The 2022 film academy awards, popularly known as the Oscars, will go down in history as one of the most jaw dropping events in the global film industry.  

It was a night to remember…. but for all the wrong reasons.   

The world looked on in sheer shock as Oscar winning actor Will Smith lashed out at comedian Chris Rock and slapped him. The assault was in response to a joke that was made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. As you can imagine, social media went crazy. Millions of people across the globe flocked to Twitter to share their views on what had happened.   

There are several lessons to take from this incident. Today, we are zeroing in on a lesson that is relevant to the everyday lives of young people. Whether they are in school or out in the real world.  

What is self control?

Simply put, self-control is the ability to manage your thoughts and your emotions. But most importantly your behaviour, in a way that is healthy and not harmful to yourself or others.  

Exercising self-control means that you think before you act. Rather than reacting in the moment, or being influenced by a frustration or desire.   

Self-control is often used interchangeably with a few different terms such as will power and self-discipline. Combined, honing these skills and embedding them into daily life can have a positive effect on your wellbeing. 

University of the people defines self-discipline for students as “keeping yourself focused on assignments or in classes, not getting yourself distracted during lectures or times of study and making sure that you’re on track with deadlines. This is especially important for young people once they enter sixth form or university, as they will need to rely on themselves  and only themselves to meet their academic goals.” (1)  

Developing self-control can help an individual to grow in maturity. It goes without saying that the journey to becoming the best version of oneself requires a great deal of self-control.  

Why is self-control so important?  

Being a young person in today’s digital led and social media obsessed world, can be tough. Peer pressure and temptation can appear from all directions. So, it can be difficult to resist certain temptations and overcome these pressures if young people haven’t been intentional about building habits that strengthen self-control.

For example, delayed gratification is a huge element of self-control. It is the ability to not act on impulse by satisfying your immediate desires. But instead to wait to get whatever it is that you want.  

The findings from the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment Test (2) conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel, are fascinating. They illustrate the long-term positive results that practicing self-control and delayed gratification had on the education, wellbeing and mental health of a group of people from childhood through to senior adulthood. The children who put off their short-term desires in favour for a long term (and greater) reward, performed better academically, professionally and socially, in comparison to the children who gave in to their desires. 

The ability to practice self-control by choosing not to give in to momentary desires is also linked to positive life outcomes and a greater likelihood of achieving personal goals (3). For example Macmillan Learning has conducted studies that show that self-control is twice as important as intelligence (IQ) in predicting academic success and improving overall wellbeing, happiness and relationships (4). 

How does a lack of self-control play out in the classroom?

Every now and again, we all have bad days. Sometimes on a bad day, our concept of self-control goes completely out of the window. For some students this could result in classroom behaviour that is disruptive or out of character.   

The absence of self-control at school is expressed differently, depending on the personality of the student and the unique environmental factors at play.   

A teacher may ask a student to stop talking during the lesson because it’s distracting everyone from learning. A response to this request that lacks self-control could look like a student answering back and refusing to follow the teachers’ instructions.  

How can a lack of self-control impact relationships between students?

Peer relationships are a key aspect of school life. As a young person progresses through education, they will form friendships with people from different backgrounds who may also have different opinions and life experiences.  

A big part of growing up is learning to get along with others, even if you disagree with them on certain topics. If students are not educated on the importance of practicing self-control, it is unlikely that they will have an appreciation for the positive impact it can have on their relationships.  

For example, a simple conversation or light hearted joke amongst a group of friends could suddenly heighten into a tense situation in the playground.   

If this group of students are not aware of the power of pausing, then they are unlikely to step back and consider their actions before saying or doing anything. Instead, they are more prone to react impulsively in the moment and based on their emotions.   

When these types of scenarios repeat themselves over and over again it can put a strain on student relationships, causing friction and increasing the number of classroom fall outs.    

How does a lack of self-control impact the relationship between students and their teachers?

Every teacher knows that sometimes it is not enough to just ‘keep calm and carry on’. Especially when it feels like you are no longer in control of what is happening in the classroom.  

In addition to trust and a mutual level of respect, self-control is a vital ingredient to building positive and healthy relationships between teachers and students. Similarly, to trust and respect, self-control is a two-way street. A lack of self-control in a teacher student relationship is not only counterproductive to learning. It also has a negative impact on a student’s ability to receive support and guidance when and where they need it the most. Likewise, a teacher who does not model self-control, may struggle to command authority in the classroom or retain the attention of their students.   

We are all human. And that includes teachers. So just as a student can lose their temper out of frustration, a teacher can lose their temper due to the overwhelming demands and responsibilities of their job.  

Tips for teaching student’s self-control and managing self control at school

For a young person to get the most out of their educational experience, they need structure, support, discipline and self-control. These values can be incredibly challenging for teachers to establish if their relationships with students are negatively impacted by a lack of self-control.  

Research (5), suggests that there is a strong link between discipline in schools and the level of self-control in students. The more a young person is exposed to appropriate disciplinary action, the more they develop self-control.   

Here are some suggestions to help develop this quality in young people:  

  • Strike up a conversation about the pros and cons of improving self-control  
  • Discuss ideas and practical techniques that students can use to remove and/or manage distractions  
  • Set clear classroom rules and reinforce them regularly  
  • Address poor behaviour by explaining why it’s wrong; and correct it  
  • Reward consistent good behaviour  
  • Give students the freedom to make choices within agreed boundaries   
  • Actively build positive relationships between students and teachers with a focus on trust and respect  
  • Reflect on behaviour and outline consequences   
  • Practice positive self-talk (6)  

Understanding why some young people might struggle with self-control

As an inclusive organisation we know how important it is to acknowledge that there will be some young people who may find it more difficult than their peers to manage their thoughts and therefore, their behaviour.  

The reasons for this are wide ranging, but can include learning, thinking and cognitive challenges such as autism or Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder [ADHD]. The long-term effects of childhood trauma can also impact a young person’s ability to develop or maintain a sense of control over their emotions, impulses and movement. 

ADHD and Autism

According to the NHS, ADHD is a condition that affects people’s behaviour. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and often act on impulse (7). 

If a young person in a school setting has ADHD, their ability to stop in the moment and think through the consequences of their actions is hindered. As a result, they might be prone to fidgeting, interrupting, calling out in class or even pushing their way to the front of a queue.  

The National Autistic Society defines autism as a “lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world (8).” The World Health Organisation [WHO] states that “globally, it is estimated that 1 in 100 children has autism” (9). Because autism is a spectrum condition, it affects an individual’s ability to self-regulate, in different ways,  

For example, a young person on the autism disorder spectrum may display difficulties managing their self-control through tantrum behaviours or extreme reactions to minor issues. Whereas an inability to self-regulate in another child on the autism disorder spectrum, could show up in less drastic ways such as difficulty focusing, following instructions or turn taking.   

Studies have shown that childhood trauma has been consistently linked with reduced self-control (10). Some young people may take longer than others to build their self-control muscle. This could be a sign of frustration or anxiety that goes hand in hand with struggling at school.  

Helping young people who need additional support

Here are some strategies that could be used specifically to support young people with learning difficulties or differences: 

  • Review classroom rules to ensure that some are aimed at helping children who suffer from ADHD or autism. For example, ‘if you have a question, raise your hand and wait patiently for the teacher to come over to you. 
  • Set up a balanced and engaging routine for learning and leisure, and commit to it. Make this visible and communicate changes in good time 
  • Place clear visual reminders of expected and/or desired behaviour in and around the learning environment. Be sure to use pictures as well as words 
  • Use empathy and logic to solve problems  
  • As and when appropriate, enforce disciplinary measures immediately; delayed consequences are ineffective for children who have trouble anticipating outcome (11). 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, self-control is about “appropriately managing your thoughts, feelings, and impulses. It starts with being consistently mindful of yourself and others and working toward a high emotional intelligence.” (12 )  

As a young person, practicing self-control may not always be the fun or the easy thing to do. But, investing the time and effort to build self-control, can save us from a lot of unnecessary chaos and stress in life.  

The ability to maintain focus and block out potentially exciting but short-term distractions, can bring educational, personal and social benefits. For example, sustained improvement in knowledge and positive relationships (13 )  

At SIWYC, we know that self-control is a fundamental part of learning. Which is why we deliver personal development workshops that emphasise the importance of developing self-control. Our workshops are tailored to your context so that we can meet your specific needs. This enables us to better equip young people with practical tools that draw on examples from everyday life to show them how to cultivate self-control.  

Do you know a young person who needs support to manage their self-control in or outside of school? Get in touch today to find out more about our ‘Why do I feel this way’ personal development workshop. We would love to help you get your young people back on track. 

  1. University of the People – 
  1. Stanford University Marshmallow Test- 
  1. Verywell Mind Psychology – 
  1. Macmillan Learning – 
  1. The Association Between School Discipline and Self-Control From Preschoolers to High School Students: A Three-Level Meta-Analysis – 
  1. Teaching Self-Control in the Classroom – 
  1.  NHS – 
  1. National Autistic Society – 
  1. World Health Organisation – 
  1. Inside the ADD Mind – 
  1. Understood Blog – 
  1. Common Sense Education – 
  1. The Guardian – 


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