How Do Kids Gain Self Control?

How do kids get self control, or how to teach it? I’m confused between the huge difference in attachment parenting and God centered parenting. In one we can use compation, non violant communication, listening, validating, etc, and in the other is empowering caracter vertus and practicing self control. Were is a place between the two? How can a child get to have self control in an environment were we never adress it? How to apply attachment, compation, etc, at the same time as living in a way that fosters self control? Thanks you so much for your response!

Dear Parent:

It might be easier to understand in terms of evidence-based science: Children acquire self-control through a combination of development and practice.  Just as a toddler will not be able to toilet train before their developmental readiness, and a preschooler might not be able to read, no matter how much practice and drill they have, children will not be able to exercise self-control until they are biologically ready. It’s built in to the brain.  The famous preschooler marshmallow test done in the 1960s at Stanford University demonstrated this.  A group of four-year-olds were promised a second marshmallow from the researchers if they exhibited self control by not eating the first one they were given during the twenty minutes the researchers left the room.  Over half the study group didn’t have the self control to follow instructions.  These were four-year-olds!  And yet, we expect self-control of the same nature when we ask toddlers to “not touch”.  No wonder they “don’t listen.”  They are biologically incapable of it. That doesn’t mean we as parents don’t give children the opportunities.  We can still teach appropriate self-control, such as not hitting, but as long as we don’t expect compliance at a young age.  99% of the population has self-control by adulthood.  There are law-abiding people everywhere.  They all reached it at age-appropriate stages throughout childhood. 

I believe that attachment parenting and God-centered parenting blend together beautifully.  If a parent knows and understands child development and has appropriate expectations, then they can still encourage virtues, character formation and self-control within attachment parenting.  The key is in knowing what a child can do and what they biologically can’t do yet.  The research on child development and especially the abilities of the brain is being updated weekly, so any parenting study is probably out of date if not published in the past five years.  The desired virtues (see Michael Popkin’s Virtues Project) and character traits, are common in every religion and spiritual practice in all cultures and are what parents worldwide try to instill in their children.  Mutual respect of each other, parent and child, and all other living creatures on this earth, are the key in developing children into wonderful, productive, compassionate and loving adults.



Parenting speaker, educator and Founder Attachment Parenting Canada Association

Author of the Canadian Bestseller, “Discipline Without Distress: 135 Tools for Raising Caring, Responsible Children Without Time-Out, Spanking, Punishment or Bribery” 


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