Games to teach self-control in kids

Updated March 23, 2017

A successful activity for teaching self control focuses on what motivates your students to participate. Most activities that teach self control aren't inherently fun; if self control were fun, there would be no need for games that teach it. However, by adding competition and measurable goals you can get children to buy in wholeheartedly to practicing self control skills.

Traditional Games

Many traditional playground games already include elements that teach self control skills such as delayed gratification and impulse suppression. Simon Says, for example, teaches listening and impulse control by allowing children to follow a direction preceded by the phrase "Simon says" but not one without that prefix. Red Light/Green Light, where one student instructs others to stop and start running toward a goal, teaches focus and the ability to stop momentum. Any game with a clear victor includes a chance to practice being a gracious winner or good loser.

Stance Contest

This game is borrowed from martial arts practice. Two students face each other in a specific posture or stance. Don't make the posture physically difficult or the game turns into a contest of endurance or balance. When the instructor says "go," neither student may move, talk or change facial expression. The first student to do so loses.

Hint, Hint

In this game, which is also known as Taboo, one student is given a word and must get another student to say that word. In order to get the other student to say the word, the first student may use any phrase or sentence that doesn't include the word itself. For example, acceptable hints for "cat" might include "kitty," "little tiger," "kitten" or "feline". The game can be played in pairs for points, or with one student giving hints to a group of students, with the student to first guess correctly becoming the new leader. It can be surprising to adults how hard it is for a child to not blurt out the forbidden word as she becomes frustrated with her partner's progress.

Starting Gun

This is a race game. Students line up on the starting line. The instructor says "ready...set." When it gets time to say "go," the instructor either says "go" or another word starting with "G" or rhyming with "go" such as "snow," "green" or, meaner still, "gorilla." Students who make a false start take a penalty step backwards from the starting line. When the instructor finally says "go," all students race to the finish line. Much like Simon says, this game teaches self control by encouraging good listening and impulse control.

Relay Races

A relay game, a game where a team of participants wait their turn to contribute one at a time to the team's goal, can teach a lot about self-control. Students must wait their turn even while excited and under time constraints. They must pass off turns according to specifically prescribed methods. Finally, because they are working in a team, they must demonstrate patience when team members fail to perform as well as they might have hoped.

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About the Author

Beverlee Brick began writing professionally in 2009, contributing to various websites. Prior to this, she wrote curriculum and business papers in four different languages. As a martial arts and group fitness instructor, she has taught exercise classes in North America, Europe and Asia. She holds master's degrees in French literature and education.