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Locus of Control – Strengthening Sense of Control During Chaos

As schools close or convert to online education for the semester, there is a rise in pressure for parents and students to perform well under great change. The degree to which a student believes he or she can handle the task at hand will greatly influence educational achievements over the upcoming months. Students are now required to learn and to learn how to do so online. 

Psychologist Julian B. Rotter developed the concept of locus-of-control in 1954, which represents the continuous scale of whether a person believes his/her actions influence the outcome of events in life (internal) or if their success or failure is a result of outside forces at play (external). A variety of questionnaires have been created to determine where an individual naturally falls. As children develop, their locus of control tends to naturally gravitate toward the internal state. However, there are ways to strengthen this concept in people, young and old alike. Strengthening the locus of control is an important step to achieve both internal happiness and external success, especially during times of chaos. Rotter argued that a person’s locus of control will be more accurate in novel circumstances, such as times of great change and upheaval. Therefore, it is important to remember that the locus of control is not fixed but learned. Below, we have laid out several strategies for strengthening a student’s locus of control during times of chaos. 

Focus On What Is In Your Control

At this time, we can not reopen schools and workplaces. However, we can promote wellness and education at home. With your student, identify educational or life goals. Discuss the ways that you, as a household, can support these goals. By focusing on the things under his or her control, the student develops a stronger locus of control and reaps the benefits motivationally. 

Ask your student to Identify his or her goals and divide them into steps. Simply ask, “what do you want to achieve this week?” Next, mark whether each item as “under my control” or “outside of my control”. Then, help your student to create a plan for how to achieve these goals. 

For example, your student might rattle off a list like that says “I want to get all of my assignments turned in all time, I want to see my friends, and I want the weather to be nice.” Help the student eliminate the one thing on the list that cannot be controlled, the weather. Then, create an action plan to tackle the items that can be controlled. For example, your student can create a daily schedule, use visual timers to establish work time and break time, and use a checklist to make sure all of the assignments are turned in on time. Try to help your student recognize how many things are in fact under his or her control. Yes, he or she might not be able to go to a friend’s house during this time, but there are plenty of ways to virtually spend time with friends. 

In times of change, it is important that we support students by providing not only a sounding board for emotions but also a partner to help solve problems. The process above is the best way to help your student regain a sense of control and stay productive during this “new normal.” 

Turn criticism into growth.

We frequently discuss the importance of developing a growth mindset. However, a growth mindset is particularly important during times of chaos. Anticipation and reality can appear as polar opposites during this chaotic time. Students might struggle with locus of control, but inevitably this will lead to the development of a fixed mindset. 

Especially with the overhauled system of academic achievement as schools go online, students who normally succeed might experience more failure than they are used to. To combat this and keep students progressing, we encourage them to practice self-compassion when they fail. Instead of trying to change the past, something they cannot control, we encourage them to focus on what they can control, growth. Simple redirects can make all the difference. Apply the “name it to tame it” principle from Dr. Dan Siegel for emotions first. Then, ask the million dollar question: “what can you learn from this to do better next time?” This simple trick strengthens a student’s locus of control and develops a growth mindset. 

Seek support.

Everyone needs a helping hand. Parents, teachers, and students alike are facing new and scary challenges during this chaotic time. To encourage a locus of control, students need a reliable support system. This includes parents, siblings, teachers, grandparents, and even academic coaches like us. Reminding students that they have plenty of people “in their corner” can make all the difference as they combat new challenges. Please check out our services page for more information. 

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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