Self-control develops over time, but eager parents seek out outlets when their children do not display what seems to be normal development at the same age as their peers. As every child is unique, the timeline of the development of self-control also varies but typically happens organically. Although self-control is a hot topic among parents of young children, there are three different types of self-control, and children may develop one faster than the others or struggle with more than one type. The three types of self-control are impulse control, emotional control, and movement control.
Most parents have witnessed it or experienced it – the tantrum. Younger children seem to struggle more, which makes perfect sense because their precious brains are not as developed as, let’s say, a school-aged child. Some children may naturally display more impulse control as they get older. As children age, they also learn how self-control manages their movements, impulses, and emotions. Today, many families work to overcome the challenges of children who struggle with consistent self-control in one or all areas as they get older.
Self-Control is an Executive Function of the Brain
To manage actions, feelings, and thoughts, one must learn and develop the skill of self-control. Self-control helps children think before they act. It is considered an executive function of the brain and occurs over time. The development speed and complexity vary per child but understanding the three different areas of self-control may comfort families whose child may be struggling with one but displaying it in another area.
The first type of self-control is impulse control. Impulse control is being able to think before acting. Understanding consequences causes pause as children behave in a way that indicates they are thinking about what may happen if they act. As children develop impulse control, more sound decision-making should be evident.
Children with lower impulse control tend to act without thinking about the consequences, regardless of whether it causes them or others harm. This behavior can lead to social isolation as peers may be put off by what they consider unpredictable behavior. Some common signs a child displays in impulse control include blurting out whatever comes to mind. Other signs are acting and responding quickly, seemingly without thought. There is no consideration for others; they can seem aggressive as they overreact, interrupt, or excessively talk. Procrastination and then rushing through chores or schoolwork is the other side of impulse control.
The second type of self-control is emotional control, which is the ability to manage feelings. Again, children typically develop more skills in this area as they age. Children deal differently with disappointments and criticisms, but stronger feelings and emotions in toddlers are more expected than in school-aged children, especially as they enter middle school. As children age, their control in this area helps them overcome distractions and feelings that may have previously overwhelmed them.
Children not as developed in this area of self-control tend to get stuck in a bad mood or react strongly to losing a game. Children low in this area tend to get frustrated quickly and do not receive feedback well. They can get upset quickly and be challenging to calm down.
The third type of self-control is movement control. Movement control is just what it says – control over body movement. If a child is displaying low development in this area, martial arts continue to be an excellent tool due to the unique training design. Controlling the body must be connected to the mind, and exceptional martial arts programs focus on this relationship.
Being able to control the body includes sitting still or waiting in line for an extended time. Again, with very young children and toddlers, you often see them crawling on the floor and getting antsy, which is expected as they develop this self-control function. As children get older and refine this skill, they will go from being in someone\’s face to giving personal space.
As children approach school age, open communication between families and teachers is essential to identify patterns and areas that may be concerning. However, self-control continues to develop, which is different for every child. Children may sometimes struggle with one or more of these types of self-control. Families should know that they are not alone. Teachers, coaches, instructors, and other role models in your child’s life should partner with you to help your child achieve self-control in all areas. Working with a family-friendly martial arts studio is an excellent resource for families wanting to help their children tap into the potential for greater self-control. If you are near the Carlsbad or Rancho Bernardo areas of San Diego, SwiftKick offers incredible opportunities and training designed for families of children of all ages. Students may begin training as young as three years old. There are so many benefits, and increased self-control is at the top!