How to Teach Self-Control to Adults

Lack of self-control can lead to despair.

You may be teaching self-control to adults for one of several reasons. People who have been in prison or who are addicted to alcohol or illicit drugs usually have problem in controlling their urges and emotions. Most people learn self-control in a gradual way. Toddlers do not have self-control. If they want something, they often have a tantrum or scream if they do not get it. Children and adolescents usually come to realize that there are better ways to express their wants, and that sometimes people, no matter how much they want something, cannot have it. However, many people struggle with self-control throughout their lives. There are steps you can take to help them.

Assess each of the adults you are teaching. Many problems can be linked to poor self-control. Some problems may be underlying causes of the control issues, and some may occur as consequences. If you are, for instance, teaching a group of people who have been incarcerated, focus on breaking this pattern. Consult with others who know the adults in a professional way. For instance, some of your clients may also be attending anger-management sessions, so see if you can speak to the leader of those sessions.

Establish an open, trusting environment in the classroom. The adults have some sensitive issues to discuss, so an atmosphere of trust is essential. Teach them about child development and the development of conscience, independent thinking and problem-solving. Discuss some factors that may interrupt this development, such as a role-model leaving, or parental neglect.

Use current affairs and both real and fictitious case studies to promote role-play and discussion. Focus particularly on consequences. Some people have a real problem thinking about the consequences of behavior, or others, as often is the case with drug addicts, choose to push the consequences to the back of their mind.

Confront attitudes and behavior in a constructive and supportive way. You may find that some adults who lack self-control are firmly fixed on blaming someone else for this. Encourage the clients to take responsibility for their actions.

  • Ensure that the clients are receiving treatment for underlying or additional problems, such as mental illness.

Noreen Wainwright has been writing since 1997. Her work has appeared in "The Daily Telegraph," "The Guardian," "The Countryman" and "The Lady." She has a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences from Liverpool Polytechnic and a postgraduate law degree from Staffordshire University.