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Why developing self-control in children is important for their success?

Childhood self-control strongly predicts adult success in people of high or low intelligence, rich or poor.


Self control in children and article by antahyog

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi/Pexels

Self-control refers to the ability to regulate one’s own thoughts, behaviors, and emotions to align them with long-term goals and values. It involves making conscious choices and exerting discipline over immediate impulses or desires. Self-control requires individuals to delay immediate gratification, resist temptations, and persevere through challenges or obstacles to achieve desired outcomes.

At its core, self-control is about self-regulation and self-management. It involves being aware of one’s own internal states, such as emotions and desires and effectively managing them in a way that aligns with personal values and overarching goals. This ability allows individuals to make rational decisions, think critically, and act in a manner that is consistent with their long-term well-being and success.

Developing self-control is a gradual process that begins in childhood and continues throughout life. Various factors, including cognitive development, socialization, and environmental influences influence it. Strategies such as setting goals, planning, time management, self-monitoring, and practicing mindfulness can enhance self-control.

While self-control can be challenging at times, it is a skill that can be cultivated and improved with practice. By developing self-awareness, setting realistic goals, and implementing effective strategies, individuals can enhance their self-control and experience greater success and fulfillment in various areas of life.

Why is it important?

Having strong self-control has numerous benefits. It contributes to academic achievement, professional success, and personal well-being. Individuals with self-control are better equipped to resist distractions, overcome procrastination, manage stress effectively, maintain healthy relationships, and make wise financial decisions. They are likelier to exhibit resilience, perseverance, and self-discipline in facing challenges.

Self control and decision making

Self-control and decision-making are closely intertwined. Self-control plays a crucial role in decision-making as it enables individuals to make choices that align with their long-term goals and values rather than succumbing to immediate impulses or temptations. It involves the ability to regulate one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, which directly impacts the quality of decision-making.

When children exercise self-control, they can evaluate the potential consequences of different options and consider the long-term benefits. They can resist impulsive actions or choices that may have negative repercussions. Self-control allows for a more thoughtful and rational decision-making process, considering future goals, personal values, and ethical considerations.

Teens with insufficient self-control tend to make choices that restrict their opportunities and lead to unhealthy lifestyles. These decisions encompass various aspects, such as their physical well-being (e.g., indulging in excessive drinking, smoking, poor dietary habits, and inadequate sleep), financial matters (e.g., engaging in gambling, irresponsible spending, prioritizing leisure over work), and behavior (e.g., managing relationships, work commitments, academic pursuits, dealing with addiction, engaging in risky sexual behavior, and prematurely leaving education). By lacking self-control, these teens jeopardize their chances for personal growth, success, and overall well-being, potentially hindering their long-term prospects.

Self-control and brain development in Adolescents

Self-control plays a critical role in the intricate process of brain development during adolescence. This stage of life is characterized by significant changes in the structure and functioning of the brain, particularly in areas responsible for executive functions and self-regulation.

One key area impacted by self-control is the prefrontal cortex, which undergoes substantial development during adolescence. The prefrontal cortex is involved in higher-order cognitive functions, such as decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation. By actively engaging in self-control, adolescents exercise and stimulate this brain region, promoting its maturation and optimizing its functionality.

Self-control also influences the development of cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to adapt thinking and behavior in response to new information or changing circumstances. By practicing self-control, adolescents enhance their cognitive flexibility, allowing them to consider multiple perspectives, think critically, and adjust their responses based on situational demands. This skill is vital for effective problem-solving and decision-making.

Furthermore, self-control is closely tied to inhibitory control, the ability to suppress impulses and override automatic responses. Adolescents who actively exercise self-control develop stronger inhibitory control mechanisms in the brain. This enables them to resist immediate temptations, regulate emotional reactions, and make thoughtful choices rather than being driven solely by immediate desires or impulses.

Moreover, self-control contributes to the development of effective emotional regulation skills during adolescence. Adolescents who engage in self-control practices are better equipped to manage and regulate their emotions in various situations. This ability to modulate emotional responses promotes psychological well-being, reduces impulsivity, and enhances emotional resilience.

Through the practice of self-control, adolescents shape and refine neural connections in the brain. This process strengthens the pathways associated with self-regulation, decision-making, and cognitive control. It enhances the brain’s plasticity, allowing for more efficient information processing and adaptive behavior.

Still, teens with more self-control can weigh the risks better and distinguish between a risk that will hurt them and one that will help them learn and grow.

Self-control is crucial in the adolescent stage, not just for ensuring their safety but also for guiding the development of their brains in the right direction.

The brain undergoes changes in response to exposure to new experiences. It thrives when exposed to positive experiences and wires itself accordingly. Conversely, less nurturing situations can shape it differently. We have the ability to influence the events our children encounter during their early years.

Once our children reach puberty, our control over the experiences they encounter diminishes. They begin to discover their identity and their place in the world. At this juncture, their level of self-control becomes paramount. It profoundly influences their decisions, encounters, and brain development as they transition into adulthood. The self-discipline instilled in childhood paves the way for self-discipline in adolescence, ultimately shaping their brain for a lifetime.

Self-Control and Outcome in Life

Research findings indicate that children who possess early self-discipline have a higher likelihood of transitioning into adulthood as individuals who enjoy good health, financial security, and freedom from significant problems. Conversely, children with low self-discipline may face greater challenges in these areas as they grow into adulthood.

In a 2011 study tracking a cohort of 1,000 children from birth until they turned 32 years old, the researchers demonstrated that self-control in childhood serves as a reliable predictor for various outcomes, including physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and involvement in criminal activities. 

These outcomes show a transparent gradient based on the level of self-control displayed. Notably, the influence of children’s self-control on these outcomes remained significant even after accounting for factors such as intelligence, social class, and mistakes made during adolescence, allowing us to isolate the unique impact of self-control.

In a separate study involving 500 pairs of siblings, it was observed that the sibling with lower self-control experienced poorer outcomes in life, even when considering their shared family background.

Self-control is an essential component of self-regulation. In a 2020 study, the researchers found positive associations between self-regulation during the early school years and academic achievement (specifically in math and literacy), while negative associations were observed with externalizing problems such as aggressive and criminal behavior, depressive symptoms, obesity, cigarette smoking, and illicit drug use during later school years (around the age of 13). 

Additionally, the study revealed that self-regulation in early school years was negatively correlated with various negative outcomes in adulthood (around the age of 38), including unemployment, aggressive and criminal behavior, depression and anxiety, obesity, cigarette smoking, alcohol, and substance abuse, as well as symptoms of physical illness.

The importance of self-control is so significant that it may hold a similar level of influence in shaping an individual’s life trajectory as intelligence and social status.

Role of Parents

Parental dominance may be detrimental to the self-control of their children. Evidence shows that youngsters do not acquire self-control when their parents are too controlling.

Parents who actively encourage problem-solving skills and promote autonomy in their toddlers ultimately contribute to developing children with higher levels of self-control. By fostering an environment that supports their child’s independence and decision-making, parents play a crucial role in shaping their child’s self-control abilities. When parents provide opportunities for toddlers to engage in problem-solving tasks and allow them to make age-appropriate choices, it helps children learn how to regulate their behaviors, emotions, and impulses. This early foundation of problem-solving and autonomy creates a positive foundation for developing self-control in children as they grow older.

These are flexible competencies. Parents can develop these talents and make a significant difference in their children’s life.

About the Author

Picture of Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE
Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE

Mr. Sanjeev is a yoga professional specializing in applied yoga, psychology, and human excellence with over more than 8 years of experience as a health and life coach, well-being trainer, and psycho-yogic counselor. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in Yoga.

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