Child tantrums are indicative of low self-control: image via johntedwards.com Poor concentration, an inability to stick with a task, frustration at not getting the object of desire, an unwillingness to share or to play cooperatively with other children... Frequent similar behaviors in a 3-year old are not characteristic of those who later succeed in life. The good news, though, is that self-control can be taught.
Longitudinal studies of 1,000 New Zealanders from the age of 3 to the age of 32 have shown that, regardless of intelligence, income, education, or social class, kids who had more self-control at age 3 were more likely to be in better health and earning more money at the age of 32 than their peers with less self-control.
Those who displayed less self-control were more likely to adopt negative behaviors like smoking, drinking and/or drugs, to be a single parent and to be unemployed. They also were found to have more gum disease, more obesity, and more sexually transmitted diseases.
"Self-control is vital for scanning the horizon to be prepared for what might
happen to you, for planning ahead to get where you want to go, for getting along
with other people and attracting their help and support, and for waiting for the
really good things that are worth waiting for, instead of jumping for short-term
fun," said lead study (PNAS) author Terrie Moffitt, a professor of psychology and
neuroscience at Duke University. "We all use it every day, but some of us use it
in a more skillful way than others."
Another study on 500 pairs of fraternal twins in Britain, had consistent findings. Researchers saw that the twin with the lower self-control scores at age 5 were more likely to demonstrate anti-social behaviors by age 12 and perform poorly in school.
It is possible to improve self-control as a child ages, with attention to the problems. Time-outs, stop signs, and various other tactics can be used by parents to alter disturbing and destructive behaviors. The website KidsHealth.org has several suggestions for parents in this regard.