Importance of Self-Control

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in Learning Journey, Natalie | 3 Comments


Nat turned 16 months a few days back. On one hand, she is gaining understanding of her surroundings. But on the other hand, she has yet to learn how to verbalize what she wants to communicate. She will get impatient and start making a fuss to get our attention.

My initial response 

My initial reaction to her behavior was to give her what she wants before her tantrum starts. Later on I tried teaching her patience by asking her to wait, but that didn’t work all the time. I figured out she must have yet to fully grasp the concept of “wait”.

Concept of Delayed Gratification 

Recently I attended a parenting course that touch on this concept of  ‘Delayed Gratification‘. We were shown a video called “Stanford marshmallow experiment“. This test showed that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent”.

I’ve also recently come across a dedicated mommy blogger by name of She touched on this topic of self-control as well. In one portion she said:

Developing self-control from a very young age was a very important art for little children and adults. Children who have self-control would usually be the children who can control their emotions better and hence, we can expect less tantrums.

– Selene Diong

More than what it seems

This rang a bell to me with regard to Nat’s behavior in this area. I realized that it’s more than just an expression of frustration on Nat’s part, but it’s really about lacking in self-control over her emotion. But then, how can I blame her when she is at this age? I guess that’s where we being the care givers have to step in to guide her.

My little experiment 

This mother had a very interesting method in addressing this area which I thought makes sense. So I did a little experiment of my own.

During Nat’s breakfast time, she will get impatient the moment she sees her favorite cereal. She will try grabbing the cereal the moment she sees it. I thought this was a good opportunity to teach her self-control. I had to repeat this process a few times before she finally understood my instructions. This method seems to produce quite positive results. Nat seems to see this as something fun and I could also take this opportunity to teach her counting too!

Nowadays, whenever she gets impatient, I will ask her to count to 5. So far she is responding well. She will stop her whining and becomes attentive whenever I ask her to count, I hope she is learning patience. I think it’s really a good way to train her on self-control. Hopefully she will grow up to have good self-control over her emotion in a long run.

Importance of character building

Nowadays, most parents  including myself , will start teaching our toddlers way before they enter primary schools with the hope that they will not struggle in their studies and also to grow up enjoying learning. While we focus so much in this area, I think it is even more important to look into building their character which is really an art by itself. And it is important to address their wrong behavior early in life, nipping it  in the bud before it gets really hard to control when they get older. Some folks feel that toddlers might be too young to understand what they are really doing. So it’s not time to discipline or teach in this area. But through observing Nat’s behavior  many times, I believe they are smarter than what we might think.

Being really wise

In the parenting seminar, one statement that jumped out at me was this,

Our children can grow up to be wise, but only to become wise in their own eyes.

We have heard of the famous quote in the show Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”. How true! Our children can grow up to be smart, but without good character, they can end up using their smartness  selfishly or even for evil gains.

What is really important

Having self-control over our emotion can help us pause for that “5 sec” and possibly respond better to any impulsive acts we might be tempted to display. And impulsive acts usually produce negative results and consequences.

While  it can be tough at times figuring out what interests Nat at every stage of her growth in order to plan meaningful activities that will engage her in her learning journey, I feel that building  her character as she grows each day is an even more daunting task because of this element of free choice God has granted us.

While I take great pains in preparing Nat academically, I constantly have to make conscious effort in developing her character the best way I know how. I would like to believe that having a strong foundation in Nat’s character will bring her further in life compared to any academic achievement she might acquire. And if she does excel academically later in life, with her “great power”, she will be able to use it for the benefit of other people around her and not for any self-centered gains.

This business of having self-control over emotion, not only applies to our children. I think it applies very much to us as adult as well. While Nat can be taught at this age through our instructions, she will soon be learning through our examples. So this important principle applies very much to me as well. And I better learn it well before she grows up really soon.


  1. Ivan Chew
    June 8, 2013

    This reminded me: Recently I read another article about financial planning and management. The writer suggested that the key difference between savers/ people who are thrifty, Vs those who seem to be in debt all the time, is the ability to delay gratification. The former tend to be those who will be more free from financial worries and might even be able to retire earlier than their peers. The latter are those who wouldn’t think twice about charging that latest “want to have” to their credit cards and spend more than what they earn.

  2. Eric
    June 8, 2013

    That’s true. I guess you belong to the former… I can see early retirement heading your way. 🙂

  3. » Counting Your Cereals
    July 27, 2013

    […] wrote an article one month back about a cereal experiment I did. While the objective was to teach Nat on self-control, I could also apply counting in the […]


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