How to Teach Preschoolers Self-Discipline & Self-Control

How do kids learn self-control and self-discipline? How can they take ownership of their educations and remind themselves to make great choices in school? Self-discipline can’t happen by accident! It comes from teachers modeling discipline and being consistent with it! Always enforcing your classroom rules and expectations doesn’t make you a disciplinarian. It makes you a great teacher because you are constantly providing reminders to your students on how to make the best choices and build the best habits!

Discipline doesn’t have to mean punishment. Self-discipline certainly isn’t self-punishment. If we reframe “discipline” to mean structure, focus, and self-control, then we all want lots of discipline in our classrooms! Alternatively, if we don’t enforce the classroom rules and expectations with consistency, kids don’t see us as a fun, easy-going, laid back teacher – all they see is a rule that they can get away with breaking!

Let’s send the right message! Give your students the skills of resilience and grit, while still “letting kids be kids.”

Now, I’m not exactly sure what it means to “let kids be kids.” I hope it doesn’t mean to avoid responsibility, but sometimes that’s how it seems when I hear people talk about it. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. What do you think when you hear the phrase, “Let kids be kids?”

Kids are the best, but at the same time, they are limited in their experiences! Our job as teachers is to expand their minds, inspire them with knowledge, and empower kids by helping them find their passions! Kids can’t run every aspect of the classroom and their interests shouldn’t be the only thing that drives the learning. Not because they aren’t interesting, but because they only have three or four years of limited experiences! There is a ton of joy and magic in a child’s imagination, but there is even more magic in a child’s potential!

So expose them to all new worlds, cultures, landscapes, architecture, art, science, etc. and help them pursue the things they love with all their energy! You can still play and have fun! You can still learn a ton and also have responsibility! Play is important but it is not a substitute for responsibility. You can make responsibility empowering and awesome. Kids can “be kids,” engage in play-based learning, and still have responsibility and self-discipline. Find out how on this week’s episode!

If you want to have high academic expectations, your classroom also needs high behavior expectations. There are a lot of ideas where I will tell you to find your own style and do your own thing, but this is a rule that I’ve encountered that seems to be pretty hard-and-fast. Kids will struggle to learn at a pre-k level if their behavior expectations match that of a younger child. Ensuring behavior expectations match academic expectations is the one way you can guarantee that your kids have the focus and attention to match their cognitive gains. It is so important that we don’t sell kids short and we give them the responsibilities they can handle.

For example, when I shifted my mindset around tattling to give students more ownership and responsibility, the tattling almost stopped completely.  Whenever I would hear a tattle, I would ask the tattler”Why did you tattle?”

They would say, “Because I didn’t like what ‘Student A’ was doing and I wanted him to stop.”

“So you wanted him to stop?”


“Did you ask him to stop?”


“Did you want to get him in trouble?”


“But isn’t that what happened when you tattled?”


“Is there another way you could have gotten Student A to stop, without tattling?

“….I could have asked him to stop?”

Now, I’m sure many teachers have had the same conversation (probably daily). You may even throw in a “How would you feel if ‘Student A’ tattled on you?” for good measure. However, in my experience, no matter how many times I had this conversation, the tattling continued. But once I started reframing the whole situation in terms of self-control, I began to see a shift. InstaI would say:

“So all you cared about was that Student A stop doing what he was doing?”


“Okay. So which is better? (1) You could tattle on Student A, I tell him to stop & he stops. But now he’s upset with you because you got him in trouble.. OR (2) you could ask Student A to stop & he stops. Because you helped him regain his focus and be a better learner, he loves you for helping him! Which is better?”

“Would you rather tell on him and I get him to stop and have him be mad at you? Or would you rather help him make better choices so he sees what a great friend you are?”

I think we all know the answer to this one. In both situations, your tattler get what he or she wants! But in one of those situations, s/he handled the problem on his or her own and that had way better results!  Listen to this episode and encourage your students to take on this kind of responsibility! You will see right away how rewarding it can be!

Thank you so much for joining us this week! Was there anything I missed in this episode that you’d like to hear more about? Would you mind sharing in the comments so all the great teachers can learn from your thoughts? Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see at the bottom of the post. Also, please leave an honest review for the Punk Rock Preschool Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are super helpful and greatly appreciated and I will read all of them!  If you have any questions or want to learn more, head on over to! And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates!



  • 01:58 – Introduction
  • 06:48 – Mindset Shift
  • 08:45 – Strategies
  • 24:11 – Actionable Next Steps
  • 25:57 – Major Takeaways

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