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Practice Profile

Early Self-Control Improvement Programs for Children

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Self-Control
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Target Population
Early self-control improvement programs aim to increase self-control and reduce child behavior problems (e.g., conduct problems, antisocial behavior, and delinquency) in children up to age 10.

Practice Theory
Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) general theory of crime identifies individual characteristics of self-control as related to antisocial, delinquent, and criminal behavior. Specifically, individuals with low self-control 1) are impulsive and unable to delay gratification; 2) lack persistence, tenacity, or diligence; 3) partake in novelty or risk-seeking activities; 4) put little value on intellectual ability; 5) are self-centered; and 6) have a volatile temper. The theory also suggests that interventions implemented during children’s early years (with young children, adolescents, families) are important in preventing general delinquency and crime later in life (Piquero et al. 2016).

Practice Components
While programs designed to increase self-control vary by intervention type, these efforts focus on improving one’s impulse control and strengthening their resolve against impulsive acts. Also, these programs aim to improve the decision-making styles of persons such that they place less emphasis on immediate gratification and more emphasis on the long-term consequences of their behavior.

There are generally five different intervention types of early self-control improvement programs, as follows:

  1. Social skills development programs focus on lessons involving skills for emotional understanding and communication, friendship, self-control, and social problem solving. These programs sometimes include themes such as “look and listen”, “following rules”, “what to do when I am angry”, “what to do when they do not want to play with me”, and “how to react to teasing”.
  2. Cognitive coping strategies involve psychoeducational tasks and/or cognitive self-instructional training where participant children are taught to verbalize commands to cue or guide nonverbal behavior. This program type employs self-control statements such as “find out what I am supposed to do”, “consider all my answers”, “stop and think”, “mark my answer”, and “check my answer” while performing tasks as the child repeats the steps and statements.
  3. Videotape training/role-playing interventions involve participant children watching videos of children performing appropriate or inappropriate behavior. Participants are asked if the children’s responses in the video are correct. If they answer correctly, the video continues. Following the video training, the participants’ behavior and self-control are observed. These interventions may also include didactic lectures, role playing, and watching videos of child-centered play sessions.
  4. Immediate/delayed rewards clinical interventions take place in an experimental room. The intervention involves an experimenter enticing children with a prize (such as marshmallows). Participant children are placed alone in separate rooms and told that if they wait for the experimenter to return to the room (in 20 minutes), they will be allowed to have two marshmallows. However, if they ring the bell that has been placed in front of them (which signals that they want the experimenter to return right away), they will only be allowed to have one marshmallow. The experiment was designed to test children’s self-control and use of delayed gratification.
  5. Relaxation training sessions focus on meditation and deep breathing techniques to encourage children to regulate their own behavior. After practicing the techniques, children are asked to consider three self-monitoring questions: 1) “Where am I?” 2) “What am I doing?” and 3) “What should I be doing?” They are then asked to correct their thoughts and behaviors to conform with what is expected of them.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Self-Control
Piquero and colleagues (2016) aggregated 53 effect sizes from 36 randomized controlled trials and found a positive, statistically significant effect in self-control improvement for children who participated in early self-control improvement programs, compared with children who did not participate (overall mean effect size of 0.32). This suggests that early self-control improvement programs can improve self-control of children.
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Piquero and colleagues (2016) aggregated 36 effect sizes from 22 randomized controlled trials and found a statistically significant reduction in delinquency for children who participated in early self-control improvement programs, compared with children who did not participate (overall mean effect size of 0.27). This suggests that early self-control improvement programs can reduce delinquency for children.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11975 - 2015419382

Meta-Analysis 1
Piquero and colleagues (2016) updated an earlier meta-analysis by Piquero, Jennings, and Farrington (2010) on the effects of early self-control improvement programs on increasing self-control and reducing delinquency/crime of children. Screening was conducted from January 2010 through September 2015, extending the original analysis period of 1975 to 2009.

Studies were included if they 1) used randomized controlled experimental designs; 2) included self-control as a major component of the intervention; 3) included participants aged 10 years and younger (or the mean age was no greater than 10 years at the start of the intervention); 4) included at least one child-based outcome measure of self-control such as the Kansas Reflection-Impulsivity Scale for Preschoolers (Wright 1971), the Kendall and Wilcox Self-Control Rating Scale (Kendall and Wilcox 1979), Burks’ (1996) Behavior Rating Scale, and/or behavioral outcome measures of general problem behaviors, such as antisocial behavior and delinquency, from the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach and Edelbrock 1983) or the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory (Funderburg and Eyberg 1989); and 5) made available adequate posttest data to calculate an effect size, if not provided. The search included published and unpublished reports available in English with no timeframe or geographic restrictions. Keyword searches were done for abstracts across several online databases, and hand searches were conducted with reputable journals in the areas of criminology, criminal justice, policing, public policy, psychology, psychiatry, and child development.

This analysis included 41 randomized controlled trial studies, updating the original analysis with 7 additional eligible studies. The 41 studies had a total sample size of 9,382 children and adolescents. A total of 53 self-control effect sizes and 36 delinquency effect sizes were calculated in this analysis. Studies included in the analysis were predominately published in journals, took place in a number of states across the country (e.g., Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin), and were delivered in a school setting. The study samples were mostly male, white, high-risk, and from low-income populations. Participants’ ages ranged from 2 to 10 years.

A random effects analysis was used to estimate overall mean effect size. Cohens d was used to calculate the standardized mean difference effect sizes. When studies did not provide a Cohen’s d effect size estimate, the data that were provided was transformed into a Cohen’s d. Hedges g was applied correcting for small sample sizes small samples. Inverse variance weights were used to give greater weight to the effect sizes estimated with more precision. All meta-analytic results were estimated using Comprehensive Meta-Analysis (CMA) software, Version 2.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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Piquero and colleagues (2016) also conducted moderator analyses to see if any factors strengthened the likelihood that programs improved self-control and delinquency outcome measures. Their analyses indicated statistically significant moderating effects in self-control improvement based on population type, gender, and race composition. Specifically, studies with high-risk, low-income populations that included mostly nonwhite males reported smaller self-control effect sizes. Statistically significant moderating effects were also found for delinquency reduction based on location of study and gender composition. Studies conducted in the United States had higher delinquency effect sizes, whereas studies with mostly male populations reported lower delinquency effect sizes
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Piquero, Alex R., Wesley G. Jennings, David P. Farrington, Brie Diamond, and Jennifer M. Reingle Gonzalez. 2016. “A Meta-Analysis Update on the Effectiveness of Early Self-Control Improvement Programs to Improve Self-Control and Reduce Delinquency.” Journal of Experimental Criminology 12:249–61.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Achenbach, Thomas M., and Craig Edelbrock. 1986. Manual for the Teacher’s Report Form and Teacher Version Form of the Child Behavior Profile. Burlington, Vt.: University of Vermont.

Burks, Harold. 1996. Burks’ Behavior Rating Scales: Manual. Los Angeles, Calif.: Western Psychological Services.

Funderburg, Beverly W., and Sheila M. Eyberg. 1989. “Psychometric Characteristics of the Sutter–Eyberg Student Behavior Inventory: A School Behavior Rating Scale for Use with Preschool Children.” Behavioral Assessment 11:297–313.

Gottfredson, Michael R., and Travis Hirschi. 1990. A General Theory of Crime. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Kendall, Phillip, and Lance Wilcox. 1979. “Self-Control in Children: Development of a Rating Scale.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 47:1020–1029.

Piquero, Alex R., Wesley G. Jennings, and David P. Farrington. 2010. “On the Malleability of Self-Control: Theoretical and Policy Implications Regarding a General Theory of Crime.” Justice Quarterly 27(6):803–34.

Piquero, Alex R., Wesley G. Jennings, and David P. Farrington. 2009. Effectiveness of Program Designed to Improve Self-Control. Report prepared for Brå (Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention).

Wright, John C. 1971. The Kansas Reflection-Impulsivity Scale for Preschoolers (KRISP). St. Louis, Mo.: CEMREL.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Positive Action Effective - More than one study
The program is designed to improve youth academics, behavior, and character, and can be used by schools, families, or communities. The program is rated Effective. Treatment students reported less substance use, problem behaviors, and violent behavior than the control group. There was a 41 percent reduction in bullying behaviors. Findings regarding sexual activity and disruptive behaviors were not statistically significant.

Fast Track Promising - One study
A comprehensive, long-term prevention program that aims to prevent chronic and severe conduct problems in high-risk children from 1st through 10th grades. The program is rated Promising. Participants in the treatment group were significantly less likely than control group participants to exhibit evidence of serious conduct problems and had higher social cognition. While parenting behaviors improved there were no differences between the groups in academic progress and child social competence.

Good Behavior Game Effective - More than one study
A classroom management strategy for children ages 6 to 10 designed to improve aggressive and disruptive classroom behavior and prevent later criminality. The program is rated Effective. The analysis showed males with higher levels of aggression at first grade, but there were increasing and significant effects at sixth grade. Findings also include reduced rates of externalizing behavior and more peer acceptance.

Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS®) Effective - More than one study
A prevention program that promotes emotional and social competencies and reduces aggression and behavior problems in elementary school-aged children. The program is rated Effective. Children in the intervention group had less peer-rated aggression and more social competence. Intervention classrooms had a more positive atmosphere, a higher level of interest and enthusiasm, and a greater ability to stay focused than comparison group classrooms.

SNAP® Under 12 Outreach Project Effective - More than one study
A multisystemic intervention for boys under age 12 displaying aggressive and antisocial behavior problems. This program is rated Effective. It was associated with a significant decrease in children’s delinquency and aggression scores as well as a significant reduction in children’s levels of behaviors such as rule-breaking, aggression, and conduct problems. However, there was no significant effect of the program on the total numbers of convictions.

Preventive Treatment Program Promising - One study
A prevention program aimed at disruptive kindergarten boys and their parents, with the goal of reducing short- and long-term antisocial behavior. The program is rated Promising. There were some positive effects of the program found in the short term, but the effects seemed to disappear by the time the boys were 15 years old. However, positive effects were found by the time the boys were 24 years old, and mixed effects were shown through the time the boys were 28 years old.

Al’s Pals: Kids Making Healthy Choices Promising - One study
An early childhood curriculum designed to increase the protective factor of social and emotional competence in young children and to decrease the risk factor of early and persistent aggression or antisocial behavior.

Rochester Resilience Project (RRP) Promising - One study
A school-based intervention to improve the social-emotional and behavioral skills of young children (K – 3rd grade) at risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse. This program is rated Promising. The program had a significant, positive effect on measures of children’s task orientation, behavior control, assertiveness, and peer social skills. The program was also associated with a significant decline in the average numbers of suspensions and office disciplinary referrals.

Family Check-Up (FCU) for Children Promising - One study
The program is a preventative, family-based intervention targeting families with young children who possess risk factors for child behavioral misconduct. The program is rated Promising. Evaluation results suggest that the intervention indirectly reduced child problem behavior via parental positive behavior support. More specifically, the intervention appeared to significantly increase levels of parents’ positive behavior support, which in turn significantly reduced children’s problem behavior.

SNAP® Girls Promising - One study
Formerly known as SNAP® Girls Connection, the program includes concurrent child and parent groups, as part of a multi-component intervention for girls with disruptive behaviors and their families. The program focuses on self-control, problem solving, and emotion regulation to improve pro-social skills and reduce disruptive behavior. The program is rated Promising. The girls in the treatment group displayed significantly lower levels of behavior problems than the girls in the comparison group.

Behavioral, Emotional, and Social Training: Competent Learners Achieving School Success (BEST in CLASS) Effective - One study
A classroom-based intervention, delivered by teachers, designed to prevent emotional and behavioral disorders in high-risk children. The program is rated Effective. Intervention group children showed statistically significant improvement in behaviors, social and behavioral competence, and student-teacher relationships, compared with control group children. Intervention group teachers showed statistically significant improvements in instructional practices, compared with control group teachers.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 2 - 10

Gender: Both

Settings: Inpatient/Outpatient, Other Community Setting, School

Practice Type: Classroom Curricula, Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, Group Therapy, Individual Therapy

Unit of Analysis: Persons

Alex Piquero
Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs
School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas
Richardson TX