Empowering Mothers, part 3, Developing Self-Control

By:Delana H Stewart

[Or, download Empowering Mothers the whole four part series of articles.]

boys on beach

In her article “When Love is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder,” Nancy L. Thomas shared advice on giving choices, setting limits, and self-control. Her tips have been adapted here for use with all children (not just those with RAD).

Time Out

Nancy Thomas uses a method she calls “good sitting.” This requires a parent to be in the same room as the child. It should be a location that is visible, convenient, safe, and free from distractions and destructibility. Children under four need a special chair, but four and up should just have a good mat. The child is to sit with legs folded, hands folded, back straight, head straight, without moving or talking for five minutes (if 5 or under) or add a minute for each year over five. If the child lays down or talks, then calmly direct her to her bedroom to rest quietly until she is strong enough try again. No privileges in the room are allowed until the child correctly sits for five minutes. Do not start the time until the child is in the correct position. Another option is to give the child a choice of 5 minutes of good sitting or one hour of wimpy sitting. Just be prepared with a book or magazine should your child opt for the hour!


When a child is ready to let you be in charge (in control) then you can allow choices such as milk or juice, park or pool, read or draw. You should make the choices for them until they are ready. Anytime two choices are given and the child creates a third option, that child is not ready for choices.

Setting Limits

A child is only able to learn trust from someone who is in control. When a child violates limits, consequences should follow, but should not be imposed in anger or frustration. In other words, keep the angry eyes in the pocket and stay calm and in control.

Playtime: Playtime activities and boundaries need to be set according to age of child. For age appropriate toddler and preschool playtime activities, see the article on this blog called Tips for Toddlers. In the beginning, playtime should be limited to a few choices of constructive activities like Legos, Lincoln logs, coloring with washable crayons, using a mini-tramp, or reading a book(s) of parent’s choice. Other playtime activities can be added to the “menu” of choices to be earned by respectful, responsible children. Ms. Thomas suggests that play time lasts until the child moves out of the set boundaries, such as a corner of the room or a char. If they leave play time, she suggests that they are asking for sitting time or work time. I believe, though, that many kids in the younger than 5 age group need variety and attention, especially if they are very social and thrive on interaction. For social kids, playing alone for long periods of time is not at all interesting. I recommend that 10-15 minute play times be established and broken up by periods of playing with a parent, sibling, or friend, or broken up by periods of helping a parent with a task. When my boys were small, they had a borrowing closet. The closet contained most of their toys and activities sorted into separate bags or bins. At each playtime, they could choose from two items that I would pull out of the closet. Each time I would choose two different items to choose from. Sometimes I would allow them to rotate from a playtime activity to a time of 10-15 minutes on an educational computer program or a 20-25 minute educational video.

Mealtime: Mom decides what child eats, keeping least favorite foods to a minimum. On some occasions choices can be offered, especially for children who eat well and use good table manners. This means that the next meal the child could be offered two choices of a main course to be made or a choice of side vegetable that they would like mom to prepare. Dessert is reserved for those who have eaten a balanced, healthful dinner with good table manners. A child should not be allowed to eat at a restaurant until she or he can eat properly at home. After a few times of politely accepting a parent’s choice at the restaurant, then the child may be offered a choice of items from the menu. Sometimes, when our sons got into their preteen years, they would complain about not being allowed soda, dessert, or a more expensive item on the menu. Then, we decided to sometimes give them the option of going to a cheap fast food restaurant and having soft drinks, or going to a nicer restaurant and having water. If they wanted to order “extras” we would let them know that they were welcome to spend their allowance on the extra or more expensive item, or eat what we were willing to pay for.

Shopping: Parents who are in control do not buy gifts on a weekly or monthly basis. Kids who whine or beg in the store are asked: “Did you bring your money? Is this your birthday?” This is also a good incentive for my daughter to do daily household tasks that earn her a little spending cash. She constantly wants to buy gum, candy, chips, or toys at the store. I ask her those questions and then calmly state how important it is to earn and save money for times such as this.

Goal Setting

Help your child to learn the important skill of setting goals for privileges they want to have. Set aside certain activities/privileges that can be earned. They are earned by setting goals in the areas of eye contact, caring for self and possessions, doing chores, no tantrums, being considerate to others, no lying, no taking things without permission, (whatever the behavior you are working on). Playing with play dough, playing a non-educational computer or video game, doing arts and crafts, earning money are privileges/rewards they can earn for following requirements for one day. If they are successful for a whole week, they could earn things such as a trip to the zoo or park, eating out, etc. A whole month of success might earn a movie with the family, a party, or other special pre-determined privileges.

For the last article in this series see Empowering Mothers, part 4, Avoiding Battles.


See also:

Into the Mind of a Child with RAD

Have a New Kid (by Friday)–attitude, behavior, character

Just Five More Minutes (motivating kids to be responsible)

Need Encouragement for the difficult days:

Is parenting and teaching overwhelming at times? Do you ever feel caught in an emotional undertow?

Three Days at Sea: Soul flotation when the waves are pulling you under



One thought on “Empowering Mothers, part 3, Developing Self-Control

  1. Pingback: Empowering Mothers, part 2: Establishing Respect | The Education Cafe

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