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​​​Toddler email series Issue12345

Moving from Control to Self-Control

Self-control is learned behavior, and all ​parents would like their children to have more of it. ​In order to learn self-control, however, children first must learn to let their parents control them. Following instructions is a good example. First, children have to learn to follow their parents' instructions. Over time, they then learn to follow instructions they give themselves. The same holds true for following rules, which are just "formal" types of instructions.

Here's an example of how this process works: A parent teaches his toddler son not to touch the DVD player by using a small amount of discipline like a brief time-out every time the toddler touches the player. The toddler's behavior won't change right away; in fact, he will probably touch the DVD player many times and spend a lot of time in time-out before he learns the rule of not touching the item. But with enough repetition, the toddler will eventually make the connection.

Then the toddler might approach the DVD player, but veer away without touching it. Being close to the DVD player has begun to make the toddler feel uncomfortable because he associates it with the discomfort of time-out. Now he is following his own instruction not to touch the machine. The same thing happens with appropriate behaviors, too. A parent praises a child to make his or her child feel good about doing the right thing. The child eventually begins to feel good about using the behavior and does it even when the parent is not around.

So when a parent teaches a child to follow a simple instruction or rule, there is a lot more going on. In short, parents who successfully manage their toddlers' behavior through teaching and discipline are laying the groundwork for their children to use self-control — managing their behavior on their own.

Teaching Activity

Working on Misbehavior

Spend the entire week working with your child on one misbehavior you would like him or her to correct. Come up with a small but manageable consequence you can give the child every time he or she displays this behavior. Consistently address the behavior and give the consequence throughout the week. Also, be sure to praise your child when he or she doesn't use the behavior. Hopefully, you will start to see some self-control emerge in your child as he or she learns the misbehavior-consequence connection.

Social Skills

Following Instructions

The steps for teaching your toddler how to follow instructions are pretty easy. They are:

  • Look - Look at the person who is talking to you.
  • Say - Say "Okay" as soon as the person is done.
  • Do - Do what you've been asked to do right away.
  • Check Back - Check back when you're finished.

Play the game "Simon Says" with your toddler and start with fun tasks to help him or her practice following instructions.

Coming up in Issue 3

The Many Levels of Behavior


Walk in Their Shoes


Accepting "No" for an Answer

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