Teaching Kids to Listen and Learn Self Control

I have two children with very different personalities, and I work with children in my job as a pediatric Occupational Therapist. One thing that I have learned about kids in my many years with them is that no two are alike, and no two will respond in the same way to the same input. There are basic similarities though, and it is our job as the adult to learn to read each child and try to figure them out to see what will work best with them. It is hard being the parent because you have to stay one step ahead of the child and manipulate them better than they can manipulate you. My son was the more challenging of my two children, and so I am going to share what worked for us. As I say, it may not work for everyone, but these tips certainly worked for us.


My son has a bit of an ornery personality, which is why I originally created the Hug N Hold for him. He was a fighter from the get go with a very short temper. As the parent, I considered it my job to help him learn how to control his temper, and I needed to teach him that lashing out and hitting and kicking were not acceptable ways of expressing yourself. When he was between two and three years old, he could understand reasoning and consequences, so I became successful in implementing our strategy. I included time out in his room when he was acting aggressively so that he could get control of himself. He was allowed to come out of his room at any time if he could control himself. This really gave him space to figure out that all important self control. The first few times that I had to take him to his room to work on the control, he was hitting and kicking and crying. I had to stand by the door to make sure that he only came out when he was ready to be nice. Soon, he learned how to develop that control and he was able to settle down pretty quickly and would go to his room to calm down and only stay there for a very brief time.

I was able to figure out what his currency was (what he cared about enough to not want to lose). Essentially, his currency was toys (now as a teenager, it is electronic toys). It didn’t really matter which toys, and it seemed to be more of the concept that he was losing something that was important. We used the current preferred toy along with whatever other toy was readily available. I told him what behavior I was looking for (or not looking for), and what would happen if I saw that behavior. You should only pick one behavior at a time and focus on just that behavior. It is too hard to look out for too many behaviors and be successful (and success is the name of the game).

With my son, I think that my first target behavior was for him to listen to me and do what I asked him to do (without the crying and kicking of course). He tended to purposefully ignore requests such as put that toy away and get ready for bed (or other similar requests). So I made sure that he knew what I expected his response to be (do what I ask you to do the first time I ask), and what the consequence would be (I would take one toy away and put it in time out in the laundry room). If he still did not comply, another toy would go away. This would continue until he would listen.

At the start of implementing this strategy, it felt like my son lost half of his room full of toys. There was a huge pile of toys in the laundry room, and they stayed there till the next day when they could come out of exile. It took a few times until my son realized that I had meant what I said and that I would take things away for a day. He quickly realized that if he wanted to keep his preferred toy for the rest of the day, that he had better listen when I speak.

Any technique can be modified to match a specific child’s personality and what they respond to best. By sharing what worked for me, my hope is that you can better find what works for you.

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