Self-control is our ability to stop and think before making decisions. This involves taking a pause when our emotions want to take over so we can think through the situation, consider solutions, assess the consequences, and move forward with the best choice in that scenario. Self-control is particularly difficult executive functioning skill for kids and young adults, and there is actually a scientific reason for that! The limbic system in our brains, which is responsible for managing emotions, develops ahead of the prefrontal cortex, which is the area responsible for planning, suppressing urges, and using self-control. Simply put, that means kids and young adults are going to need lots of practice with using skills for self-control.
Using Games to Teach Self-Control
Games are a great technique for practicing self-control skills because they are instantly fun and interactive. Kids and young adults are far more likely to learn and practice the skills if it’s something interesting to them. Whenever you play any of these games, it’s important to be purposeful about the skills you are teaching. First, explain what self-control is and why it’s so important.
I love to give examples about situations involving self-control that all kids can relate to. One example is: Imagine you are going over to your friend’s house. You see a delicious chocolate cake just sitting there on the counter. You really WANT to just eat a piece or taste the frosting with your finger. What should you do? How could you use self-control? What could happen if you don’t use self-control? These questions are an important foundation to help students understand self-control and why it matters. Let students know they are playing the game in order to practice and strengthen their skills for self-control. Then, let the games begin!
Games To Try
Jenga. I love this game because it’s the perfect blend of structure and chaos (perfect for your kids who really need self-control practice!). As students play, remind them to have self-control every time they remove a block from the tower. The more cautious and careful you are, the more likely you are to win. Not only is this a really fun and interactive way to practice self-control, but the entire game becomes a metaphor for self-control in life. If you aren’t careful, things can fall apart. Take your time, stop and think, breathe, and carefully move forward. This is a game you can practice again and again. It never gets old!
Self-Control Speedway. I developed this self-control board game as a fun but direct way to target self-control skills. Students will move along the racetrack game board answering critical questions about self-control. I truly love the idea of comparing self-control to driving because I always it is teaching kids that they are in the driver’s seat!
Blurt. This is by far one of my favorite ways to practice self-control. If you’re not familiar with it, Blurt is a set of cards with definitions for vocabulary words. A leader will read the card and students “blurt” out the answer. My favorite way to play is “around the world” style. Have two students stand next to each other for a duel. Read the card and allow only those two students to shout out the answer. All other students in the room have to use self-control and not shout out, even if they know the answer when no one else does! This can be a big challenge (and GREAT practice) for those students who struggle with shouting out when it is not their turn. Note that if you don’t have blurt, you can always make up your very own cards with content area questions!
Guard Duty. Use this as a secret weapon when you want students to use self-control in the hallways. The idea is simple: Tell students that they are guards for the palace. They have a mission to be as serious and guard-like as possible. That means using self-control and ignoring anyone who tries to distract you! Anyone who fails the challenge has to go to the back of the line. It can be added fun if you have another teacher do something to try and distract your students.
Freeze. This game incorporates movement, play, and self-control all in one. Just play some music and let kids dance, wiggle, and walk around. Have one person be the leader (a teacher to start) and yell “Freeze!” at any time. As soon as someone shouts it, everyone should freeze in place, with the music still playing. This can be challenging with the music still going, because you might have the urge to keep dancing. This is a great game to practice at the end of the week for some added fun.
Simon Says. This game focuses on attention skills, but self-control, too! Kids have to be focused to listen for what Simon says to do, while using self-control to stop themselves if “Simon” doesn’t say it! Stand in front of the class and shout out commands like “Simon says put your hands on your head” and “Simon says stand on one foot.” Then, throw one in there that doesn’t say “Simon says” and see who can follow along. Afterwards, you can switch it up and have students be the leader as well.
Social Problem Solving Board Game. This social problem-solving board game is one of my favorite games I created because it targets so many different social areas all in one. Students move through the game board answering a variety of social problem-solving questions about school, home, activities, and friends. This is a great way to practice self-control because students need to stop and think about how they will solve each problem.
Wait Five. I love this game because it can be played with any trivia, vocabulary, or academic content. This makes it a great review game, too. Ask one question at a time but students must wait a full five seconds before shouting out the answer. This can be especially helpful for those students who love to shout out the answer without being called on. Of course, you can play around with the rules, making the wait time longer or shorter, and even allowing only certain students to shout out at certain times. The whole idea is to build self-control by waiting just a little bit longer than we really want to!
Role Play. Kids and young adults love acting scenarios out, but it can also be a great way to practice skills for self-control. Come up with your own scenarios or use these social scenario task cards. Have students act out the situation in partners or small groups, considering what they would do and why. You can even invite students to act out the situation at the front of the class. It is most important to highlight the socially appropriate choices and why they matter. This can be a fun addition to any morning meeting or social group time.
Self-Control Task Cards. I added these in because you can use these self-control task cards along with any turn-taking game. Just have students answer one card before they can take their turn. It’s a win-win because kids and playing a game they love while learning about self-control at the same time.
Orchestra. Anything that incorporates music and skill practice is a win! For this game, you can choose to pass out instruments to your students if you have them (such as triangles or drum sticks). If you don’t have them, that’s okay, since students can use their hands, pencils, or imaginary instruments to go with the beat. Play a sample of music and have students play to the beat. Continue with many different samples, both slower and faster. The whole idea is that students are able to use self-control to stay with the beat, even if they want to go faster or slower in the moment.
Stoplight. This game is another quick activity that can be done any time with no props. Start by shouting out, “Green Light”. Let students walk around the classroom, talk, and mingle. You can even let them dance if you want to! Then, after a few seconds or minutes, say, “Yellow Light.” At this time, students have to slow down and go at a snail’s pace. They can still move, but it has to be slow! Finally, end with “Red Light,” and have students completely stop in their tracks. You can continue over and over with as much time as you have.
Games can be the perfect way to integrate social skills and self-control practice into your classroom! Do you have other games that work in your classroom? Share them below!