20 Playful Ways to Improve Kids Self Control


One of the hardest things about raising kids is parenting with consistency in a way that empowers kids to learn self control and delayed gratification. Thankfully there are ways to help kids improve their delayed gratification ability through play and we have listed 20 of them below.

Sometimes it is just easier to give in…stay strong, Parent!

Kids Taking Control in Every Day Life

We have all had those days, those situations where it would be MUCH easier to give in at cost for the greater good.

Here are some easy strategies to give you the strength to quickly determine with confidence what your next parenting step might be…

It is “just a snack”

Imagine you are cooking dinner and your child is starving. You tell him to wait, but he whines and cries and pouts. You are tired of listening to him, whine so you allow him to have a snack. Teaching kids self-control is hard.

It is “just a toy”

Or imagine you are at a store and your child sees a toy that he really, really, really wants more than anything in the whole world. You just want some peace while you shop, so you let him have the toy and agree to buy it at the end of the shopping trip.

It is “just for today”

Or imagine you child desperately wants to play at a friend’s house, but right now you are leaving as a family for a commitment or obligation. You child does not want to go with you. He wants to go to a friend’s house. Okay fine. You make a concession and allow him to go to the friend’s house instead.

But wait?

What if I told you holding your boundary firm and making your child wait was the single most important skill you can teach your child.

Teaching Kids Delayed Gratification is a Priority - Kids Activities Blog
Does it really matter today if I cave in as a parent?

Teaching kids delayed gratification is a Priority

A longterm study following 1,000 children from birth to age 32 years old had surprising results. This study shows that…

…childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes, following a gradient of self-control.

PNAS, A Gradient of Childhood Self-Control Predicts Health, Wealth and Public Safety Study

This research shows that children with worse self-control which included measurements of: persistence, impulsivity and attention regulation from ages 3-11 tend to have worse health, earn less, and commit more crimes 30 years later.

This reminds me of the marshmallow test from many years ago…

Marshmallow Experiment from Stanford - Kids activities blog
Marshmallows and self-control…

The Stanford Marshmallow Test Experiment

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a psychological study conducted in the late 1960s to early 1970s, in which children were placed in a room with some tasty snack, such as a marshmallow, and told that if they could wait for a short while before eating it then they will get an extra snack as a reward.

Effectiviology, The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment: How Self-Control Affects Success in Life

In this series of experiments on delayed gratification, kids were offered a choice: get one reward right now or wait twenty minutes and get two rewards. The reward was often a pretzel, marshmallow, or mint.

The single reward was placed on the table, while the researcher left the room for about 20 minutes. As each child sat alone in the room staring at their marshmallow, they had to decide to wait and get double the marshmallows or eat the single marshmallow without waiting.

The Results of Delayed Gratification

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the larger reward tended to have better life outcomes. This was measured by test scores, educational achievement, healthy weight in adulthood, and more.

activities that increase self control in kids - Kids Activities Blog
The good news is that self control is something that can be improved through play.

Kids Activities that Increase Self-Control and Delayed Gratification

We thought it was a good idea to come up with 20+ ways to teach kids self-control or delayed gratification through play. The good news is you do not have to wait until the confrontation over snacks, toys or going to a friend’s house to teach a lesson.

Just like the marshmallow study itself, these things can be playful games that teach over time.

Pick whatever delayed gratification activities work for your family! Which is these ways to play and teach self control fits best into your parenting style?

Ways to teach kids self control through play - Kids Activities Blog - child playing jenga game on the floor
Let’s play something fun!

20 Playful Ways to Teach Kids Self-Control & Delayed Gratification

  1. Play red light, green light.
  2. Teach kids to save money for something bigger they really want.
  3. Create an end of the day reward if kids complete all their chores.
  4. Teach kids to wait for dinner, despite being hungry, rather than giving snacks close to mealtimes.
  5. Play games that require focus and attention like memory or Jenga.
  6. Teach your child to wait at the end of the line instead of cutting in front.
  7. Play freeze tag.
  8. Teach your kids to put a toy they really want on their birthday or Christmas list rather than buying it right away.
  9. Help your child practice yoga or meditation (this could be as simple as asking them to take 5 deep breaths) where they must sit still for a certain period of time.
  10. Have a staring contest.
  11. Teach your child to wait for another child to finish using a toy before he can play with it.
  12. Play follow the leader.
  13. Play the quiet game where everyone needs to be as quiet as possible and the first person to talk or make noise is out.
  14. Have kids sit for storytime to improve focusing skills.
  15. Complete a listening activity where your child must repeat back instructions to you.
  16. Have kids play alone for at least 30 minutes a day. This encourages kids to have enough self-control to problem solve with their toys and entertain themselves without outside support.
  17. Teach kids to wait to interrupt you using the interrupt rule: putting their hand on your shoulder or leg to let you know they need to interrupt you.
  18. Teach your children how to wait for a treat like a cookie or a cupcake.
  19. Teach your kids to self-regulate emotions. If your child is fussing or protesting, allow your child the opportunity to calm themselves a bit before intervening.
  20. Praise for effort and encourage hard work to achieve goals, rather than doing the work for your kids.

Delayed gratification (or self-control) is the single most important skill you can teach your child. This valuable skill not only translates into better-behaved children (it really does!), but it also shapes them into fabulous adults and develops great listening skills which are all we can hope for our kids!

More Advice from Real Moms Here at Kids Activities Blog

Do you have any advice how to increase a child’s ability for delayed gratification and self control? What works at your house? Please let us know in the comments below.





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