“He is so impulsive.”

“She doesn’t think before acting.”

We hear these often, and we completely understand! Impulse control, emotional awareness, concentration – you want this for your child. You may even want this for yourself. Want the secret?

On the path towards building self-control, we need to strengthen these 3 things first: regulation, flexibility, and cue reading.


Everything starts here. And nothing good happens without this! First find your inner calm. Model what you want to see. Use fewer words. Soften your voice. Practice pacing. This is a natural invitation for your child to match your state. Dr. Shanker said it best: “You can’t have self-control without self-regulation.”


The ability to shift flexibly between situations, activities, or aspects of a problem is an essential component of self-regulation and thus self-control. The impulse to “fix it” or “get it” can be best supported by developing your child’s flexibility. Prepare your child for transitions to reserve their energy. Add micro-changes to play without being intrusive. Combine different play materials. Model use of words to express preferences and emotions.

Cue Reading

If we expect our kids to show self-control, they first need to be able to read social cues. We build this skill by sending strong cues for our child to practice cue reading. Exaggerate expressions. Lower yourself to your child’s level. Send clear signals. Reading these signals will help your child recognize others’ responses to their actions and learn to modify them in real time. 

Sound like a tall order? Here are some simple games to flex your child’s self-control muscles:

Freeze Dance

Does your child love to move? Play a few favorite tunes and incorporate some much needed sensory input (think dance moves that include jumping, stomping, or spinning). Begin by simply starting and stopping with the music. Then try some of these fun ideas to practice self-control:

  • Freeze in a specific position
  • Sing along to the music while dancing
  • Alternate who gets to control the music
  • Dance only in a specific area (try putting hula hoops on the ground!)

Simon Says

This familiar game is definitely an exercise in self-control! First practice imitating movements without worrying about whether or not Simon said. Incorporate some fun moves, like turning upside down or rolling up into a tight ball, to support your child’s sensory systems. When your child is ready, try to mix it up a bit:

  • Pick a certain number of times for each movement (Simon Says tap your belly 5 times)
  • Swap roles and take turns being Simon
  • Give a confused or surprised look or show signs of frustration during a challenging pose to encourage cue reading

Follow the Leader

There are so many opportunities for movement, social engagement, and creativity in this game! Start with the basics to make sure you and your child are in sync. Build from there with countless ways to challenge your child’s self-control – here are a few ideas:

  • Adjust your pacing, lower your body, and slow it down to support your child’s regulation (try whispering or crawling on the ground)
  • Model the experience of being stumped to see if your child will jump in with an idea
  • Take turns being the leader to practice flexibility
  • Add siblings or friends into the game to practice navigating multiple opinions

The possibilities are endless, and we’d love to partner with you in supporting your child’s development!

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