Module 4: Promoting Mental Health in Early Childhood


Learning Restraint

The growth of self-regulation is a cornerstone of early childhood development and is visible in all areas of behavior.

Children develop self-control during early childhood through mastering activities in daily life such as sleeping, eating, and toileting. Parents can assist in the process of learning self-control by allowing their child as much independence as he can handle at any given moment.

Questions to Ask

  • Tell me about your child’s personality these days.
  • Describe your child’s typical behavior on a good day. On a bad day.
  • Is your child able to calm himself when he gets upset?
  • Does he wait patiently for something he wants?
  • How does he react when there is something he cannot have? Something he is not permitted to do?

Provider Tips

  • Describe the typical variations in personality and how they affect the child’s ability to develop self-control. Discuss the parents’ expectations and parenting styles to determine how they fit with their child’s temperament.
  • Consider administering a temperament questionnaire if differences in expectations and parenting styles appear to be causing misunderstandings. Discuss the results objectively.
  • Using the guidance listed below, explain how parents can help their child develop self-control.

Guidance for Parents

  • Try to match your expectations to your child’s temperament. If he is an active child, take him to the playground before expecting him to do something that requires him to be quiet. If he is sensitive, spend quiet time with him before exposing him to situations that he may find difficult.
  • Keeping regular routines and schedules will help your child learn what to expect. This helps him to feel secure, comfortable, and in control. Routines also allow him to feel successful in what he is doing and to develop self-control.
  • Allow your child to make simple choices that are acceptable to you—the red sox or the blue ones, a peanut butter or cheese sandwich, the book about the pony or the one about the farmer. This will help your child to make decisions and feel that he is “in control.” If he has difficulty making decisions, give him structure and limit the options he has to choose from.
  • Make learning fun. Teach your child how to take turns, wait, and control his impulses with activities such as
    • "Simon Says," "Red Light-Green Light," and "Mother, May I?"
    • Simple board games such as Candy Land
    • Rolling or bouncing a ball back and forth
    • Doing the Hokey-Pokey
  • It is normal for young children to test limits to see what will happen. Be consistent in the discipline you use when your child misbehaves. Discipline helps him learn self-control—use it as a way to teach him, not to punish him.
  • Praise your child when he displays good behavior and uses self-control. This will let him know that he has pleased you and make him feel good about himself. He will want to try to behave well and continue to get positive attention from you.
Resources for Families

How can I better understand my child's temperament?

Self-Control (12-24 months)

Self-Control (24-36 months)

Carey WB, Jablow MM. 1999. Understanding Your Child’s Temperament. (Pbk. Ed.) New York, NY: Macmillan.

Elkind D. 2001. The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (3rd. ed.). Reading, MA: Perseus Books.

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