Types of self control

Types of self control

Did you know there are several types of self-control that impact the way we act, behave, speak, and move? These types of control impact how we learn, communicate with others, and function in our daily tasks. There is more to self control than controlling impulses and self-regulation. Understanding these various differences can make a difference in learning how to stop and think, and gain self control in daily occupations.

In this article, we will break down what the components and types of self-control are, and provide you options on how to improve this important skill. 

Types of self control


Before we can dive into each type of self-control, let’s define it at its basic level. 

The definition of self-control is a component of inhibitory control, and refers to the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior based on and as a result of external and internal temptations and impulses. Self-control is an executive function and is a cognitive process that is necessary for regulating one’s behavior in order to achieve specific goals.

Break down of Self-control: 

An executive function that gives the…
Ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors…
With consideration for temptations and impulses…
In order to achieve goals.


Although different sources may describe self-control in different ways, most can agree on 3 types of self-control. 

Impulse control is one type of self-control

1. Impulse Control

Impulse control requires conscious thought, weighing the pros and cons of potential actions and their outcomes. For young children, this is nearly impossible. As we grow and the areas of the brain associated with executive function (the prefrontal cortex) develop, this ability becomes more accessible.  

It is believed that the prefrontal cortex does not develop until age 24-30. Now you understand why teenagers and college students are so impulsive!

Poor Impulse Control

Impulsivity, or acting before thinking, is caused by a lack of impulse control. In children, this may be seen as over-eating preferred foods, blurting out answers in class, interrupting others, or acting out in aggression.

More about what impulse control is here! Additionally, these impulse control strategies will get you started on addressing this area.

Emotional control is one type of self-control
  1. Emotional Control

Everyone feels varied emotions, regardless of age or status. Adults may want to scream and stomp their feet when something does not go their way, but they are able to stop themselves, as such actions would be inappropriate. In fact, they are most often able to stop inappropriate actions, and choose the appropriate emotional response. 

Emotional control is the result of a collaboration in the brain. Emotional intelligence and instincts are formed in the amygdala, then the prefrontal cortex controls what behaviors will exhibited. As with impulse control, young children will need time and education, in order to use their thinking brains to stop and control their emotional behaviors.  

Poor Emotional Control

Tantrums, sudden aggression, screaming, or crying uncontrollably, are all examples of  poor emotional control. Usually it is young people who struggle with poor emotional control. Some adults, particularly those with mental health conditions, may also have limited emotional control. 

When emotional control is limited, actions may be driven by emotions, not logic. Negative outcomes, that jeopardize health and safety, may ensue. 

Motor control is one type of self-control
  1. Movement Control 

Movement control, also known in the literature as physical control, is one of the lesser known aspects of self-control. This type of self control is exactly as the name implies; it is the way in which we control the movement of our bodies. 

The OT Toolbox covers the impact of poor self-control and resulting behavior, in this resource titled attention and behavior. The blog covers safety issues such as darting into a parking lot, touching a hot stove, and other movement related self-control situations.

Good movement control may be observed when a child sits upright at their desk, quietly, without extraneous movements, clearly ready to learn. Many people in organized sports also have good movement control, as they practice drills, and coordinate their bodies in order to meet a common goal. 

Poor Movement Control 

Uncontrolled movement, hyperactivity, accidentally crashing into objects or people, and poor handwriting, may be associated with a lack of movement control. Having some wiggles before recess, then being able to sit still afterwards, does not pose an issue for most. In fact, it is pretty typical to need movement breaks throughout the day. 

When a lack of movement control causes a child to be unable to complete schoolwork, be a part of a team in gym class, safety concerns, or safely move about the community or playground, intentionally crashing into others, hitting, biting, etc., it becomes more concerning. 


All children should be taught self-control. It is not something that they just inherently “know”. It is a complicated subject, that requires positive adult modeling, education, and of course, practice! 

The OT Toolbox has tons of great posts on the types of self control and its impact:

Do you think that self-control should be taught in schools? There is already so much on our educators’ to-do list, but this one may be worth integrating.

Here’s why: Self-control is integral to the ability to learn and apply knowledge, but it is also important to a healthy social life, too!

Types of self-control information handout

Free Handout: Types of Self-Control

Education supports advocacy! The information in this blog has been created into a handy handout, designed for advocacy and education on the types of self-control. These aspects of executive functioning are not always connected as an executive functioning skill, so that’s where this handout comes into the picture.

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Free Handout: Types of Self-Control

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    Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
    background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
    providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
    a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

    Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

    The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

    When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

    When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

    When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

    When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

    Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

    ADHD Tools for Parents of Children with Attention Difficulties

    ADHD tools

    Here you will find a number of ADHD tools and supports for individuals with ADHD, including ADHD resources for parents. The statistics of the number of people with Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) is staggering.  These numbers are compounded by the fact that attention deficit is difficult to diagnose.  The market is flooded with ADHD resources, and strategies to support attention needs, but what are the right ones? Doctors and other professionals could be over or under diagnosing due to this difficulty in gathering accurate data.

    ADHD tools for kids and parents of children with ADHD

    Yes there are ADHD checklists, surveys, and questionnaires, but they are not scientific or 100% accurate.  They are often based on opinion and observation versus data.  This is a stark contrast to diagnosing down syndrome or hearing loss, that is tracked by concrete data or genetic testing. 


    When it comes to specifically ADHD tools, my advice is to take these diagnoses with a grain of salt.  Look more for symptoms, behaviors, skills, and difficulties rather than relying on a label.  It does not matter as much that this is called ADD, ADHD, or ABCD, but what are the struggles the learner is having? 

    To best support any diagnosis (attention diagnoses being one), focus on the struggles, creating measurable and relevant goals, instead of focusing on the label.

    To best support a child with attention challenges, find ADHD resources you can trust to provide useful information and strategies.

    Having any label, diagnosis, or list of symptoms can feel overwhelming. The number of attention related resources available on the internet are astounding.  But which are accurate?  Who can you believe?  There are no easy answers unfortunately.  

    Which way to turn for ADHD TOOLS?

    When there is an overwhelming amount of data presented at one time, the best jumping off point is to rely on the feedback of others.  Sometimes it is a trusted doctor or friend, but more often than not, it can be a large crowd of strangers. 

    When looking for the perfect resource to share with parents, I usually turn to Amazon and start reading the reviews.  I read a ton of reviews before making my selections.  This is time consuming, however I do not have time to read something that is not a good resource, has incorrect information, or written in a terrible format.

    Attention Resources from Amazon

    There are some solid attention resources from Amazon available, including ADHD audiobooks, and other formats that have good reviews. I have not personally read them, but have taken the time to research them and read the long reviews.

    Amazon affiliate links are included below.

    Amazon has some great ADHD audiobook resources for parents and professionals available on Audible and other formats. Audiobooks are a great alternative to paper books, as they can be listened to almost anywhere.

    There are tons of resources on attention and ADHD in audiobooks. I tried to find ones that had good reviews, were accurate and easy to read/listen to, and provided useful strategies.

    If you are an Amazon Prime member, You’re eligible to claim 2 free titles from our entire selection (one title per month thereafter) with a free Audible 30 day trial. A standard trial includes 1 credit for an audiobook download. After the Audible trial period, all members receive 1 credit per month.

    Click here start your free Audible Trial Period.

    Delivered From Distraction: Getting the most of out Life with Attention Deficit Disorder.  This book is written for teens or adults with ADD.  This may be helpful for parents as well, as attention deficits tend to run in families.  It can be read cover to cover or in sections.  The author says, feel free to skip around.

    You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?: A Self-help Audio Program for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder  As with most books I have found, there are going to be people who do not like the book.  This is to be expected.  However, more people say they liked it than the few who did not. I like that this is available in audio, as some people are more auditory learners than visual. Finding an hour in the car to listen seems much easier than trying to carve out that same hour reading on the couch.

    Taking Charge of ADHD, Third Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents This book is available in several formats. Audible is one that may be easier for parents to listen to, as their couch time is limited. This book takes a real look at ADHD.  Most people found this book helpful. The few that did not, found this book too straight forward or maybe “depressing.”

    The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength. This book came as a recommendation from a reviewer who needed a positive spin on ADHD after reading all of the devastating facts and figures about ADHD. 

    Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, 2nd Edition – Revised and Updated: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized  This book points people in the direction of real life solutions. It is fine to spend time researching the “what” and “why” of a diagnosis, but without real solutions, the research just leaves people frustrated. It can be used for adults and adapted for children. 

    The OT Toolbox has a great post on Organization and Attention Challenges.

    Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential Positive reviews praise this book for its information about working with teens with attention issues or decreased executive function.  It gives doable strategies that work for teens.  The strategies are motivating for modern teens. Critical reviews cite that this book is more about the “what and why” rather than the “what to do about it” side of this diagnosis. Much of the advice centers around driving, and using technology to help teens.  On a positive note, this is what motivates teens to perform.  On the flip side, not everyone has a driving teen or wants to encourage use of electronics.

    Books for younger learners:

    Marvin’s Monster Diary: ADHD Attacks! (And I Rock, Big Time): St4 Mindfulness Book for Kids Written in the Wimpy Kid book series, this is a cute motivating book series for children who struggle with attention issues to relate to.  It is available in several formats including Audible.  This might be a good book to buy in print and listen to Audible at the same time.

    Marvin’s Monster Diary 2 + Lyssa!: ADHD Emotion Explosion (But I Triumph, Big Time!)  This second book in the Monster Diary series proves to be a winner as well.  It has several positive reviews about it’s entertainment value, readability, and writing style. Again because it is a graphic novel type of read, it would be excellent paired with the written version as well as Audible.

    A Dragon With ADHD: A Children’s Story About ADHD. A Cute Book to Help Kids Get Organized, Focus, and Succeed. (My Dragon Books 41) This is another great series to keep children interested while learning about ADHD.  This series covers a multitude of topics.  The nice thing about series is if you buy into one, it sets the reader on a whole journey of discovery. This is written for children, however reviewers say that adults, therapists, and parents will enjoy this book as well.

    Focused Ninja: A Children’s Book About Increasing Focus and Concentration at Home and School (Ninja Life Hacks)   This book is part of a Ninja series teaching children valuable lessons in an entertaining method. If you were a fan of the Mr. Men book series, you will like this one.  Each ninja is named after the skill he lacks or is trying to gain.

    The OT Toolbox ADHD and attention resources

    The OT Toolbox has become a trusted resource for many of you reading these posts and subscribing to the website. The OT Toolbox does not disappoint and has wonderful articles, activities, and resources to fill your “toolbox”, not only on topics such as ADHD and attention, but fine motor, sensory, gross motor, executive function and so much more.

    Type ADD, Attention resources for parents, or ADHD activities into the search bar for a great list of archived posts. Just when you are overwhelmed with information and resources, try wrapping your head around the sensory connection between attention and organization challenges.

    It is no wonder there is such misdiagnosis, confusion, and misinformation out there. Autism, ADD, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, and about a dozen other diagnoses have overlapping and similar symptoms. Keep your focus on how to help and move forward rather than where did this come from, or what is this called?

    Happy reading, take a deep breath, one moment at a time!

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    How to Use a Sports Water Bottle as a self regulation tool

    Sports water bottle self regulation tool

    Sipping on a hot cup of tea, chewing gum, or sucking on a hard candy are self regulation strategies for oral sensory processing you probably use in your daily life, without even thinking twice.  But did you know that you can use a sports water bottle as a self regulation tool, too? Oral sensory processing tools, or coping strategies, can be an important part of anyone’s life, for self regulation and promoting attention across settings like home, school, and the community.  

    You can use a sports water bottle as a self-regulation tool! This sensory coping trick is great for kids, in the classroom, or while on the go!

    Using a Sports Top Water Bottle for Self Regulation

    While sitting in a waiting room, waiting for your table at a restaurant, or sitting down to pay your bills, how often do you bring along a drink or snack to help maintain your regulation? 

    You probably don’t realize these are great sensory regulation tools, it just seems like a good idea, and has become a habit. As adults, we naturally have strategies we incorporate into our daily lives to help us regulate. 

    For children, these strategies may not be as obvious or innate.  Here’s where using self regulation strategies including those for oral sensory processing, from an occupational therapist may help.

    Related, this Impulse Control Journal from the OT Toolbox is a great resources for writing down triggers, develop strategies, and use self regulation tools to feel more organized.

    What is self regulation?

    Self regulation is a complex process we all use on a moment to moment basis.  It involves registering and responding to your own thinking, emotions, and attention.  Self regulation impacts your focus and your behavior, which in turn impacts how you receive and respond to information in your environment.  

    Self regulation involves the coordinated effort of your sensory processing systems, emotional regulation, and executive functioning.  If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is! 

    Occupational therapists can help children and families, by evaluating their needs across the environments where they live, play, and learn.  One of the areas an occupational therapist will assess, is your child’s sensory processing patterns to determine what, if any sensory strategies and self regulation tools may support their participation and performance at home, in school, or when out in the community.

    Self regulation is a necessary tool for developing impulse control in order to make good choices.

    What is sensory processing?

    Amazon affiliate links are included below.

    In the book Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder, (affiliate link) Lucy Jane Miller defines sensory processing as “a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives sensory messages and turns them into responses” (Miller, 6).  The sensory systems involved in sensory processing are:

    • Visual (sight)
    • Auditory (hearing)
    • Tactile (touch)
    • Olfactory (smell)
    • Gustatory (taste)
    • Vestibular (movement)
    • Proprioception (body position/awareness)

    If you think your child is having difficulty with sensory processing, you may find this Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist a helpful place to start. This is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding sensory processing and getting help.

    Here are a couple of other popular resources to learn about sensory processing disorder. (Amazon affiliate links below)

    Oral Sensory Processing and Sensory Strategies

    There are hundreds of different ways to support sensory processing when addressing all of the senses mentioned above.  Let’s take a closer look at oral sensory processing and the sensory strategies associated with it.

    Using oral sensory input for self regulation starts at birth.  Infants and babies use their oral sensory receptors as both a source of comfort and for sensory stimulation. 

    Parents use pacifiers, and feeding by bottle or breast to calm and soothe infants.  Babies constantly bring hands, feet, and toys to their mouth to explore.  Because oral input is comforting and soothing, pacifiers and thumb sucking are hard habits to break.

    As babies grow into toddlers and beyond, we see these oral sensory experiences continue to change and adapt into functional strategies that fit into everyday life in the form of chewing gum, sipping a warm drink, or snacking on a favorite crunchy snack.

    These are natural examples of sensory regulation tools.

    For some people, the need for oral sensory input is strong, and they may seek out this type of input in many ways. This may be the child who continues to mouth toys beyond toddlerhood, chew on clothing. 

    While this does provide oral sensory input for kids who need to chew, it is not functional for a child to be chewing on their shirt at school.  School-based occupational therapists may be able to help make suggestions for sensory strategies that can be easily incorporated into the school day to help support student’s oral sensory processing needs.

    Why Using a Sports Water Bottle Helps with Self Regulation

    Using a sports top water bottle (affiliate link) for self regulation is a common suggestion by occupational therapists.  Why?

    When using a sports bottle, sensory input is added through the face; The mouth, including the jaw, lips, and cheeks are powerful sensory areas.

    The mouth, face, and jaw are full of sensory receptors.  Using oral sensory processing tools and strategies are often a great way to provide intense or calming sensory input with a fast impact.

    “Sucking is also a calming and organizing activity which requires closing the lips, lip strength and the ability to hold the jaw in a stable position” (Yack, Aquilla and Sutton, 2015). 

    Oral receptors send information to the brain about taste, touch, and they also provide proprioceptive inputs through sucking. 

    Activating the oral sensory receptors through sucking provides intense, calming sensory input.

    Sports Water Bottles for Sensory Input

    Using a sports bottle during the day is a meaningful task for most of us. Kids see their peers using a sports bottle or a water bottle of some type during the school day, during after school transitions on the school bus, in the community, and in many settings.

    This means that the high-impact sensory strategy they are using doesn’t look out of place to their peers. (While acceptance of differences is widely accepted, it can be helpful for kids and teens to appear to be using the same items as their peers.

    This is true for all of us, and not just because there may or may not be a sensory need at play!)

    So, what are some OT-recommended sports bottles for use as a sensory tool that have high-impact when it comes to calming supports?

    Try these sports bottles (Affiliate links)

    1. Kids Hydro Flask with Straw
    2. 32 Ounce Hydro Flask With Straw
    3. ADIDAS Sports Bottle
    4. Water Bottle with Straw and Flip Top Lid

    Here are some ways to provide oral sensory input:

    • Use a sports top water bottle such as this one, with resisted sucking throughout the day
    • Try drinking a thick smoothie through a straw
    • Provide chewing gum (usually sugarless in small pieces)
    • Use a battery powered toothbrush – vibration provides proprioceptive input to the oral sensory receptors
    • Encourage crunchy or chewy snacks such as pretzels, bagels, carrot sticks, or stale Twizzlers
    • Sucking on a popsicle or other frozen treat (These homemade lemon lime popsicles are a great way to support this need. Plus kids can help make them!)
    • Blowing bubbles

    A final note on using a sports water bottle as a self Regulation tool

    The most important thing to think about when choosing sensory strategies for anyone, is to think about how it will fit into their daily routines.  A water bottle is a great tool for anyone who needs access to oral sensory strategies, because they will be able to keep it at their desk, in their backpack, or carry it around with them.

    Sensory “tricks” like this; Ones that are specifically integrated into one’s day are the most effective. Similarly, using a battery powered toothbrush on the way out the door in the morning, providing a crunchy morning snack, using a water bottle throughout the day, and offering a thick smoothie with a straw after school would provide your child many oral sensory experiences throughout the day to help meet their sensory processing needs.

    This is a great example of a sensory diet, proven to be beneficial for self regulation in many people.

    And, when it comes to back-to-school sensory activities that benefit the whole classroom, this is a great one! One tip is to educate parents on the sensory benefits of using a water bottle when recommending school supplies for the back-to-school season. Share how a water bottle can calm and regulate all of us!

    Katherine Cook is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience primarily working in schools with students from preschool through Grade 12.  Katherine graduated from Boston University in 2001 and completed her Master’s degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study at Tufts University in 2010.  Katherine’s school based experience includes working in integrated preschool programs, supporting students in the inclusion setting, as well as program development and providing consultation to students in substantially separate programs.  Katherine has a passion for fostering the play skills of children and supporting their occupations in school. 

    References: Miller, L. J., & Fuller, D. A. (2007). Sensational kids: Hope and help for children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.