Locus of Control

Do I have power over my life?  Locus of control is the extent to which people believe they have power over the things that happen in their lives (Cherry, 2019).  We’re borrowing from Psychology a little here, but it definitely relates to Child Development too.  This relates to children and adults.

People with an internal locus of control believe they can influence events (Cherry, 2019; Joelson, 2017).  They look inside themselves when something disappointing happens and they think, “What can I do differently next time so that won’t happen again?”  For example, a teenager with an internal locus gets a bad grade on a test and thinks, “I’ll start studying sooner next time.  I’ll talk to the teacher about what to focus on.  I’ll call a friend to study together.  I’ll get a tutor.”  

Having an internal locus is linked to positive outcomes, such as higher academic achievement, high self-esteem, better physical and mental health, feeling happier and more independent, and having more success at work (Cherry, 2019;  Hosseini et al. 2016; Jain & Singh, 2015; Joelson, 2017; Shepherd, Owen, Fitch, & Marshall, 2006).

People with an external locus of control blame outside forces, such as luck or chance, for the things in their lives (Cherry, 2019; Joelson, 2017).  For example, one day my PowerPoint lecture kept crashing.  I could have blamed the outdated equipment or the IT department, but it may well have been something I was doing differently that day.  

Having an external locus has been linked to worse mental health, including an increased risk of depression and anxiety, as well as adult obesity (Benassi, Sweeney, & Dufour, 1988; Jain & Singh, 2015; Joelson, 2017).  

When you work with young children and you have a bad day, it can be tempting to blame the children, the parents, or the school. Think about what you can change in the environment to make things better.  If the children are jumping off the walls, you can let them go outside for active play sooner.  You can move things around in the room so they don’t jump on certain things.  You have more control than you think.


Benassi, V. A., Sweeney, P. D., & Dufour, C. L. (1988). Is there a relation between locus of control orientation and depression? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97(3), 357-367.

Cherry, K. (2019). Locus of control and your life: Are you in control of your destiny? Retrieved from

Hosseini, S. N., Alavijeh, M. M., Matin, B. K., Hamzeh, B., Ashtarian, H. & Jalilian, F. (2016). Locus of control or self-esteem; Which one is the best predictor of academic achievement in Iranian college students. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 10(1). 

Jain, M. & Singh, S. (2015). Locus of control and its relationship with mental health and adjustment among adolescent females. Journal of Mental Health and Human Behaviour, 20(1), 16-21. 

Joelson, R. B. (2017). Locus of control:  How do we determine our successes and failures? Retrieved from

Shepherd, S., Owen, D., Fitch, T.J., & Marshall, J. L. (2006). Locus of control and academic achievement in high school students. Psychological Reports, 98(2), 318-22.