Ways Child Care Providers Can Teach Preschoolers Self-Control

Children playing together in sandbox

Learning self-control is an ongoing process in each child’s development. Child care providers can play an important role in encouraging children to develop self-control through interactions, appropriate guidance, and child-directed activities. When encouraging children’s self-control, child care providers need to be sure their expectations are appropriate and realistic for the particular child. The child’s age can be an indicator of what to expect, but children of the same age can be at different developmental levels. Be sure to consider the specific strengths, needs, and growth areas for each individual child.

Ways to Support Children Learning Self-Control

  • Observe carefully: Watch for signs that children are becoming stressed or overstimulated. Once you know the particular signs to look for, you can help the child find an appropriate way to express frustration before the behavior gets out of control.
  • Model desired behavior: Modeling acceptable behavior in front of the children is one of the best ways to teach these skills. When they see adults in the child care setting staying calm and using problem-solving skills to handle frustration, they are more likely to practice these same behaviors.
  • Teach through play: You can also help children practice self-control during play. For example, when children follow rules in a game, they learn self-control skills such as taking turns, waiting for others, and realizing that even though you may lose the game sometimes, you can still have fun. Set up play situations where children can practice these important skills, both individually and in groups.
  • Encourage self-talk and planning: Self-talk and self-planning are two strategies that may help children learn self-control. Guide children to solve problems out loud by asking questions to help them think about what’s happening. You could say, “You seem so upset about David having the truck. Did you want to ask him something? How can you and David work out this problem?” Use this strategy to encourage problem solving in non-stressful situations so children can learn to start planning strategies. You could encourage problem solving by asking, “Where did you want to start playing today for free play? Is there anyone you wanted to ask to join you?”
  • Encourage dramatic play: Children involved in pretending and role-playing practice problem solving and learn how to negotiate when interacting with others. They learn to use a variety of personal and social skills, including self-control. Build an interesting dramatic play area, and encourage children’s pretend play. Read more in the Dramatic Play in Child Care article.

For More Information

For more strategies to guide children’s behavior and help children solve problems, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles

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