselves, others, or classroom materials. Teachers should model using emotion words in real life ways (Ryan is sad because you took the ball away from him.  I see you’re looking frustrated…how can I help?  I get scared when people yell at me too, what a big smile…you must be really proud that you made such a big marble run).  Talking about emotions should be happening everyday all day.  And not all self-control/self-regulation requires a teacher’s verbal input.  Challenge yourself to catch every child every day doing a positive behavior, especially your most challenging children.  While scanning the room you can make notice of positive behaviors by giving the child a thumbs up, a smile, or a nod.  When teachers spend more time acknowledging positive behavior, there is often less challenging behaviors. 

     By their Preschool years most children have acquired enough language to solve problems with their own voice and listening skills.  But some children need extra guidance and encouragement on how to deal with frustration and how to calm ones self down and self-sooth when feeling stressed.  If you have a child that exhibits challenging behaviors, document what the stressors seem to be and the time of the day.  It may be that a child is acting out because they are hungry or tired and just does not have the knowledge to make appropriate choices.  Teach children calming down skills such as asking for help, counting to ten, using a punch bag or pillow, pounding play dough.

     It is also important to set up your classroom environment in ways that help children to be able to self-regulate.  When a classroom is planned using center dividers it allows the children to be able to better concentrate and be less distracted by the going-on in the room.  When teachers can visibly see the entire room, they can better be on the look out for children who are feeling distress.  It is important to remember to remove indoor runways and also areas of high congestion as both of these can lead quickly to challenging behaviors.  Posting a daily schedule with pictures easily allows the children to understand what comes next and where to go.

     Children need to be taught what positive interactions look like.  They need to be reminded to use them and then practice, practice, practice.  Unfortunately self-control/self-regulation takes lots of practice, ask any adult as they reach for another drink, cigarette, or dessert.  Remind the children often what the rules of your classroom are and some of the consequences that go along with.   Make sure you follow through with every child always using logical consequences. In order for a child to do well in school and acquire healthy friendships, they must have self-control /self-regulation skills. Some under lying rules of every classroom should include: playing safely, feet are not for kicking and hands are not for hitting/pinching/grabbing, voice modulation, telling the truth, kind words to peers.

Teaching self-control/self-regulation skills should be taught and rehearsed regularly.  There is no reasoning with a child that is out of control or having a temper tantrum.  Just protect them from hurting themselves or others until they calm down.  Then you can have a discussion about what triggered the negative behavior and how to problem-solve so that they can try another way next time.  It has been found that children who do not learn how to self-regulate will often turn to aggressive behaviors that can become bullying behaviors as they grow.  Juvenile Officers state weaknesses they see in teen-age offenders as quickly jumping to a conclusion without having all the evidence, thinking that everyone is out to get them, they have difficulty thinking of a variety of solutions to a problem, and they fail to consider consequences.  Often, the child who acts out the most is the child who needs the most calm and positive interactions.  The job of Early Childhood Educators is to help children learn to problem-solve so that they can self-regulate and make positive choices, which will have a lasting effect on the quality of their lives.

WAYS TO SUPPORT SELF-CONTROL

  • Model what positive interactions look and sound like.  (Please pass the potatoes, thank you for sharing the blocks with Miguel, I like how you have waited so patiently for your turn).
  • Play games that require taking turns.
  • In line to help alleviate pushing, teach the children that hands are in pockets or down by sides.
  • Let the children know that it is OK to ask for more space while in line or sitting in a group situation.
  • Talk about emotional literacy/feelings each and every day as the children go about their business.  Praise those who handle a situation well and help those who had difficulty controlling their emotions to problem-solve better solutions.
  • While reading books, note the characters expression and how the character might be feeling and what caused actions caused this emotion.
  • Comment on positive actions that you see the children doing.  (Thank you for scooting over and letting Riley into the circle).
  • Model how to ask for food at meal times.
  • Explain to the children that they should ask to hug another child BEFORE giving them a hug.
  • Model listening to another’s response before taking an action or problem solving.  (You are still playing with that car but I want it).
  • Teach your children verbal queues that will alert you as a teacher that there might be a problem about to occur.  (Stop! I don’t like it when you ____, You’re making me mad!).
  • Set clear limits for undesired behaviors and then enforce them in a logical way.  (Our toys are not for throwing.  If you throw again you will have to leave the center, People are not for spitting at, if you need to spit go spit in the toilet).
  • Set out a dollhouse and people. 
  • Provide playdough to mash, smash, and pound out frustration and anger.
  • Play group games and songs to help children learn to cooperate and teamwork.  PUT ONE OR TWO LINKS HERE
  • Model self-talk about emotions and how to safely express them.  (I am feeling frustrated so I will take a giant dragon breath and then let it out.  I want to use that purple crayon so I will ask Rachel to let me have it next.  I am feeling squished so I will ask Warren to move over a little bit).
  • Take dictations about children’s artwork.  Allow the child to express emotions and related events or ideas that go along with the art.  (This is me riding with my Dad and my brother and I’m going to my friends house to play).
  • When introducing new materials into the classroom, make sure you teach the children proper usage and expectations. (The dress-up clothes belong in the basket and not strewn all over the floor.  The sand stays below the edges of the table so it will not end up on the floor).
  • Teach the children to count to 10 before making an angry choice.  (This gives the child a time to calm down and also practice their counting skills).
  • Make I Can Get Along books with the children.  Take appropriate pictures of the children doing the following skills.  I can get along.  I share with others.  I put things away.  I keep my hands to myself.  I am quiet at naptime.  I use my words when I am angry.  I follow instructions.  I take turns.  I can get along.
  • The University of Colorado has a nice info piece you can share with your parents about temper tantrums.  https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/family-home-consumer/childrens-anger-and-tantrums-10-248/
  • The Head Start Center for Inclusion in partnership with the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning have developed a Problem Solving Kit that is worth checking out and using.  http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhh.gov/hsic/tta-system/teaching.
  • Check out The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning as it contains lots of valuable information.  csefel.vanderbilt.edu. 
  • Check out the Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center.  They have tons of good information on a variety of subjects.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click videos and webinars.