Kindergarten Teacher


Fun Activities for Practicing Self-Control


In the picture above the kids are practicing self-control. They have to keep their hands on their knees and not pop any bubbles. VERY difficult but they are so proud when they are successful. We talk about what control feels like and how they are able to achieve it. This activity is crucial for my class to develop and understanding of the vocabulary and the feeling associated with self-control. I do promise them they will get a chance to pop the bubbles after we are successful with self-control. Another activity uses music instruments (maracas, symbols, etc.) The kids get in a circle and they have to pass the instrument to the next student without making music (shaking, banging, etc) Also very difficult! I hope to come up with more of these type activities so we can continue to practice all year.

Teaching self-control is an important part of my “behavior plan” in the classroom. I often hear teachers complain (including myself) about kids lack of self-control but what are we doing to help kids learn about it? One of my big concerns is that for kids to practice self-control they need to be given opportunities to be in control. This is why I don’t use behavior systems or rewards in my class. I feel those take the control (power) away from the kids and place the control with the teacher. Another major part of self-control is I rarely tell kids you “can not” do something. This DOES NOT mean I let them do what they want but instead it changes the wording I use with the kids. For example: Johnny does cartwheels across the room. I would say “Johnny, you can do cartwheels but self-control means you choose not to because you might hurt someone.” I repeat this over and over with my kids and we talk about it a lot in the room. I give examples often of adults that have to have self-control so they know we all have to make choices. For example: “guess what class, I saw a piece of chocolate cake in the staff refrigerator. I could have eaten it but I chose not to because it wasn’t mine.”

I have found this way of handling most behavior to be very successful and I feel it works because I am supporting the kids, telling they why the behavior does not work in our class and giving them the control to fix the behavior. Giving kids the power to choose and the understanding of what control looks like has led to a happy classroom for us all.

33 Responses to Fun Activities for Practicing Self-Control

  1. This post reminded me of a recent video someone shared on Twitter with Cookie Monster showing his self control:
    It is something that definitely has to be taught and practiced!

  2. Cheryl says:

    I really like your ideas and want to try this out on Monday with my class.

  3. Karen Bernath says:

    Thanks for the self-control ideas. We do a similar activity in the gym. When the big kids leave up the volleyball nets we play a game called “clean the house”. We put out the soft balls and the children need to try and get all of the balls onto the other side of the net or house. We refer to the balls as giant dust balls. The class has to sit and wait for all of the dust balls to be distributed before they move. We talk about how hard it is to wait and not move, even if a ball rolls and touches you on the toe! The Kindies are getting very good at waiting and not moving :)

  4. Trudy says:

    Trying a similar approach the last few years with my firsties and I agree that it needs to be taught, modeled, learned. I also agree it works for most kids. It is empowering for them. Love your games and cool ideas!

  5. Debbie Axiak says:

    These are great ideas! My students won’t think they are fun – in fact, they will find them very difficult. But I’m certain that when they are successful they will be very proud of themselves. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I was in need of ideas. I have a very active group and my school requires us to use the color system. I am not a fan and everyday it proves to not work. The kids get upset, several throw fits, most don’t care, and I have a hard time keeping calm. I know they need to learn self control, but have not had much success in teaching it. These ideas, along with the video shared by Victor, might just be the ticket I need to begin helping my students learn how to control themselves. #feelinghopeful Thanks!!

  7. Hi Matt, as an Early Childhood Special Education teacher, I so appreciate that your are practicing self control in a proactive manner. This type of practice will help kids access the skill when they need it across a variety of settings and situations. We encourage teachers to provide this type of practice in regulating activity level too. We provide activities that get us “revved up” such as dancing and silly songs, then we practice shifting gears to sitting and listening. Their little bodies need to know how this feels and have a common language to talk about it. Love it.

  8. You are everything I hope my son will grow up to be one day. Kind, smart, interesting, funny, and an excellent educator. Thank you for sharing this and so many of your other ideas.

  9. Diann Parker says:

    As usual, another great post. You are a great teacher. Once I read what you do to support self control I thought ‘of course!’ That IS what kids need, someone to explicitly teach them how to be successful. Sometimes we get so busy in the doing of all the curriculum and assessment things, I think we lose sight of what is most important. Thanks for the reminder, Matt!

  10. Debbie Axiak says:

    Hi Matt, I tried the bubble idea this week. On the 1st day, 3 Ss were successful, on the second day 4 more students, the third day 3 more. The ‘successful’ students shared their strategies and every day the students ask if we can do another ‘bubble test’. It has proven to be very difficult for some students but they are all trying so hard.

  11. Kate says:

    Hi Matt. I love reading your ideas! We do a freeze dance but I show the children a stick figure pose (hands in the air, touching feet, one hand up one down) and when the song freezes, they have to be in that pose. It practices self control but also motor planning. We do “tools of the mind” and it is from that program.

  12. Sue Caldicott says:

    “Self control” as described in your activities is also inhibition, which is one of the Executive Functions of our brain needed to be a learner. Brain development theory underpinning support of children’s learning is a better justification for these activities. We talk to the children about “wild elephant behaviour” versus “rider” behaviour ( being in control) (Thank you to Professor Martin Westwell) and they know the difference. You may like to Google some articles on Executive Function. Some other EFs are self regulation, working memory, planning/persistence in following through plans and working with others.Early Childhood Australia had some links to articles in past issues of Webwatch. An easy activity to support development of inhibition for pre-schoolers is doing opposite actions to well known songs such as “Open Shut Them” Also the rhyme “Jack is hiding down in the box until someone opens the lid!” Children crouch down with eyes shut on the floor and can only jump up like a Jack-in-the-box when you clap your hands, or hit a triangle etc, The length of time before clapping is varied so children have to really listen and not jump up impulsively. Keep up the good work Educators!

  13. laurie Brandenberger says:

    Would this help my adhd son with his self control problems

  14. Wow! Just came across your comment about TPT…How genuine of you to express your opinion.
    I can relate so much to what you have said…and how you feel about the children…and meeting their needs.
    I do use resources from TPT…however…I DO try to focus on each child and arrange my preschool room accordingly….with a variety of materials…and yes PLAY TO LEARN…and LEARN THROUGH PLAY!
    You must be an awesome teacher…and thank you for sharing your feelings…
    So much of the world today is in presenting this image…and perfection…AND YES…”the cute”.

    You are about presenting what is real and what is important to the children you teach!
    Authenticity and Relating to them.
    Kudos to you…and then some.
    I am impressed.

    Warmest Regards,

    Debbi ( fellow Early Childhood Educator for 38+years!)

  15. simon says:

    HI Guys,
    I am about to start a career in teaching, and from my readings (especially the book “how children succeed) the executive functions, as mentioned by Sue, are the key non cognitive skills that children need to lead a successful life. Self control I feel is the primary skill to which the others are built on. I will be entering high school level in the UK and from what I have seen, self control (along with other character skills) are not taught, it’s mainly curriculum driven cognitive skills. I would wonder how year 8’s and above (12yrs old and up) would cope with the above self control exercises… I suspect they were be little difference in the outcome! I really do feel that teaching self control through simple tasks and building on them, and looking at successful strategies used and ones that didn’t will really benefit students whatever yr level they are at. It’s great to read that awesome teachers are focusing these skills more and more, and I hope to follow and learn from guys such Matt. Inspirational work mate!



  16. Rudy Blanco says:

    Matt – this was an awesome read and you make so many valid points – what are we doing to teach self control. I am dang near 30 and have been teaching for five years and am struggling with my own self-control and when i read your post it made me look back to what I was taught growing up and truth is – there are NO chances offered to students to give them control. I appreciate what you are doing and look forward to trying to find ways to do activities like this at the High School level!

  17. Fawn says:

    I enjoyed this post, Matt. You are so right that we need to give the little ones the opportunity to practice self-control through developmentally appropriate experiences in the classroom setting.

  18. Melody says:

    This is a great idea. I will try this out with my pre-k students. :-)

  19. Lisa says:

    I teach in an after-school program for k through 5th grade children. I’ve been looking for something to help them learn self control since it is sorely lacking. Thanks for the ideas!

  20. Leslie Palmieri says:

    Self control is a really big issue! I too don’t use stickers or treasures – high expectations is so important! I am excited to try the “bubble activity” and to think of ways I can get my class to practice their self control. I think my class will be almost all boys this year with varying self control issues. I’m glad you reminded me that I need to think about this over the summer and not when it is happening!

  21. Khadijah Brown says:

    Thank you for the post. There are some interesting ideas here. I want to try and use some of them to actually ‘teach’ self control which I have never thought about before.

  22. Debbie says:

    Want to try this activity this week. Can you explain it further? What happens if the children bust the bubbles? I have some that I’m sure will do just that very first thing!

    • Matt Gomez says:

      I had one kids pop the bubble the first time. I said we lost because we didn’t all have self control. We talked about how difficult it was not to pop the bubbles and the other kids gave them tips on how to succeed (hands behind back, sitting on hands, closing eyes, etc) After that we were successful. The goal is that the kids learn what self control feels like and the verbiage associated with. Like everything it may take practice for all kids to be successful.

  23. Heather says:

    Have you thought of other ways to have them practice, other than bubbles and instruments? It is something I want my first graders to practice in different ways regularly.

    (Bubbles worked well and I plan on bringing my tambourine in Monday.)

  24. Tanya says:

    This is great! I hate behavior charts with a passion. I work in an elementary school library and I witness teachers who are adament that I move their “kids'” clips for everything. When I send it back with all the kids’ clips moved up they don’t believe the “behavior problem” kids, were great for me. I use a lot of verbiage about mutual respect and how my feelings would be hurt if I am disrespected and ask them how they would feel if I treated them or their mommy in a disrespectful way. They respond positively to this. I hear them say, “please don’t make Ms. Barnett cry with that behavior”. (smile) It gets them to consider other people in their choices and its not a demeaning way to get what I need, which is everyone’s attention.

  25. Amy says:

    Im Curious if you are aware of John Oliver and if that is where you are getting your self control activities. My school has been trained by him and the bubbles are part of his program. Self control is a great tier 1 behavior management system but is not hepful for tiers 2 & 3 children which is what our school has discovered. We know longer subscribe to Oliver because he uses such a “one size fits all” approach which we do not agree with. Children are unique individuals, what works for 18 may not work for 20 or in upper grades 35! Interesting site.

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