These ten games that teach self-control to kids are not only educational but also lots of fun!
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Life would be so much easier if children were born with self-control.
Just imagine if your young child were able to wait patiently as you spoke to another adult or sat still before taking their turn. Or better yet, what if they were able to carefully consider the consequences of their behavior? (We can dream, can’t we?)
Alas, developmentally, demonstrating self-control is challenging for children. It’s an executive functioning skill that often isn’t fully developed until children grow to be young adults.
And while parents and adults can’t expect kids to exceed their developmental capacity, they can support kids’ understanding of self-control through support and coaching.
Playing games that teach self-control is one of the best ways to teach this executive function to kids. Rather than lecture them, or worse, punish for lack of self-control, kids will respond to instruction better (and won’t even realize they’re learning!) when playing a fun game.
The Best Games That Teach Self-Control
The following are ten fun tried-and-true games that teach self-control and support kids on their journey toward developing this important life skill.
Simon Says is the perfect game to teach self-control by requiring kids to listen carefully and only follow instructions when the leader says “Simon Says”. This helps kids practice inhibitory control and impulse regulation.
How it’s played: One player acts as Simon, the leader, and gives commands to the other players to follow. The players must only follow commands that begin with the phrase “Simon Says,” and ignore those that do not. The last player standing wins the game.
Jenga is a game that requires children to practice self-control as they carefully remove wooden blocks from a tower without causing it to collapse. Playing Jenga helps kids develop their ability to manage their impulses and make deliberate movements. They also learn the value of patience, as they may need to wait for their turn to carefully remove a block.
Red Light, Green Light
Red Light Green Light teaches kids self-control skills by requiring them to listen to rules and follow instructions precisely. Children must quickly stop and start in response to the leader’s commands, helping kids develop impulse control. The game also teaches delayed gratification, as kids must wait for the green light to move forward.
How its played: One player is the leader who directs the group. The leader stands at one end of the playing area and the children at the other. The leader gives the command “Green light!” and the children run towards the leader. At any point, the leader can yell “Red light!” and the children must immediately stop. If a child is caught moving after the “Red light!” command, they are out of the game. The game continues until one child reaches the leader or until all children are out.
Connect Four is a two-player strategy game that requires children to exercise self-control as they carefully plan their moves to outmaneuver their opponent. Players take turns dropping colored disks into a vertical grid, with the goal of connecting four disks of their color in a row either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. By playing Connect Four, children can develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to manage their impulses and make deliberate decisions.
Freeze Tag requires kids to exercise self-control as they try to avoid getting tagged by the person who is “it”. They must resist the temptation to move or run around, even when they’re close to being tagged. This helps kids develop their ability to self-regulate their impulses and control their movements. By playing Freeze Tag, children also learn the value of patience, as they may need to wait for the right moment to unfreeze their teammates.
How it’s played: Freeze Tag is played with a group of children. To play, one person is chosen to be “it” and their goal is to tag as many players as possible. Once tagged, players must freeze in place until another player unfreezes them by crawling under their legs. The game continues until all players are frozen or until a designated time limit is reached. The player who tags the most players becomes “it” for the next round.
Don’t Break the Ice
Don’t Break the Ice involves players taking turns tapping ice cubes from a block of “ice” with a plastic hammer, trying not to let a little plastic penguin fall through. Kids have to exercise self-control by being patient and waiting their turn to tap out a block. They also need to regulate the strength of their taps to avoid accidentally breaking the ice block, which can require fine motor control.
Freeze Dance is a game where children dance to music and then freeze when the music stops. This game helps children learn self-control as they have to regulate their movements and remain still until the music starts again. It teaches them to resist the urge to move impulsively and instead follow the rules of the game. Freeze Dance can also help children develop their focus and concentration as they have to pay attention to the music and react accordingly.
How it’s played: To play Freeze Dance, music is played and participants dance to the rhythm. When the music stops, everyone must freeze in their current position. If anyone moves, they are out of the game. The last person standing without moving is the winner.
Duck Duck Goose
Duck Duck Goose is a classic children’s game that helps teach kids self control because they have to wait their turn patiently, control their impulse to tag too aggressively, and control their emotions if they are not chosen as the goose. Additionally, the game provides opportunities for children to practice regulating their physical movements and reactions in a playful environment.
How it’s played: Duck Duck Goose is played with a group of kids. Players sit in a circle, facing each other, while one child walks around tapping each player on the head saying “duck” until they tap someone and say “goose”. The goose then chases the player who tapped them around the circle and tries to tag them before they reach the empty spot. If the goose successfully tags the other player, they return to their spot and the game continues. If the player reaches the empty spot, they become the new goose and the game starts over.
Playing musical chairs requires children to practice self-control in several ways. Firstly, children must wait their turn to walk around the chairs and find a seat, which helps them develop patience and impulse control. Secondly, children must regulate their movements to stay within the game’s rules, requiring them to control their physical impulses. And finally, children must learn to accept the outcome of the game and manage their emotions when they win or lose.
How it’s played: To play musical chairs you’ll need chairs, music, and players. Arrange the chairs in a circle, with one less chair than the number of players. When the music starts, players walk around the circle of chairs. When the music stops, players must quickly find a chair to sit on, with the player left standing being eliminated. The game continues in this manner, with one less chair each round, until there is only one player left sitting and declared the winner.
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About Kerry Flatley
Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.