Impulse Control

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Raising children requires a lot of patience. With the busy schedules and demands of homework and extracurricular activities, many parents feel overwhelmed and exhausted. The last thing we want to deal with is siblings fighting or notes from the teacher that our child was disruptive and/or impulsive. How can we help our children to succeed at school and relationships?

Let’s first discuss what “impulsive” actually means. Put simply, “impulsive” means to take action without thinking it through. We may see this when a child grabs a toy out of another child’s hand rather than asking for it, when a student blurts out an answer in class, or throws a fit because they didn’t win the game. Impulse control is a normal part of childhood development, however, some children may need extra assistance in controlling impulses.

Parents can help kids manage impulses by providing consistent structure.

Parents can help kids manage impulses by providing consistent structure. This means being intentional with expectations and schedule. Maintaining a regular schedule allows kids to prepare for what’s ahead. Often, transitioning from one task to another presents an opportunity for impulsiveness as the child may not want to switch gears or may feel impatient waiting for the next task to begin. Giving reminders several times before the transition of what will be happening provides kids time to process and accept the change. For example, a teacher may tell the class “Students, you have 10 more minutes of recess before we head inside for a bathroom break.” The teacher may remind the students again at 5 minutes until time to transition.

Children struggling with impulsive behaviors also benefit from consistent expectations.

Children struggling with impulsive behaviors also benefit from consistent expectations. Parents can teach behavior management to kids by providing them with age appropriate and achievable expectations to follow. Posting expectations somewhere visible in the home and going over them every day reminds children to put forth effort to follow them. Another important aspect of expectations is rewards and consequences. Finding the right motivators is important in helping the child work towards their goals. Similarly, consequences need to have a clear tie-in with the behavior so that the child understands. Rewards and consequences should come with explanations and discussions to ensure the child is learning from the behavior.

Another important aspect of gaining control of impulses is learning self-regulation.

Another important aspect of gaining control of impulses is learning self-regulation. Parents can model self-regulation for their children by showing control over their own emotions and behaviors. Showing positive ways to deal with anger and disappointment, such as talking it out, teach children positive coping skills. Parents can also teach these skills through games where patience is rewarded (Quiet Mouse, Red Light, Green Light, Mother May I, etc.) and limiting instant gratification entertainment (video games, computer games, etc.).

Setting the intention of assisting children in impulse control is a great start. Hopefully, the tools mentioned above will provide some extra guidance. If more information or guidance would be helpful, utilize resources available such as counseling, books, and friends that can provide a listening ear.

Contributed by Hilary Musgrove, M.A. Professional Counseling