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According to psychologists, teaching children self-control is the key to success in life and physical and mental wellbeing. Studies show that self-control is a far better predictor of academic performance than IQ and that children with low self-control are more likely to become criminals.

So how can parents improve their children’s self control? Well, young children need to be able to recognise their own feelings first before they can control them. If parents reflect back what children are feeling at different points in time then it helps children to identify and later control their own feelings. Many nurseries and preschools now teach children to recognise facial expressions but parents can teach children about different emotions at home too by drawing simple facial expressions or using books that talk about different emotions. Parents can also role play how to deal with different situations such as sharing or aggressive behaviour. However, once children are over 2 years old, psychologists recommend using timeouts, not so much as a punishment but as a time for your child to calm down and improve their sense of control. After the age of 6, children can be encouraged to walk away from frustrating situations themselves for a few minutes to cool off. By the time children reach secondary school, they are better able to understand and analyse their own feelings so they can be encouraged to stop and think before reacting to situations.

Children also need parents who demonstrate self-control. Parents who shout and lose their own tempers regularly are not able to show children how to behave with self-control. Explaining to children why you feel annoyed or angry is a better solution. This is easier said than done, when your child is hitting you and you’ve been up in the middle of the night. Although I am good at controlling my temper with my son even at his worst, I can be pretty cranky with my husband after a difficult day. I have made a mental note to myself that I must try harder on this count.

It is also useful for parents to talk through how they deal with frustrating situations, for example, if you lose your phone, you could explain out loud how you are going to find it to your children. I realised how hard self-control was the other day when I went to return some items to B&Q only to find I didn’t have the receipts. I fumed inwardly, my husband fumed inwardly but we kept a lid on it. When my son then asked me to tell him a story in the car, I decided to act on the advice, and told my son that I was feeling very cross and frustrated about not having the receipts so there would be no story right now. I then told him how we were going to solve the problem, by driving back home and getting them. Explaining the situation was actually quite therapeutic for me. My blood pressure lowered and I started feeling in control again. However, it did teach me that self-control for a 3 year old must be very hard. I will be more sympathetic next time my son throws things on the floor in frustration.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.