Teaching Self-Control Activities

Instructor: Derek Hughes

Derek has a Masters of Science degree in Teaching, Learning & Curriculum.

For very young students, exercising self-control can be a very difficult task. Therefore, as a teacher, you should take some time to help your students learn about self-control and practice this very important skill.

What is Self-Control?

Have you ever had to work really hard to stop yourself from doing or saying something in a situation? For example, when a family member expresses an opinion that you absolutely disagree with, but you know arguing would only create an uncomfortable situation, in those moments, you have exercised self-control. Whenever you are faced with a difficult situation that makes you want to act out emotionally or physically, it is important to use self-control to maintain your composure.

As an adult, you have had many years to practice this skill. Your students, however, have not. Young students need to be explicitly taught how to control themselves so they can focus on learning and working with others. As a teacher, you should take some time to engage your students in lessons and activities to help them develop and master self-control. This lesson will provide you with several example activities to help you teach your students self-control.

Red Light, Green Light

There is a pretty good chance you have played this game already in your life, or at least know what it is. 'Red light, green light' is a physical activity in which students race to reach the finish line first. However, there are extra rules in this race that prevent students from moving at certain times. As you have probably guessed, in 'red light, green light', there is someone (you, the teacher) in charge of calling out 'red light' or 'green light'.

When the students hear 'green light', that means they are allowed to run towards the finish line. However, when they hear 'red light', they must freeze until they hear 'green light'. Any student who doesn't freeze is out of the game. This game is an excellent way to help students practice self-control. For young children, winning is an incredibly rewarding experience (as it is for most adults, too). Therefore, your students will want to do anything they can to win. However, the 'red light' rule makes it so they have to practice self-control in order to even stay in the game.

Framing this game with a short discussion about self-control will help students connect their physical movements to the emotional feeling of self-control. You should not have your students play this game without first introducing them to the concept of self-control. Otherwise, it will just seem like a game they may have played before and they will not connect it to self-control.


Another fun activity that your students will really enjoy involves blowing bubbles in your class. For this activity, you should first sit your students in a circle or semicircle. Then, engage them in a discussion about self-control-- what it means to control yourself, times when you should show self-control, etc. Next, tell your students that you are going to blow a lot of bubbles and they can pop whichever ones come near them. It might be helpful to institute a rule that students can't move from the spot where they are sitting or get up from their bottoms.

After students have spent some time popping bubbles, tell them that you are going to blow more, but this time they should not pop any bubbles, no matter how close they get. Make sure to praise the students as they demonstrate self-control by not popping the bubbles and remind others about self-control if they are struggling to not pop the bubbles.

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