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Self-control is one of the brain’s behavioral executive functions that describes the ability to stop and think before acting. Students with the skill of self-control can be characterized as having the ability to resist urges to say or do something so they can evaluate a situation and determine how their behavior might impact it. They are able to wait a short period of time without being disruptive, and they can consider their obligations and pass up something pleasurable when necessary.
Students who have not yet developed the skill of self-control often do not think before acting, and they do not consider the consequences of their actions to make a decision. They frequently blurt out and interrupt others, and they become overactive and disruptive. They have trouble stopping their actions and generally need to be told when it’s time to stop a behavior.
When helping students develop self-control, a few key goals to work towards could include:
- Think before acting
- Make good choices by considering consequences
- Stop undesirable actions and act appropriately
When working towards these goals, it is essential to teach students strategies to stop what they are doing and ask themselves questions for thinking about their actions. Using nonverbal signals is especially helpful to show students when it is time to stop and think. Students who struggle with self-control need clear expectations and boundaries, so they can more easily determine whether they are meeting them. They also need to logical and fitting consequences to their behaviors as they practice evaluating whether they should act on an impulse or idea. Students who struggle in this area are often “in trouble”, and it is extremely important to not reinforce negative behaviors by giving them attention. Instead, provide students with positive reinforcement for encouraging correct behaviors by giving desirable consequences.
The impact self-control has on a student’s ability to learn and succeed is profound, and providing students with the strategies to practice self-control is a gift that will last a lifetime.