Gaining self-control is one of the biggest challenges that children
face between the ages of 2 and 5. Children need guidance, clear limits, and
patient parents during this time of behavioral and emotional struggles. They
also need interaction with other children and adults to help them learn
self-control and self-confidence.
Recommended methods of promoting self-control
Children learn to control their emotions best when parents and
Consistently model self-control. Children learn
Teach children what it means to behave well. Children who are rewarded for behaving well learn to get attention in positive ways. For example, by hearing
"Great job! You used your words when you were angry instead of hitting," a
child feels good and learns that this attention is better than being
reprimanded for aggressive behavior.
Teach children to understand
the feelings of others (empathy). For example, asking "How do you think your
friend felt when you were teasing her?" helps your child understand that his or
her actions affect others. Children are not born with a sense of empathy. Parents and caregivers help them learn this important
Use distraction. Finding a replacement activity for a
misbehaving child works well during the first year or two. For example, a child
who is bothering a pet may be distracted with a toy. The technique may continue
to work with preschool children. But its effectiveness will gradually fade.
time-outs properly and sparingly.
attention selectively. Children, especially preschoolers, crave acceptance and
attention. Completely ignoring a misbehaving child is effective in curbing
minor but annoying behavior problems, such as whining or complaining. This
technique takes patience on behalf of the parents, but when it is used
repeatedly, it can be very effective.
Avoid physical punishment
Do not spank or hit your child. Some parents use spanking, hitting,
or other forms of physical punishment to discipline children. Despite a common
argument that physical punishment works because it makes a memorable impression
on the child, this type of discipline teaches children:
To resent and fear their
That aggression works to get people what they want.
Parents who model aggression by physical punishment encourage their child to
use aggression themselves.
To feel shame or humiliation, which
damages their emerging self-esteem.
In this article
This information is produced and provided by the National
Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National
Institute via the Internet web site at http://
.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
February 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this