How to Help Children Develop Self Control

Natural Consequences for Breaking Known Rules – Part 2

If you did not read last week’s post about misbehavior when giving a direction, check it out here. This week will focus on those times when your child knows the rules and decides not to follow them.

When thinking about the times Keener doesn’t follow the rules, it is mostly due to a lack of impulse control. He might be slamming doors, opening doors without asking to get outside, or dumping out bins of toys. He knows he is “not allowed” to do these things, but he has a hard time slowing down and thinking before acting. While I know this is age appropriate behavior, I also want to help him develop the skills he needs to have more self control.

So how do we help our kids develop self control?

One way to help develop self control is to teach our kids about natural consequences. If you slam a door, you might get hurt or hurt someone else. Sometimes, nature has a way of providing the consequence — not many people have touched a hot stove twice. But when nature doesn’t provide one, or we do not want to wait for nature’s consequence, we can step in. If Keener slams the door, I can take away the “privilege” of letting Keener open and close doors if he can’t do it in a safe way. By doing this I hope to teach him that there is only one way to close a door, and it’s not by slamming it shut.

Sometimes the natural consequence is not instantly obvious, and you are forced to think on your toes. For example, when Keener slams a door, I can’t say: I will take your hands away or I will take all the doors away. I also can’t and don’t want to rely on nature’s consequence of him hurting himself or his sister to teach him that slamming doors is not a good idea. So instead, when he slammed the door the other day, I said the following: Keener, we don’t slam doors. You can use the handle to close the door softly. Because you just slammed the door, you are not going to get to open Grace’s door after her nap this afternoon. Doors must be opened and closed in a safe way. Watch me as I close this door.

The first thing I do is name what he can do with a door: You can use the handle to close the door softly.

Then I tell him the natural consequence of his behavior. Because you just slammed the door, you are not going to get to open Grace’s door after her nap this afternoon. The key here is picking a natural consequence — something connected to the misbehavior — that you know they really enjoy doing. If Keener did not care about opening Grace’s door, this would not be an effective way of reducing the door slamming behavior. But because I know he really enjoys opening Grace’s door, I know that this natural consequence will impact his decision to slam doors in the future. Overall, I want the “punishment” to match the “crime” — if you don’t open and close doors safely, you can’t open and close them.

Finally, I want to model the appropriate behavior: Watch me as I close this door.  I’m telling him he can’t slam the door, but I want him to know exactly what I expect him to do instead. And I have found that the best way to do this is to show him. More on modeling to come.

You may notice that I did not give Keener a “second chance” when he slammed the door the other day, in contrast to last week’s story where he had a second chance to get into the bath before the natural consequence was implemented. This is because he knows — without me having to tell him — that the rule is that we do not slam doors. When he breaks a “known rule,” one I expect him to follow without any additional instruction, I find it best to implement the natural consequence right away. In contrast, when I’m giving him a direction, such as “please get in the bath right now,” it is more about teaching him to listen to an immediate direction. I am more apt to give him a second chance because in that instance I am teaching him to listen, rather than expecting him to independently control his behavior.

Behavior Natural Consequence
Running out the door Doors to the outside are only for grownups to open. It is not safe for you to go outside by yourself. Next time we are near the front door, you will have to hold my hand so I can be sure you are safe and healthy.
Dumping out toys When you dump out the toys, it makes a mess and you won’t be able to find your toys. Before you move on to play with something else, you must put all the toys back first. Next time you are excited, instead of dumping out your toys you can jump up and down and say, “I’m feeling really excited!”

Another way to help your children develop self control and limit their misbehavior is to build empathy. Highlighting for your child that slamming a door could injure someone else may help your child to better understand how their words and actions positively and negatively impact others. Be on the lookout for a future post about helping our children develop empathy.

One comment

  1. Jenny—I look forward to your blog each week. Thanks for sharing your pearls of wisdom—They have been helpful with Jack! (especially since he is just a little younger than Keener, it has helped me see “what is to come”) Hope you and the family are well 🙂

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