If you’ve been keeping up with our previous blog posts, you probably know that self-control is a key skill for bullying prevention. Self-control is a learned behavior and can be developed in your students. In this post we discuss several methods to help your students with developing self-control.

Begin at the Beginning

Kids in a lunch line

The first step to improving self-control is to begin at the beginning. This means that you need to consider your student’s current level of self-control and identify areas where you need to improve. Think about your individual students. Do they use self-control when dealing with peers? What about when dealing with teachers or authority figures? Do they make smart choices when they are in the classroom, in the cafeteria, or around on campus? Consider the following areas of life. Where do your students need to develop more self-control?

In their:

  • Personal life (such as diet, exercise, compulsive or addictive behaviors)?
  • Relationship with self?
  • Relationship with others?
  • Family life?
  • Work life?
  • Community life?

The second part to this is that your students need to buy into the idea that they need to improve their self-control. Open up a dialogue with them and get them thinking about where they want to improve self-control in the their own life.

Identify Thoughts

girl talking to teacher

Self-control has its roots in being able to properly assess and think about situations. You cannot begin to change thinking or improve self-control without first identifying the student’s current thinking process. To do this, have the student create a daily diary for self-control. In this diary they should record situations that occur every day and the thoughts and feelings that arise as they deal with the situation. Have them focus on one particular area they need to work on, such as self-control related to interacting with peers.

Identify Core Beliefs

After they record their self-talk for a few days, help them to identify the core beliefs about themselves that recur throughout their diary. Look for keywords and themes that seem to relate to the same core belief. Once they have identified a core belief, they can work on changing this belief. Have them identify the situation related to the core belief that bothered them the most. Then discuss with them a new way of reacting to the situation. This new way of reacting should be a more positive and reinforcing way of handling the situation. Help them to visualize this new behavior and picture themself succeeding and learning to develop self control.

Examine Behavior Patterns


Once your students have done this once they should be able to start looking at the wider scope of their behavior. Have them start with their inner critic. The inner critic is the little voice inside that constantly criticizes and reinforces negative thought patterns. Their inner critic has set patterns of behavior for them to follow. These patterns are tools they have developed over many years. These behaviors were designed to protect but in reality hold the individual back and are the basis of a lack of self-control.

Many of these negative patterns were born out of experiences that have nothing to do with one’s’ present situation. The reason these patterns survive is that it is easier for the mind to generalize than to analyze each situation. People fall into the trap of thinking things like, “If someone told me when I was six that I could not control myself, then I must not be able to control myself in this adult situation.” Most people find it difficult to listen to their inner voices and analyze what is being said, so these outdated thoughts survive well beyond their useful lives. Helping your students to examine these behaviors will go a long way in developing their self-control.

Use Positive Affirmations

confident student

Using positive affirmations is the best way to change the inner critic. Positive affirmations are statements that give someone confidence in their abilities and strengths. Have your students put their desired patterns of behavior into the form of affirmations about themselves. They should write them down and then speak them out loud everyday. Use the following rules for writing affirmations:

1. Use the first person (“I”).
2. Keep affirmations short, positive and simple.
3. Use the present tense. (“I do” rather than “I will”).

Here are some examples of affirmations for self-control:

  • I channel my emotions constructively.
  • I take charge of my life.
  • I deserve to be treated with respect.
  • I control my thoughts.
  • I am in control of my feelings.
  • I maintain a good attitude.
  • I treat others with respect.
  • I like myself.
  • I am a confident person.
  • I am a good communicator.
  • I am good with people.

Change the Past

students talking

Self-control stems from past experiences with parents, caregivers, friends, and acquaintances. From an early age, people develop a process of viewing and interpreting these experiences as either positive or negative. While it is not possible to change what happened in the past, it is possible to change how one thinks about it. As part of their growth process, your students should look at situations that happened in the past and analyze how their irrational negative thinking effected these situations and how improved self-control could have made the situation better. Have your students use the following techniques when analyzing the past.

  • Take a few minutes to contemplate the situation.
  • Identify what actually happened in the situation.
  • Write down how they felt during this experience.
  • Think: Are my feelings positive or negative? If it is negative, move to the next step.
  • Replace the old way of thinking with a new, positive way of thinking.

Like this post? Stay tuned for future posts in this series!