Developing Self-Control for Young Children: Play Hide and Seek

In Nurture Shock, Bronson and Merryman reported that self-control was one of the most accurate predictors of future success.

Self-control is defined as the ability to restrain one’s emotions, behaviour, and desires in order to obtain some reward.

To determine the level of self-control children had, the famous marshmallow test was employed. 4-6 year old children who were able to control their impulse to eat the marshmallow in order to gain a greater reward were found to be more successful in later life.

The great news is that self-control can be taught. “Tools of the Mind” – a Vygotskian approach – was the methodology implemented in some preschools to achieve this. Even if you don’t have a “Tools of the Mind” school, there are several activities you can do with your children to help them develop their self-control.

Recently, it occurred to me that there is a really fun way to teach the younger child self-control – playing hide and seek…

How can hide and seek teach children self-control?

When you play with really young children, you’ll find that they usually can’t wait for you to find them and they’ll jump out of their hiding spot like a jack-in-a-box before you can look for them. With time and practice, they develop more patience and stay still long enough for you to get into the room they’re in. At this point, they will still give themselves away with the sound of their giggles or through their squirmy movements behind a curtain or under the blanket.

Hercules and Aristotle love playing “hide and seek”. Over the past month or two, we have been playing quite a bit of “hide and seek” and I’ve seen my very squirmy and giggly Hercules master the skill of staying silent while Aristotle employs various tricks in his bag to get his brother to give himself away with a giggle. The movement control part still needs a bit of work, but I have been pretty impressed by his improvement in self-control through this game. Sure it is only one aspect of learning self-control but as with all other life skills, improving your abilities is about honing them with practice.

With Aristotle, who is more advanced in this game, I have taken to extending his limits by pretending I still don’t know where he is when I see a tell-tale lump under the blankets. I’ll then tickle in through the blankets by pretending I am searching for him. Aristotle, who is quite ticklish by nature, has been practicing very hard to keep from laughing and giving himself away. I usually succeed in getting a giveaway laugh from him but I have noticed his ability to hold out is getting longer.

As I pondered on this idea, I wondered if anyone else had suggested using the game of “Hide and Seek” to help children develop self-control. I found a suggestion on Early Years – Working Together for a Great Start on the “Starring Game” and “Hide and Seek”. They recommended throwing out funny questions designed to elicit a giveaway laugh or two to help children develop their power of self-control.

While searching online, I stumble upon an excellent post collating a terrific collection of articles and posts on self-control, the marshmallow test and other related stuff – Helping Students Develop their Capacity for Self-Control. Larry Ferlazzo, author of the website, is a high school teacher who has written two books on subjects that are very close to my heart – Helping Students Motivate Themselves and Self-Driven Learning.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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