Posted in Behavior, Family Fun Factor, Outdoor Play, School, Therapy

4 Fun Games That Really Can Teach Self-Control

By the time your child gets to college, will it matter what his age was when he learned to read, tie his shoes or do long division?  Probably not as much as you might think.  Research shows that what will likely matter more is how well he learned to handle BIG feelings (such as anger), cope with distress, manage difficult situations and the like.  These tasks are all part of what is referred to as self-regulation.  And self-regulation and other social-emotional skills have perhaps a bigger influence on our success in life than some of the typical yardsticks we use to measure future success (such as grades, standardized test scores, etc.).

There are lots of ways in which we can promote self-regulation.  When your child was an infant, you picked him up and comforted him when he was upset.  You helped him calm down.  You helped him regulate his emotions by soothing him.  Eventually, your infant grows and begins to take this task over, by soothing himself.  He’ll still need you to act as a guide, but eventually, he’ll be able to self-regulate.  So, how can you help?

Each of these games requires that children pay attention, follow directions and control themselves.  And that, as we know, is very important.  

Fun and Games

These favorite childhood games do more than just pass the time.  They help children develop self-regulation skills.

1. Red Light, Green Light


  • One person plays the “stop light” and the rest try to touch him/her.
  • At the start, all the children form a line about 15 feet away from the stop light.
  • The stop light faces away from the line of kids and says “green light”. At this point the kids are allowed to move towards the stoplight.
  • At any point, the stop light may say “red light!” and turn around. If any of the kids are caught moving after this has occurred, they are out.
  • Play resumes when the stop light turns back around and says “green light”.
  • The stop light wins if all the kids are out before anyone is able to touch him/her.
  • Otherwise, the first player to touch the stop light wins and earns the right to be “stop light” for the next game.

2. Simon Says


  1.  Face the players Designate yourself to be Simon and stand about ten feet in front of the other players, facing them.
  2. Change Simon’s name to match a party theme by playing “Princess Says” or “Pirate Says.”
  3.  Give a command Give the players a command, starting with the phrase “Simon Says.”
  4. Trick the players by saying one thing but doing another. Say, “Simon Says, hop on your right leg,” but hop on your left leg.
  5. Check that the others have performed your command Check the players to make sure they are doing whatever command you gave. Those who didn’t follow instructions are out of the game and have to sit down.
  6. Give another command Give another command, but don’t start with the phrase “Simon Says.” Try to fool the players into following you.
  7. Check to see if anyone did the command Call out any players who performed the command even though you didn’t say “Simon Says.” Anyone who did is out of the game and has to sit down.
  8. Keep playing until only one player is left Keep playing until only one person is left. This person is the winner, and gets to be Simon in the next round.
  9. Tip: Say “STOP” but do not say “Simon says STOP” – if the player stops they are out!

“Read the Message Simon Says” this is a variation of the original game “Simon Says” – print and download instructions and command cards for FREE here: readmsgsimonsays

Examples of Commands: **Remind Player that they can’t stop doing what Simon Says or they are out!! ***
  • Hands over eyes
  • Stamp the right foot (left)
  • Pull the left ear
  • Raise Your Hands (or left/right)
  • Jump on Left foot (right foot)
  • Whisper Your Name
  • Say ‘Hello’
  • Touch Your Head (knee, elbow, hip, lip, eye, thigh, nose, ear)
  • point to the window (or anything else)
  • Open/close Your Mouth (open/close your eyes)
  • Knock on the Table (or anything else)
  • Stand up/Sit down
  • Laugh/Smile/Cry/Angry/Worried/Sad/Giggle
  • Clap Your Hands
Here is an example of an Entire Scripted Game of Simon Says (with tricks!):
  1. Simon says to Swing your arms.
  2. Simon says to Pat your head (Don’t Stop!)
  3. Stop. (if they stop, they’re out)
  4. Simon says to Turn around once
  5. Hmmm, that wasn’t very good. Everybody try that again. (if they do, they’re out)
  6. Simon says to giggle
  7. Simon says to laugh (Go fast after this)
  8. Simon says to Spin around twice
  9. Simon says to jump
  10. Simon says to leap 
  11. Stop. (if they do, they’re out)
  12. Simon says to play air guitar
  13. Now act like a rockstar. (if they do, they’re out)
  14. Simon says act like a frog 
  15. Act like a pig (if they do, they’re out)
  16. Simon says do the “stanky leg” 
  17. Point to the playground (if they do, they’re out)
  18. Simon says close your eyes.
  19. Now open your eyes (if they do, they’re out)
  20. Simon says whisper your name.
  21. Shout your name (if they do, they’re out)
  22. Simon says stick out your tongue
  23. Touch your toes (if they do, they’re out)
  24. Simon says point to your right. (facing you, they should be pointing left)
  25. Simon says look up
  26. Now Look down (if they do, they’re out)
  27. Simon says clap once. 
  28. Simon says clap twice.
  29. Clap three times. (if they do, they’re out)
  30. Simon says touch your finder to your nose
  31. Wink at the person next to you (if they do, they’re out)
  32. Simon says make a funny face
  33. Touch your head.
  34. Simon says Touch your shoulders
  35. Stand on one foot. (if they do, they’re out)
  36. Blink your eyes. (if they do, they’re out)
  37. Simon says Stand up tall. (if they do, they’re out)
  38. Simon says Pucker up your lips.
  39. Put your hands on your hips. (if they do, they’re out)
  40. Simon says reach for the sky.
  41. Simon says take a large step forward
  42. Take a large step backwards (if they do, they’re out)
  43. Simon says act like a robot
  44. Simon says freeze
  45. Now un-freeze and wiggle it out (if they do, they’re out)
  46. Simon says Give yourself a hug!

3. Freeze Tag or Stuck in the Mud


In this version of Tag, one person is still “it”, but when they touch someone, that person is “frozen” in place. They cannot move and must stand with their feet apart. The only way they can become unfrozen is if a person crawls under their legs. Play continues until all the players are frozen. Then the last person to be frozen is “it” for the next game.

4. Statues


You need at least 4 players (more for extra fun) How to Play: A selected player called the Curator stands at the opposite end of a field of play from the other players, or Statues. When the Curator has his back to the Statues, they attempt to race across the field to tag the Curator. But, when the Curator turns around to face the Statues, they must freeze in their position and hold the pose for as long as the curator gazes at them. Though the Curator can approach and investigate the Statues, he must be careful; when his back is turned to any Statues, they may move toward him. If a Statue is caught moving while the Curator faces it, the Statue must return to the starting line (or be eliminated). Objective: Sneak up on the Curator while his back is turned, but don’t get caught midrun. The first Statue to tag the Curator becomes the new Curator and the game starts again. Make it more fun:The fun is largely on the side of the Statues in this game, but the Curator can have his own fun by trying to get the Statues to laugh while they’re frozen. Getting them to crack a smile could send them back to the starting line!

Self Regulation as a Predictor of Academic Abilities

 Self regulation is the ability of a person to tolerate sensations, situations and distress and form appropriate responses to that sensory input.Simply stated, it is the ability to control behavior. In children, self regulation matures just like other developmental processes. Children get older and learn to think before they act. Research continues to develop in this area of self regulation and how much it effects other aspects of development. A recent article in Developmental Psychology reports that self regulation in children is a predictor of academic abilities. The researchers used the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders Task (HTKS) to evaluate 343 kindergartners ability to self regulate. The HTKS task measures the ability to listen, remember instructions and follow motor commands. It does not measure emotional responses. Children with higher levels of self regulation in the beginning of the school year achieved higher scores in reading, vocabulary and math at the end of the school year. The researchers concluded that improving self regulation in children can improve academic achievement and behavioral responses.

Now, for any therapist, teacher or parent who has knowledge of sensory integration knows how much deficits in self regulation effect behaviours, social skills and motor responses. We need to continue to educate school staff on the importance of this skill be developed in all children. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten curriculum has changed it’s focus to reading, writing and math skills at an earlier age. There is not enough practice time to learn self regulation during these early formative years. Now it appears as if this hard core academic curriculum in the early years needs to slow down. This study provides significant evidence to support teaching self regulation skills.

Here are 5 simple tips to encourage self regulation in all children:
1. Therapists, teachers and parents should model good self regulation and self control. Use a calm tone in stressful situations. Model self control during disruptive classroom or home time.
2. Partner children who lack self regulation with children who exhibit better control to act as appropriate role models.
3. Play fun games that require children to wait for directions before they act (i.e. Simon Says).  
4. Play fun games that require turn taking.  
5. Keep activities structured and predictable.

More Posts That are Related on My Blog:
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  • Click Here for a List of 40 Ways to Keep Children Occupied (especially toddlers) with activities that promote learning and attachment. (sewing basket for kids, pool noodles, pipe cleaners, sensory bins, water tables, etc)
  • Click Here for 5 Attachment-Based Activities, 15 Attachment Promoting Activities and MANY more Attachment & Connection Promoting Play.
  • Click Here for Activities that Promote Learning & Attachment – link to website with activities listed by age (up to age 5 years but you can adapt for older kids)
  • Click Here for Relaxing Road Trip Activities for Kids (most can be fun to play inside at home too! like play dough mats, coloring sheets etc)
  • Click Here for 20 Activities and Games to press the “reset” button when kids are getting silly or tough! (whisper game, kitchen stations, color their name, move slowly, read a book, take a bath etc.)
  • Click Here for 8 Communication Games Help kids practice listening & following direction skills (Red Light Green Light, Mad Libs, Simon Says, Follow the Leader, Obstacle Course etc.)
  • Click Here for 4 Family Fun Activities using Balloons!
  • Click Here for 6 Self-Regulation Activities & Games for Kids (free printable explaining the importance of self-regulation)
  • Click Here for 24 Gross Motor Activities that promote Parent-Child Connection
  • Click Here for 31 SideWalk Chalk Activities for Kids
  • Click Here for Parenting Tips on how to Improve & Grow Your Attachment & Connection with Your Child


Mother, Pediatric Nurse and a Trail Blazer for Positive Change.

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