Using Books to Teach Kids About Self-Control: 28 Top Impulse Control Picture Books for Children
Updated: Sep 30
Self control is an important skill to teach children. One of my favorite ways to introduce new social emotional learning topics like impulse control or self-discipline to kids is through bibliotherapy, or reading books in counseling sessions with kids. I work with elementary aged children these days, so I'll be sharing some of my top favorite picture books that I've found to be the best to work on self-control with kids, in fact, I'm sharing 28 books on self-control here!
I use a lot of books in my counseling work with children because I have seen so many times in my life that a child really resonates with a book, and feels seen when they see their story represented in a book. If you want to check out some of my favorite videos for teaching kids self-control and self-management skills, check out this blog post!
Send a Positive Note Home!
Do you want to involve parents more? A great way to involve them is to keep a pile of positive notes home, ready to go! Each of my Social Skills Treasury activity kits comes with a letter home to parents, and these positive notes home to increase positive reinforcement and parental engagement! I love sending notes like this home and as a Mom I love receiving them too! Scroll up to the top of this page and subscribe to my SEL Free Resource Library and you can download these today (along with a bunch of other goodies!)
Hunter and His Amazing Remote Control by Lori Ann Copeland - I love this book so much that I even started a 10 week self-control counseling group based on this book! In the story, a boy named Hunter designs a remote control for his brain to help him practice 8 different skills like, pausing, slowing down, cheering himself on with positive self-talk and thinking about potential consequences. If you're interested to see the outline of how I used this book over the course of 8 weeks to help children with ADHD and other neurodiverse learners, please check out this blog post!
Buckle Up by Stephanie Scott is an imaginative book where the child gets to drive on a road trip with a bird named Nini. There is a lot of positivity and some great metaphors in this book like: "stay calm and be alert at all times. Life may throw some curve balls, but together, we can conquer anything!" There are many strategies sprinkled throughout this little gem of a book including breathing techniques, using a checklist, being aware of your surroundings, being prepared, communicating your plan to others, positive self-talk/encouragement, and taking a break.
Eat Pete! by Michael Rex is a super cute short story about a monster who wants to eat his playmate. He practices some self control and doesn’t eat him while playing blocks and cars, but then makes a poor self control choice and eats him, then regrets it and makes amends. So you could also talking about apologizing and saying sorry when you've made a mistake with this cute book too!
Spark by Kallie George is a very cute story about a tiny dragon who is born and then has some trouble controlling his flames. This is a story not only about self-control but also about patience, grit, perseverance, and not giving up. Spark learns to take deep breaths and
practices controlling his flame by trying to toast marshmallows one at a time and drying the dishes carefully with his breath.
Big and Noisy Simon by Joseph Wallace is a great book about self control. Simon always finds that he is in trouble for being too loud, so much so that he even has to miss out on things. He then travels with his parents on a trip to Africa and he learns from observing the elephants who are sometimes very loud and sometimes very quiet that he can actually control himself too. He realizes there are times to be loud - like when he goes to a baseball game, and he can choose the times to be more quiet.
I Really Want the Cake by Simon Philip - I love the way this book is illustrated I am such a fan of Simon Philips work! This is a super cute book about a little girl who is struggling having self-control when her mom bakes a cake that she really wants to eat it.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins - In this story Penelope Rex is a dinosaur who goes to school with children and has trouble making friends because she wants to eat the children. Eventually, Penelope learns how to have self-control and makes friends. This is a good book to discuss self control and its potential consequences.
Think Before You Act: Learning About Self Discipline and Self-Control by Regina Burch is a simple sing along picture book that would be good for preschool or kindergartners, as there is only one sentence per page. This book tells you to think before you act, eat healthy foods, say no to fights, and use self-control keep your hands to yourself.
I Am in Charge of Me by David Parker is a short book that would be good for preschool age children to start introducing the concept of locus of control and positive choices. This book gives some ideas of things that kids are in charge of like what shirt to wear, using an inside voice or an outside voice, choosing which game to play, raising your hand before you speak and walking in the hallway.
Stop and Think: Learning About Self Discipline by Alysa Krekelberg – This book has brief chapters and has three parts. The first part is about accepting feelings of sadness, like when you have to move. In the second part of the book, a boy named Dean is talking to his friend during class and the teacher thinks it’s distracting. Dean learns that it’s annoying to talk while his teacher is talking. He learns to stop himself and raise his hand. And the third part of the book is about controlling your feelings, even when you’re upset. This section recommends taking deep breaths to help you stay calm.
Self-Discipline by Kimberly Jane Pryor - This book starts off by describing what values are and how values guide the way you think, speak, and act. The book then defines what self-discipline is and gives examples of it. It talks about showing self-discipline with your family, with your friends, and with your neighbors. It gives some tips on managing your feelings and ways to show self-discipline by thinking before you speak, controlling your behavior, creating routines, setting limits, and setting and working towards your goals.
How to Be a Superhero Called Self-Control by Lauren Bruckner – I’m a huge fan of Lauren Bruckner‘s books! This is a longer book than any other in the list but it's still great for younger kids! This chapter book that has two parts. The first part is for kids in the second part is for adults. The part for kids gives 15 super powers to help kids maintain self control such as taking deep breaths, creating a mantra, and using your words. Lauren Bruckner is an occupational therapist so a lot of the strategies are sensory-based which many kids really benefit from! Some of the super power strategies include things like like squeezing your wiggles, giving yourself a hug, and giving yourself a head massage. This is a great book with lots of strategies that can be reviewed over time by perhaps learning and practicing one super power skill per day.
Waiting is Not Easy! by Moe Willems - In this fun and relatable book, Gerald the elephant has to wait for a surprise from Piggie. He learns that waiting is hard to do. This is a short, cute picture book that would be great to discuss how difficult being patient can be, and you could then begin a discussion around strategies that might help the child be more patient and wait.
Out of Control Rhino: An Impulse Control Story - This is the story of a rhinoceros named Roxy who struggles with things like cutting in line at the pool, talking over her friends so they don’t have a chance to talk, and taking her friend’s ice cream. Eventually she learns a rhyme from her friend that helps her “stop, think, and wink“ to help her think before she acts by doing things like taking turns, waiting in line, and sharing.
What Should Danny Do? by Ganit Levy and Adir Levy - This is the first book in this Power to Choose series. These are like picture book versions of "choose your own adventure" stories from my childhood, except there are positive lessons in these books.
Danny thinks he is a superhero and his Dad taught him that his most important superpower is the power to choose good actions. In the story you have the power to choose different things for Danny like eating pancakes from a plate he doesn’t like or yelling to get his way, stomping on his brother's foot or telling his brother his behavior isn’t nice, yelling at his mom or telling his brother how cool his shoes are, etc.
What Should Danny Do? School Day by Ganit Levy and Adir Levy - Help Danny throughout his school day make choices like getting ready for school or just keep playing, raising his hand to ask a question or not raising his hand, asking his friend Leo what’s wrong or pretending not to notice that Leo is sad, apologizing to Maddie for letting Webster lose or finding a way to get even with Maddy for being mean.
What Should Danny Do On Vacation? by Ganit Levy and Adir Levy - In this power to choose book, Danny is going on vacation at Paradise Springs Resort. This would be a great book to read right before a summer or school vacation. Danny's vacation has a waterpark, an arcade and a kids club. In the story you get to help Charlie make choices like saying no to his brother or telling his brother that he can have a turn when he’s done playing, or filling up his water with lemonade when he didn’t pay for it or sticking with drinking plain water, or laughing with the kids that are picking on a boy or sticking up for the boy and helping him etc.
If you want to go through any of the Power to Choose books a couple of times wiht kids by making both good choices and poor choices, it does take a while to read it all the way through both ways but the kids love it! If you have a 30 minute lesson or group, this book could take up the whole session.
Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes - Lilly has a new purple plastic purse she wants to share with her class. Her teacher asks her to wait but she doesn't want to and she gets a consequence for her choices. She becomes upset and made another poor choice. She then feels guilty and writes a story about being sorry. Lots of themes here like self control, making mistakes, being respectful, apologizing, and making amends.
Decibella and Her 6 Inch Voice by Julia Cook is a story about a little girl named Isabella who has trouble regulating the volume of her voice and often talks way too loud. Her teacher shows her how to talk more softly and about her 5 voice volumes including her whisper voice, her 6-inch voice, her table-talk voice, her strong speaker voice, and her outside voice. They then practice saying words at the different voice volumes and they review examples for when you would use each of the different voice volumes. This is a great book for teaching kids how to make good choices to control their own voice and become voice volume experts. There are even some tips for parents and educators in the back, which I always appreciate.
Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton - George the dog is left home alone and makes some poor choices like eating a whole cake, chasing a cat, and playing in the dirt. He goes out with his owner and learns to make better choices.
It’s Hard to be Five: Learning How to Work on My Control Panel by Jamie Lee Curtis – This is a very cute book that has so many subjects kids can relate to like not getting a say in things - and doing things you don’t mean to do like "biting Jake ‘cause he cut in line too.It’s hard to be five. It takes Superman skill. Sitting in circles. Sitting so still.“ Another line I loved was “My mind says do one thing, my mouth says another.”
Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker - I love this book series! The superheroes face bad days but instead of making bad choices and super rampaging and destroying towns they know that it’s okay to acknowledge their feelings and cry. Then they use their coping skills and move on to “saving the world in their most super way.” A fun companion activity is to read this book and then have the kids create their own coping skill superhero masks.
You Get What You Get By Julie Gassman - Melvin the squirrel struggles to deal with disappointment well. His teacher had a rule “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit." He uses the rule at home with his sister and everyone was shocked because he usually tantrums at home. Since everyone in his family learns the rule, they started using the same rule at home too!
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein is a cute story where Little Chicken is being read a bedtime story by his Papa but he keeps interrupting the story. He interrupts so many times there are no stories left to read! This is a good book to talk about how interrupting others makes them feel.
Waiting Is Not Forever by Elizabeth Verdick - I love this Best Behavior Board book series by Free Spirit Publishing! This book explores times when you wait (for food, for your turn, for someone to come back) and validates that waiting can be frustrating, the thoughts and feelings you might experience when waiting. It also shares ways to make waiting better
My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook is a story about Louis, a kid who tends to say everything that comes into his mind. His mouth is a “volcano” and he would erupt with his thoughts and blurt out during class, at daycare, and during dinner. He always interrupted, but when he was interrupted. At home, his Mom suggested taking a deep breath to calm down his interruptions. This book is a good ones for kids who struggle with interrupting and blurting out.
Howard B. Wiggle Bottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binkow is a story about Howard B. Wigglebottom and his struggles with listening. He doesn’t listen to his teacher in class, or at lunch, ending with him stuck in the ceiling fan . He keeps struggling with listening, and it doesn't end well for him until he decides to start to listening. He is given a reward for listening, and his life improves when he becomes a better listener. This book is a great resource for children who need to learn to listen.
Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale is a classic book about a shark name Clark. Being bigger and stronger than most of the other fish Clark was often yelling, playing rough, and eating other's lunch. He was always "too much" for the other fish to handle, but he learned the school rule, to stay cool. Clark makes a rhyme to remember this rule, and is even able to help a squid.
Fun Activities and Games to Work on Impulse Control with Kids
Now that you've got your picture books, and videos about self-control, are you looking for some more fun games and activities to work on self-control with children? I have this Self-Control Bundle. You can buy these sets individually, in the self-control bundle, or with other social skills resources at a discount in my Growing Social Skills Treasury Bundle!
All of the Social Skills Treasury sets include:
✔ S.M.A.R.T. IEP and Treatment Plan Objectives for Easy Goal Writing!
✔ Data Collection Sheet
✔ Editable Letter to Families About the Topic
✔ "I Can" Learning Targets Poster
✔ Suggested Companion Resources
✔ Ideas to Extend and Practice the Concept
✔ Resources in Both Color and Black and White
✔ Game Board with Spinner, Pawns, and Dice
✔ 32 Scenario Cards with a Digital and Printable Version
✔ Good Self-Control or Poor Self-Control Sorting Mats
✔ Social Filter: Keep the Thought in Their Head or Say the Thought Out Loud Sorting Mats
✔ 32 Thought Cards with a Digital and Printable Version
✔ Playing a Game Visual Poster
✔ Dice with Reflection Questions
✔ 8 Page Social Story Booklet in Digital and Printable Formats
✔ 24 Game Cards for Discussion and Reflection
✔ Board Game with Spinners, Pawns, and Dice (Digital and Print)
✔ 27 Coloring Pages and Worksheets
✔ Playing a Game Visual Poster
✔ Story with Reflection Questions
✔ Writing Response
✔ Graphic Organizers
✔ Cut and Paste Worksheet
✔ Quotes for Discussion Prompts
✔ 6 Page Self-Control Flipbook
✔ Was I Showing Self-Control Today? Self-Reflection Worksheet
This resource is part of the Social Skills Treasury which is a comprehensive and engaging series of social skills activities and resources designed to help you address lagging skills with kids in a fun way!