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Train your Child to Focus & Exercise Self-Control

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How do you deal with the repeated cries of your toddler asking for that chocolate chip cookie just before dinner time and perhaps eating those cookies right in front of your eyes when you repeatedly say not to? Or how your primary schooler moved from one activity to another in under 15 minutes, leaving a trail of toys everywhere without completing any of the tasks you set?

Young children naturally have shorter attention spans and can be easily distracted. Like a busy airport traffic control system, our children’s brains have to manage competing demands, changes and decisions every moment. School homework, electronic gadgets, social media, peers, and the list is endless, even at their age.  But with your support, they can learn to develop essential life skills of Focus and Self-Control.

So, what exactly are the skills of Focus & Self-Control?

When children learn to focus, they can pay attention, follow instructions and stay on task. As they grow in self-control, they will be able to think before acting, manage their emotions and have better problem-solving abilities. Together, Focus & Self-Control are highly needed for children to learn and socialise well in school, plan and achieve their goals. These are two essential life skills for children to do well in life and can be developed from a young age. Your children need you to support them in growing these skills.

How can I teach my child to grow in their Focus and Self-Control? The good news is that this can be done during everyday moments of your child’s life and through simple ways!

Here are some tips & strategies:

  1. Use daily routines & simple tasks

Break down the routine into simple tasks for your child to know what to do at each step of the way. This helps your child to experience moments of success. Be it pack-up time or during bedtime, these are every day golden opportunities to help your child learn Focus & Self-Control.

For example, for bedtime routines, you could share these four short tasks to do together with your child:

  • Drink milk

  • Brush teeth

  • Change into pyjamas

  • Choose their bedtime story

Besides learning how to follow routines and tasks, it can also be a special time of positive affection and attention just between you and your child.

  1. Pretend-play or play games that help your child practice Focus & Self-control

Traditional games of Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says and Freeze & Melt, help children pay attention to instructions and carry out specific requests.  For instance, they would need to control their impulses and stay very still when they freeze.  When they are all familiar with the usual rules, add a twist to make it more challenging.  Games can also be incorporated into daily routines, such as using certain colours, shapes or number of toys for your child to identify and keep in their box.  Or having a competition to see who packs up their books first.  Make learning Focus and Self-Control fun for them!

  1. Praise & affirm your child’s efforts

Creating an environment where your child knows that you notice their efforts and feelings helps them have a more positive experience in learning these skills.  It also builds up their impulse management and fosters a stronger relationship bond between you and your child.

Be specific in giving praise and some examples you could use are:

  • Thank you for keeping your toys and helping Mummy to keep the house clean.

  • Daddy really liked how you packed your school bag so neatly.

  1. Encourage your child’s interests

Ever noticed how easy it is to be so engrossed in the things that we like to do and yet really difficult to stay focused on activities that we may not be interested in? Explore with your child their interests and start with what they like to help them further develop focus and attention in those areas.

  1. Be age-appropriate

As children grow older, their brains and bodies continuously develop to help them better deal with various transitions and complex situations.  This means that a primary schooler can manage multiple tasks while a pre-schooler can only do one or at most two tasks simultaneously.  A younger child will also need shorter, simpler instructions compared to more difficult ones for an older child.  Always keep in mind your child’s age and what is appropriate for their level to handle.

  1. Keep calm and carry on

Keeping calm, especially when your child is angry or upset, helps them stay calm too.  Shouting when they are having a melt-down only makes things worse.  Use fun, easy methods such as ‘blowing out candles’ or ‘blowing a balloon’ to help them and you, do breathing exercises to calm down.  When children are calmer, they are better learners.

If you have read all the way here, well done!  You have been using your Focus & Self-Control skills!  Be the critical support your child needs to develop their abilities of Focus & Self-Control and turn everyday moments into opportunities to kickstart your child’s pathway to success.


Find out more about how you teach your child to learn Focus & Self-Control skills with these useful online resources!

  1. Mind in the Making – The 7 Essential Life Skills https://www.mindinthemaking.org/

  2. Strategies for Focus & Self-control https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzPQzzT0itw

For additional resources or information on your parenting journey to support your child in learning Focus & Self-Control, or any other needs of your child, visit https://www.family-central.sg/, or email [email protected] or [email protected] for any enquiries.

Written by Elspeth Goh, Senior Social Worker, Fei Yue Community Services


Moffitt, T.E., Poulton, R., Caspi, A. (2013). Lifelong Impact of Early Self-Control: Childhood self-discipline predicts adult quality of life. American Scientist Vol 101, pp 352-259

Tangney, J.P., Baumeister, R.F., & Boone, A.L. (2004). High Self-control Predicts Good Adjustment, Less Pathology, Better Grades and Interpersonal Success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 72(2), pp 271-322.