Emotions influence behavior. Part of growing up is learning how to manage our emotions and exercise self-control so that we can treat ourselves and others with respect. Five-year-olds can articulate the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and can often change their behavior with reminders (e.g., "Remember, we keep our hands to ourselves at school."). They can apply strategies they have learned for controlling their impulses but will need continued support from parents — particularly when they feel overwhelmed by emotions.
Emotions & Self-Awareness Self-Control: How to Help Your Five-Year-Old Make Responsible Choices
Help your child develop self-control:
Acknowledge When They Exercise Self-Control
When your child is tempted to respond one way but resists, acknowledge their self-control. This might sound like: "You were mad and wanted to hit, but you stopped yourself! Good work!"
Change the Situation
A simple and effective strategy for self-control involves changing the situation to reduce temptation. For instance, if you're trying to eat nutritiously, not having sweets in the house makes it easier to make healthy choices. Teaching kids this strategy involves helping them thinking about in advance what they could do to "change the situation." For example, ask them, "It sounds like sometimes you and your friend get silly and loud during quiet reading time at school. What could you do to change the situation?" or "You get frustrated when it's time to clean up your toys and go to bed. What could you do to change this situation?"
Teach Them Simple Strategies
Kids of every age feel overwhelmed by emotions or impulses, and they need simple tools that they can use to regain their equilibrium and make good choices. For example, "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" provides memorable musical prompts about how kids can respond to emotional stress, such as:
- "When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four."
- "When you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything!"
- "You can take a turn, and then I'll get it back."
You can help children develop with similar simple, memorable strategies. Help them verbalize both what they can't do and what they can, such as, "When I'm mad, I can't hit my brother, but I can stomp my feet or squeeze my ball." You can also model the connection between moods and healthy eating, exercise and sleeping: "Sometimes when I'm frustrated, I eat a healthy snack or take a nap to help me feel better."
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