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By Teresa Mercer, LCSW, LCAC – Feb. 18, 2020

At some point most of us have probably lost some or all of our self-control. It may have involved our emotions, shopping, eating, or even something as simple as the urge to pop bubble wrap lying around.

Losing self-control can create a lot of problems with relationships, the legal system, the workplace, health, the school system, etc. While many of us learn from these experiences, there are some who will continue to have problems.

Think about how you learned self-control. Was it modeled from your home environment, social environment, or did you just instinctively know how to obtain and maintain self-control? It’s probably a combination of all three.

This fast-paced world and its ever-changing technology raises the concern that our youth are growing up with too many conveniences and instant gratification. This leads to lack of self-control. As a school social worker, I have talked with many young people over the years that can’t manage their emotions appropriately when they do not have their cell phone or get their game systems taken away.

Self-control is required in many aspects of life. It can also be achieved through various techniques.

Of course the first way to teach children self-control is to model it. Children of any age are watching and learning from us all the time, so self-awareness and regulating your emotions and behaviors is important.

Engage in activities that require a lot of patience and determination. Think about trying yoga or meditation. Both encompass the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental self. Mindfulness techniques also teach self-control. You can practice mindfulness just about anywhere at any time, by yourself or with someone else.

Mindfulness practice involves paying attention to and focusing on the present moment – and only the activity of the present moment, such as your breathing. This can be practiced at work or in the classroom.

Some games that promote self-control are the blinking game and charades. You probably remember the blinking game from childhood.  Sit across from your child and stare into each other’s eyes. The first one to blink loses the game.

People of all ages are tempted at times to do things they are specifically instructed not to do. Charades is another game to play. The person who is doing the acting out of the word must stay in control and not blurt out the word. It’s hard to keep quiet and not get frustrated when the other players are not guessing the correct word, especially for a child/young person. This is a great way to practice self-control. Children can also learn controlled breathing by blowing bubbles slowly.

Finally, learning effective ways to manage anger and other low moods is beneficial to everyone. Teaching children to express their feelings, listening to them, being non-judgmental and respecting their feelings only increases their skills in self-control.

Remember, it’s important to model the behavior you want from your child. You can only encourage and develop effective self-control skills in your child if you are demonstrating the same skills.

Girl texting

By Heather Miller, MSW, Courier & Press, June 21, 2016 –

“I didn’t think about it.” As a Youth First Social Worker in a middle school, this is a statement I hear multiple times per week.

Impulse control and the ability to predict future consequences for present decisions are difficult concepts for the adolescent brain to process. Couple this with a fast-paced society that expects immediate feedback and gratification, and the challenge to think before acting becomes understandably difficult.

Students today are navigating life and relationships in a world primarily composed of red and green — stop and go — with no time for yellow, the pause.

Fifteen years ago, before the advent of social media, the pause allowed students to rethink their actions and tear up a hate-filled note they wrote to a peer the night before.

The pause often prevented the negative consequences that accompany intense emotions. Now, without the pause, students type a hate-filled text and press send. A text cannot be torn up, and the ramifications are often immediate.

The pause has been hijacked by social media, texting and email. Thus, when students tell me, “I didn’t think about it,” I know they did not think through the situation and possible consequences. Furthermore, many kids have not been taught how to do this.

The following tips will help teach kids how to pause before acting.

  • For younger children, use the visuals of a stoplight to guide the child in thinking through a real situation or made-up scenario. This will help instill the concept of thinking through possible consequences before acting. Begin at red, or stopping, to describe the situation; move to yellow, thinking through what may have been the reason for the situation as well as possible outcomes for different consequences; finally, move to green, choosing the action that will yield the best results.
  • To capture an adolescent’s attention, use famous athletes or movie stars to demonstrate how quickly lives can change by one action. Similar to the stoplight illustration, discuss the situation, the action taken, the consequences of the action, and how a different action may have created a different consequence.
  • If children are using texting, email and/or social media, discuss waiting a set amount of time before sending a message about a volatile issue. This is an important part of demonstrating the maturity needed to have a social media account or phone. Make it a nonnegotiable expectation.
  • For children of all ages, explain how the brain works and processes emotions as well as the areas of the brain responsible for impulse control. This gives kids an understanding of how their brains are equipped to deal with intense emotions. For more information please review the article, “Teaching Students: A Brain Owner’s Manual,” by Dr. Judy Willis.

If you have a child that would benefit from additional skills training in impulse control, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or a licensed mental health professional.