Having self-control is a valuable and important skill for tamariki. Whānau can model and help tamariki develop self-control.

Self-control is about being able to regulate your emotions and desires.

A lack of self-control can get us into trouble in all sorts of ways. Someone lacking self-control finds it hard or nearly impossible to resist temptation. They’re likely to speak before they think, act on impulse, be unable to wait their turn, and could have a short attention span. There are plenty of good reasons for us to help our tamariki to develop self-control.

Professor Richie Poulton’s findings from the Dunedin Study show that there’s a strong correlation between low levels of childhood self-control and:

  • poor health outcomes
  • substance dependence
  • low socio-economic status
  • financial struggles
  • criminal court convictions
  • parenting difficulties
  • long-term benefit dependences in adulthood.

So, it’s an important ability to learn.

When do we develop self-control?

Self-control develops over the early years. Some of the biggest changes are noticed between the ages of 3 and 7.

To get along in a group or classroom, kids need to pay attention, follow directions, stay motivated and control their impulses.

Emotional self-regulation means responding to daily experiences authentically and in ways that are socially acceptable. Spontaneity of responses requires a delicate balance. Spontaneity is great when it’s appropriate, but if a spontaneous reaction would be inappropriate, the ability to delay that reaction is valuable. The key to self-regulation is knowing how to behave and when. Being able to wait calmly for a reward is the key to self-control.

Having age-appropriate expectations of self-control

It’s normal and expected for a 2-year-old child to have tantrums as they’re learning how to get their needs met in a socially acceptable way. The tantrums would normally decrease in intensity and frequency during the next few years. A 5-year-old who is still having tantrums may be a cause for concern.

If a child is having difficulty with some aspect of self-control, it’s wise to address that particular behaviour sooner rather than later.

Support with modelling self-regulation

The 6 principles of effective discipline lay a strong foundation for self-control and self-regulation.

6 principles of effective discipline


In general, whānau can help the development of self-control in their tamariki by:

  • building trust through consistency
  • modelling emotional regulation by ‘walking their talk’
  • staying calm and using calming techniques when needed
  • understanding what’s happening for their tamaiti
  • supporting their tamaiti
  • helping them practise self-regulation, which strengthens their ability to do it again
  • using the ‘ ’ parenting style – being firm, fair and flexible
  • helping their tamaiti with strategies to manage waiting, sharing and turn-taking.