Encourage Self-Control in Fast-Paced Children

When it comes to sports practice, chores, or trying to get out the door on time, your child’s high-energy approach is an asset. But problems arise when it’s time to slow down for homework, dinner, or a low-key conversation. Moving too fast can negatively affect a child’s learning; rushing through reading or math assignments can reduce comprehension and lead to errors, and an inability to sit still during class time can affect the students around them, too. Additionally, children can internalize a sense of shame about their behavior, which in turn affects their self-esteem. Learning to slow down and cool off can help kids become more thoughtful, flexible, and adaptive – supporting better learning and relationships. 

If it ever feels like your child is hurtling through life and needs some self-control, this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games series is for you. Below are some strategies to implement with a child who rushes through everything. 

Encourage big body play!

Some children are naturally high-energy and require more rigor than others to settle down. Often, these children benefit from activities that encourage a lot of physical movement. Regular exercise and active, big body play can change the biochemical nature of the brain, boosting executive functions such as organization and focus, reducing stress levels, and activating the reward centers of the brain. Additionally, there are holistic benefits from these activities across domains, providing children a healthy outlet for their energy.

Find a helpful role!

In school settings, a fast-paced child may be distracting to other students in the classroom. Part of growing into a balanced community of learners is developing healthy methods to regulate these impulses rather than stifle them. Some children benefit greatly simply from stretching or standing for short periods of time throughout the day. Others may need to move more regularly. Talk with your child’s teacher about their unique needs and abilities, as they may be willing to assign your child interesting classroom jobs and errands throughout the day that accommodate them, keeping them engaged, active, and helpful. 

Learn to pause!

Your child can learn self-control skills from a combination of approaches. Teach counting strategies to delay actions. Encourage your child to count to 5 or 10 before acting on an impulse or answering questions. For some children, a reward can serve as a helpful incentive to practice this strategy at home and school. Talk about and model your own self-control strategies, demonstrating self-talk like, “I’d really like to eat now, but I want to go exercise, and eating will make it more difficult for me to move around,” or “Let me think about that for a minute before I answer you.” This offers an example of mindfulness for your child to use in their own situations. Many children do well with brainstorming their own set of verbal self-instructions to encourage momentary delays or reflections. These could include saying or thinking, “one-one thousand, two-one thousand” or slowly spelling a reminder word such as W-A-I-T or S-T-O-P. Working with them to develop these strategies based around their interests may act as a strong motivator as well.

Build in time for appropriate movement!

Many children experience the sometimes disruptive impulse to fidget. Carving out frequent space for appropriate movement throughout the day can allow fast-paced children to channel their energy in manageable ways. Incorporating additional movements into chores and games at home can support active children. Small, discreet objects such as a stress ball, a worry ring, or an alternative fidget toy can keep hands busy while attention is focused elsewhere. In school, stretching between lessons can help to recenter attention. In fact, stretching in various fixed standing and sitting positions can be practiced at home and applied in many settings! You may need to plan out opportunities for movement and activity at home, on family trips, and in public places.

Play at it!

Practice doesn’t seem like work when it’s fun! Play games with your child that involve stopping and waiting. Stop-and-go games like “red light/green light” and “freeze” can be useful for children who have difficulty with response inhibition because they provide experience in the various speeds and rhythms of the body, allowing children to develop greater physical awareness and control. Board games that require waiting for a turn, concentration, and patience — like Chutes and Ladders and Trouble — require your kids to practice many aspects of self-control. Repeating these games can be a great way to incorporate a lesson on slowing down. Referring back to them in quieter moments may help your child reflect and develop some self control.  

Each child has their own unique perspective and set of needs. To learn to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, try one of these strategies and see if it makes a difference. Figuring out what works best may take some time and experimentation. You can also use the video games and apps your kid already plays (or would love to play) to help them exercise self-control concepts in an entertaining, low-pressure way. Try a mobile game like Gudetama Tap! to support the skills of planning and self-control. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet on the Nintendo Switch supports planning and flexibility, and both games cover skills such as resource management, adjusting to change, and goal-setting that require some patience and foresight. 

Watch our “What is Self-Control” video together to get the conversation started.