How to improve impulse control for more success with simple tips

Recently, we’ve shared a lot of information related to impulse control. This executive functioning skill is essential for most daily tasks! When kids struggle with prioritization, planning, time management, persistence, then impulse control can suffer. Likewise, difficulties with sensory processing, modulation, or direction following can limit a child’s ability to utilize self-control in order to inhibit their impulses.

These easy ways to improve impulse control are quick tips and tricks that can help kids address impulsivity.

How to improve impulse control for more success with simple tips

▪ Use those real life situations to assess what worked, what didn’t work, and talk about it! Sometimes looking at a big picture can help kids.

▪ Research tells us that as the day progresses, it is harder for us to maintain and utilize self-control. Make smaller goals later in the day.

▪ Encouraging statements can boost and rally! Use imagery to picture successes in typical situations. Find an encouraging statement that really speaks to the child and ask them to repeat it, sing it, and dance to it! Get silly to make it stick in their minds.

▪ Rest, a healthy diet, enough sleep, physical exercise, and time of day all make a difference in willpower. The interoceptive system is a powerful sensory system when it comes to impulse control.

▪ Physical exercise also leads to changes in the function and s tructure of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. Regular exercise such as mindful exercises like yoga and stretching as well as intense cardiovascular exercise helps us become more resilient to stress.

▪ Teach kids how to manage stress. When we experience stress, it means that our body’s energy is used up and we act instinctively. Decisions made under stress are often times based on short-term outcomes.

▪ Self-control and reining in those impulses requires monitoring. This includes keeping track of your thoughts, feelings and actions in any given situation. Help kids monitor their actions with quick self-checks.

▪ Write down the rules. A prerequisite to impulse control includes a knowledge of standards. These personal and assumed guidelines steer us in the “right direction” of following rules. This might include classroom rules, society’s rules, rules of communication, personal standards, and moral guidelines. For the child with sensory processing challenges, communication difficulties, executive functioning issues, these standards can be very difficult to perceive and know! It can be very stressful for these children to know there are rules, but they don’t know exactly what they are.

These strategies are easy to address but can sometimes not carryover well into typical daily tasks.
That’s why I created The Impulse Control Journal.

The Impulse control journal is a printable journal for kids that helps them to identify goals, assess successes, and address areas of needs. The Impulse Control Journal is a printable packet of sheets that help kids with impulse control needs.

Read more about The Impulse Control Journal HERE.

The Impulse Control Journal has been totally revamped to include 79 pages of tools to address the habits, mindst, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids.

More about the Impulse Control Journal:

  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights
  • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals
  • Mindset,Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self-confidence
  • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom
  • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence
  • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How to improve impulse control for more success with simple tips

Today’s world makes it harder than ever to teach kids impulse control. After all, we’re used to instant gratification.

As stores boast, “No lines, no waiting,” and online TV shows prevent us from having to sit through commercials, we have fewer opportunities to practice patience.

However, impulse control is vital to a child’s success. Not all things in life happen instantly. Whether your child wants to save money for a big purchase, or they’re trying to learn a new skill, self-control is key.

Impulse Control Linked to School Success

Kids with self-control can successfully stand in line, wait their turn when playing a game, and think before they act. They also tend to have more success with their peers because they’re able to resist peer pressure and resolve problems.

Impulse control contributes to academic success as well. According to neuroscience researchers Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, co-authors of “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain,” self-control is twice as important as intelligence when it comes to academic achievement.

Children who can control their impulses are better able to think about their answers before writing them down and have better critical thinking skills to solve problems. They can also tolerate more frustration when problem-solving.

The Marshmallow Experiment

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment highlights the importance of impulse control in children. The famous study involved a series of experiments conducted in the 1960s and 1970s by Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University.

The researchers tested children’s abilities to delay gratification. Children between the ages of four and six were given a choice between having one marshmallow in the present moment or two marshmallows in 15 minutes.

Most children in the experiment attempted to wait the 15 minutes to have two marshmallows. In the end, many of them gave in to temptation—only about 30 percent of the children were able to successfully delay gratification.

The researchers noted that the kids who were able to wait also showed an improved ability to handle stress and manage their anger. These children were able to distract themselves and use self-talk to coach themselves as they waited.

Other children were successful by reducing temptation. For example, some kids pretended the marshmallow was a cloud while others told themselves it was only a picture of the marshmallow instead of the real thing.

A follow-up study on the children who were able to delay gratification found that they exhibited fewer behavior problems later in childhood. They were also more popular with their peers and sustained longer friendships.

Impulse control also served them well later in life: the kids who were able to delay gratification early on had higher SAT scores as teenagers.

A 2017 study published in Economics Letters found that childhood self-control can predict whether an individual will contribute to a retirement plan as an adult. The researchers concluded that childhood self-control predicted a 4 to 5 percentage point higher probability of having a pension.

Normal Impulse Control by Age

In terms of impulse control, here’s what you can expect from your child at each stage of development:

  • Toddlers: Toddlers lack impulse control in almost every aspect of their lives. They throw themselves to the ground, kick, or hit without regard to anyone or anything around them. Even with their normal lack of impulse control, toddlerhood is a great time to start introducing the concept of patience to your child.
  • Preschoolers: Preschool children should be having fewer tantrums and be actively gaining better problem-solving skills. However, it’s normal for them to continue to have occasional outbursts, including aggression.
  • Grade Schoolers: Grade school children should have a good handle on impulse control with regard to their bodies. For example, they’re usually less apt to grab something out of someone’s hand and should be able to respond to a problem without aggressive behavior. It’s normal for them to struggle with verbal impulses, as many kids at this age make rude comments or blurt out answers without thinking.
  • Teens: Most teens believe they have full control over their impulses, but developmentally, this isn’t likely. When compared to adults, teens tend to be bigger risk-takers, more emotionally volatile, and more vulnerable to peer pressure. Their developing brains continue to cause them to focus more on short-term gains rather than the long-term consequences of their actions.

Teach Self-Control

Impulse control isn’t an innate characteristic; it a learned skill that any child can develop. As a parent, you’ll need to proactively teach your child impulse control skills.

With practice and guidance, your child will improve their ability to think before they act, which can help prevent behavioral problems in the future.

What is impulse control and what is normal development of impulsivity in child development?

Speaking out of turn. Pushing into a classmate in the bathroom line. Interrupting adult conversations. Grabbing a toy from a friend. Impulse control in kids can look like a lot of different things. But what is normal self-control in kids and what is considered impulsivity that interferes with social interactions and emotional wellness? Below we’re going to discuss what is impulse control and how to begin to work on impulsivity strategies so kids can succeed in learning and social situations. Helping kids learn impulse control can be tricky! It helps to understand what impulsivity looks like, what is normal development, and other considerations.

You may want to check out this toolbox of tips on how to teach kids impulse control.

How to improve impulse control for more success with simple tips

What is impulse control?

The definition of Impulse control is as varied as we are as individuals. The thing is, we are all driven by different desires and internal ambitions. Impulse control generally refers to the ability to control oneself, especially one’s emotions and desires. The way these impulses present is expressed as actions, thoughts, behaviors and can occur in any situation but especially in difficult situations.

Here are easy ways to improve impulse control in kids.

Impulse control requires self-regulation, internal drive, coping strategies, and other internal skills in order to filter impulses as they present in various situations.

Impulse control disorder

In order to present with a diagnosis of an impulse control disorder, a set of specific symptoms and signs must be present. These specific symptoms vary depending on the individual and other factors such as developmental level, age, gender, internal drive, and other considerations. However, the signs and symptoms of impulse control disorder generally include different behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms. The specific diagnosing factors are not going to be discussed in this particular post but it is worth mentioning that these can present in many different ways. For example, some kids may have aggression, lying, stealing, risky behaviors, low self-esteem, irritability, impatience, and other presenting factors.

For more information on impulse control disorder and if you think this is a concern that should be addressed in an individual, please reach out to a physician.

Impulsivity definition

Medically speaking, the definition of impulsivity refers to an inclination to act on an impulse rather than a thought. Those of us who are generally impulsive in most situations, have difficulty curbing their immediate reactions or think before they act. This can look like the child that speaks without raising his hand in the classroom. It can be a hasty decision. It can be inappropriate comments.

Impulse control development

The thing is, impulse control is a HARD skill to refine. All of us have trouble with impulse control at one time or another! Think about that last time you received an unexpected bill. Maybe you grabbed a cookie or six to calm your nerves. What about when you ran over a pot hole and ended up with a flat tire on the freeway. Did an expletive escape your lips? Impulse control is hard when our minds and body’s are dealing with difficult situations.

The thing is, that we learn to deal with the everyday stuff without eating dozens of cookies or yelling obscenities at our car radio. We filter information, adjust to situations, and make behavioral, mental, and psychosocial responses accordingly.

How does development of impulse control happen?

Impulse control skills reside in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain doesn’t fuly develop until we are in our twenties. It’s easy to see why impulsivity is such a common theme up through early adulthood!

Additionally, sensory modulation, emotions, outside situations, difficult environments, illness, stress, anxiety, and so many other issues can compound impulsive acts.

In fact, impulse control doesn’t begin to develop until around age 3.5- 4.

We will be covering development of impulse control more thoroughly in an upcoming blog post.

What does impulse control look like?

We’ve talked about how impulse control looks so different for different people. We’ve covered the fact that different situations can bring about different impulsive responses.

The thing is, impulse control is so varied!

Here are some examples of impulse control in kids:

  • Keeping negative thoughts to oneself
  • Not saying exactly what one is thinking about in the moment
  • Controlling anger and using a coping strategy instead of physically acting out
  • Raising a hand instead of speaking out in the classroom
  • Standing in a line without pushing or shoving
  • Asking to join a friend’s game or activity instead of jumping right in
  • Asking to look at or share a toy instead of just taking it
  • Being patient when having to wait
  • Waiting for instructions on an assignment before starting right away
  • Resisting distractions in the classroom or while doing homework
  • Waiting until dessert to eat a sweet or special treat
  • Not giving up when things are hard

And these are just SOME examples!

Don’t forget to join us in this FREE email course on executive functioning skills and impulse control.

Stay tuned for more information on impulse control coming very soon. We’ve got some great resources and tools to share with you!

Improving impulse control can be tricky because it becomes more difficult each year. This is not something you are born with but something you learn while you grow. To have a good self-control comes in handy especially in cases of addiction and procrastination. Let’s see the best tips to improve this ability to resist doing something you want to do when you are aware of its negative consequences.

The Best Tips on How to Improve Impulse Control

1. Become Aware of the Risks

Think about what life areas are troubling you right now. I, for example, have problems with procrastination. There are days in which I want to accomplish so many things but I cannot do anything, and instead I lose my impulse controls and I end up sitting on the couch watching useless TV programs. Other people might have issues with eating or smoking too much. The first step towards a better impulse control is to identify all the consequences of your actions. You can even ask someone close to you because they might look at the bigger picture.

2. Get to Know Yourself Better

Things such as impulse control and emotional self-control are all part of your emotional intelligence. Once you discover who you truly are and what your motivations are, you can start to manage your emotions and react better to different life situations. Are you able to remain positive during stressful circumstances or not? Are you patient or you react without thinking first? Self-awareness leads to a better self-management.

3. Reduce Stress

To have a better impulse control, a key factor is to lower stress. During very stressful periods, your brain changes the way it functions. This means that your brain impulse control part will not function properly because it is too busy to react to whatever it is exposed to. If you have a lot of things on your mind, it is a lot easier to give in to temptation.

4. Interrupt the Impulse

Set up conditions that help you delay your so-called immediate gratification that develops as an impulse. For example, make sure you don’t keep sweets and snacks in the house while you are on a diet. If you are a smoker and you’re trying to quit, throw away all the cigarettes. Lock up the video games and unplug the TV. This way more efforts will be needed to do those activities that harm you.

5. Maintain the Impulse Control

Now that you’ve interrupted the impulse, it is time to maintain your impulse control. Your desire to do something that doesn’t benefit you will not go away only because you have interrupted the impulse. Therefore, it is necessary to replace bad habits with better healthier ones. Do this gradually. For example, even though you want to lose weight, allow yourself to eat one dessert per week. Otherwise, you might get frustrated.

Final Thoughts

You must know one thing about impulse control. It is like a muscle. It needs constant training. However, make sure you find a balanced situation because if you push too much, your self-control might get strained. As a matter of fact, there is no standard miraculous recipe that works the same for everybody. You need to get to know yourself better before realizing what solutions work best for you.

“Don’t interrupt!” “Keep your hands to yourself!” “Be careful!” Time-outs and lectures won’t magically cure the impulsive tendencies of kids with ADHD. But these real-world tips for teachers and parents just might.

Share Article Menu

How to improve impulse control for more success with simple tips

The problem:

Children with ADHD are often labeled unruly or aggressive because of their impulsive physical and social interactions. Even though these children can be caring and sensitive, their good qualities are often overshadowed by their poor impulse control.

The reason:

Children with ADHD act before they think, often unable to control their initial response to a situation. The ability to “self-regulate” is compromised; they can’t modify their behavior with future consequences in mind. Some studies show that differences in the brain in those who have ADHD are partly responsible for this symptom.

The obstacles:

Many children with ADHD seem to spend their lives in time-out, grounded, or in trouble for what they say and do. The lack of impulse control is perhaps the most difficult symptom of ADHD to modify. It takes years of patience and persistence to successfully turn this around.

Impulse Control Solutions in the Classroom

Posting classroom rules and routines lets children know what’s expected of them, and also serves as a visual reminder for those with ADD who act before they think.

  • Tape “behavior cards” to their desks. Some children benefit from seeing rules like “Raise hands before speaking,” etc. posted directly on their desks. If privacy is an issue, tape the cards to a sheet of paper that remains on the desk during class but can be stored inside the desk when necessary.
  • Post the day’s schedule. Write the schedule on the blackboard and erase items as they are completed. This gives ADHD students a sense of control about their day. Alert the class in advance about any revisions to the daily routine.
  • Prepare kids for transitions. To avoid meltdowns when moving between activities (another stress point), give the class a five-minute warning, then a two-minute warning of a transition, so that ADHD kids have adequate time to stop one activity and start another.
  • Be prepared for impulsive reactions. In situations where a lack of structure or another circumstance might set off an impulsive reaction, have a plan ready to help ADHD kids keep their impulses in check. Perhaps the ADHD student can be given a special job, such as “monitor” or “coach,” to help him stay focused on self-control.
  • Post expected behavior for younger children. Establish the good behaviors you expect from your young students and post them in the classroom. These can be as simple as: “Respect Others,” “Talk Nicely,” “Use an Indoor Voice”. Posting them in the classroom serves as visual reminder to ADHD students.
  • Younger children often respond to a “point system.” This is a system in which they earn pennies or stickers for a positive target behavior. They can redeem their points at the end of the week for a prize.

Impulse Control Solutions at Home & School

  • Discipline can and should be used in certain situations. While ADHD is an explanation for bad behavior, it is never an excuse. ADHD may explain why Johnny hit Billy, but ADHD did not make him do it. Children with ADHD need to understand their responsibility to control themselves.
  • Discipline should be immediate, short, and swift. Delayed consequences, such as detention, don’t work for those with difficulty anticipating future outcomes. Consequences must be instantaneous: If he pushes another child on the playground, recess is suspended for 10 minutes.
  • Provide positive feedback too. Be sure to also offer immediate, positive feedback and attention when kids with ADD behave well. Catch them doing something good. Specifically state what they are doing well, such as waiting their turn.

Impulse Control Solutions at Home

Children with ADHD have difficulty telling right and wrong, so parents must be specific, stating clear, consistent expectations and consequences. Telling your child to “be good” is too vague to address behavioral problems. Instead, be explicit: “When we go into the store, do not touch, just look with your eyes.” “At the playground, wait in line for the slide, and don’t push.” Other strategies to try:

  • Be proactive in your approach to discipline. Respond to positive and negative behaviors equally. Recognize and remark on the behavior, then respond to positive actions with praise, attention, and rewards or immediately discipline negative actions.
  • Hold your child accountable. Making your child understand what he did wrong is essential in molding a responsible adult. However, delayed punishment may prevent a child from understanding its relationship to the misbehavior. Punishment must come soon after the misbehavior.
  • Let the punishment fit the crime. Hitting calls for an immediate time out. Dinnertime tantrums can mean dismissal from the table without dessert. Keep punishments brief and restrained, but let them communicate to your child that he’s responsible for controlling his behavior.
  • Let minor misbehaviors slide. If your child spills the milk because he’s pouring it carelessly or hurriedly, talk to him about the importance of moving more slowly, help him clean the mess, and move on. Every misstep doesn’t warrant significant consequences.

SUPPORT ADDITUDE
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.

“Don’t interrupt!” “Keep your hands to yourself!” “Be careful!” Time-outs and lectures won’t magically cure the impulsive tendencies of kids with ADHD. But these real-world tips for teachers and parents just might.

Share Article Menu

How to improve impulse control for more success with simple tips

The problem:

Children with ADHD are often labeled unruly or aggressive because of their impulsive physical and social interactions. Even though these children can be caring and sensitive, their good qualities are often overshadowed by their poor impulse control.

The reason:

Children with ADHD act before they think, often unable to control their initial response to a situation. The ability to “self-regulate” is compromised; they can’t modify their behavior with future consequences in mind. Some studies show that differences in the brain in those who have ADHD are partly responsible for this symptom.

The obstacles:

Many children with ADHD seem to spend their lives in time-out, grounded, or in trouble for what they say and do. The lack of impulse control is perhaps the most difficult symptom of ADHD to modify. It takes years of patience and persistence to successfully turn this around.

Impulse Control Solutions in the Classroom

Posting classroom rules and routines lets children know what’s expected of them, and also serves as a visual reminder for those with ADD who act before they think.

  • Tape “behavior cards” to their desks. Some children benefit from seeing rules like “Raise hands before speaking,” etc. posted directly on their desks. If privacy is an issue, tape the cards to a sheet of paper that remains on the desk during class but can be stored inside the desk when necessary.
  • Post the day’s schedule. Write the schedule on the blackboard and erase items as they are completed. This gives ADHD students a sense of control about their day. Alert the class in advance about any revisions to the daily routine.
  • Prepare kids for transitions. To avoid meltdowns when moving between activities (another stress point), give the class a five-minute warning, then a two-minute warning of a transition, so that ADHD kids have adequate time to stop one activity and start another.
  • Be prepared for impulsive reactions. In situations where a lack of structure or another circumstance might set off an impulsive reaction, have a plan ready to help ADHD kids keep their impulses in check. Perhaps the ADHD student can be given a special job, such as “monitor” or “coach,” to help him stay focused on self-control.
  • Post expected behavior for younger children. Establish the good behaviors you expect from your young students and post them in the classroom. These can be as simple as: “Respect Others,” “Talk Nicely,” “Use an Indoor Voice”. Posting them in the classroom serves as visual reminder to ADHD students.
  • Younger children often respond to a “point system.” This is a system in which they earn pennies or stickers for a positive target behavior. They can redeem their points at the end of the week for a prize.

Impulse Control Solutions at Home & School

  • Discipline can and should be used in certain situations. While ADHD is an explanation for bad behavior, it is never an excuse. ADHD may explain why Johnny hit Billy, but ADHD did not make him do it. Children with ADHD need to understand their responsibility to control themselves.
  • Discipline should be immediate, short, and swift. Delayed consequences, such as detention, don’t work for those with difficulty anticipating future outcomes. Consequences must be instantaneous: If he pushes another child on the playground, recess is suspended for 10 minutes.
  • Provide positive feedback too. Be sure to also offer immediate, positive feedback and attention when kids with ADD behave well. Catch them doing something good. Specifically state what they are doing well, such as waiting their turn.

Impulse Control Solutions at Home

Children with ADHD have difficulty telling right and wrong, so parents must be specific, stating clear, consistent expectations and consequences. Telling your child to “be good” is too vague to address behavioral problems. Instead, be explicit: “When we go into the store, do not touch, just look with your eyes.” “At the playground, wait in line for the slide, and don’t push.” Other strategies to try:

  • Be proactive in your approach to discipline. Respond to positive and negative behaviors equally. Recognize and remark on the behavior, then respond to positive actions with praise, attention, and rewards or immediately discipline negative actions.
  • Hold your child accountable. Making your child understand what he did wrong is essential in molding a responsible adult. However, delayed punishment may prevent a child from understanding its relationship to the misbehavior. Punishment must come soon after the misbehavior.
  • Let the punishment fit the crime. Hitting calls for an immediate time out. Dinnertime tantrums can mean dismissal from the table without dessert. Keep punishments brief and restrained, but let them communicate to your child that he’s responsible for controlling his behavior.
  • Let minor misbehaviors slide. If your child spills the milk because he’s pouring it carelessly or hurriedly, talk to him about the importance of moving more slowly, help him clean the mess, and move on. Every misstep doesn’t warrant significant consequences.

SUPPORT ADDITUDE
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.

Photo by Jess Lewis / Stocksy United

By Cheryl Flanders

You walk into the kitchen and find your four-year-old on the countertop reaching for the highest cupboard to grab a piece of leftover Halloween candy. This, even though you’ve told him (several times) it’s not safe to climb on furniture and that candy is off-limits until after dinner.

Is he purposely disrespecting your warnings just to do what he wants? Not necessarily.

At this age, kids are still learning to think before they act. Inhibitory control, also called self-regulation, is one of a vital set of skills collectively known as executive function. It’s what keeps you from blurting out every thought in your head, walking into traffic because you’re in a hurry, or leaving work in a huff because a coworker slighted you—or, in your munchkin’s case, making an unsafe expedition to the top of the highest cupboard to procure a little sugar. At that moment, his impulse to act on his sugar quest is strong; in comparison, your safety warnings are barely a whisper in the wind. The only thing he knew? He wanted candy, like right now.

Developing inhibitory control is extremely important to your child’s future social relationships, emotional development, and classroom learning. Waiting her turn, for example, will be an expectation both in school and in life. Should another child refuse to share a toy, she will need to exercise her inhibitory control in order to stop, think, and respond appropriately.

That’s why it’s so important to give your child chances to practice inhibitory control every day (which, yes, can require a lot of patience). Here are several fun activities you can do at home to help your child practice impulse control:

1. Freeze Dance and Red Light, Green Light. Not only does your little mover and shaker have the chance to get all her wiggles out in these games, she also has to stop her movements upon demand, which helps develop her brain’s ability to control impulses. Not familiar with Freeze Dance? Just turn on some music and dance very fast, then very slow, then back to fast, and turn it off completely every so often—and ask your child to freeze in position when the music turns off.

2. Mindful breathing. When he gets stressed out and can’t control his emotions, mindful breathing is the way to go—just being aware of his breaths can help him feel calmer and more relaxed. Help him focus on his breaths with some imaginative techniques: Smell a flower by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, or breathe like a bunny by taking in three quick sniffs through the nose and letting out one long exhale through the nose.

3. Board games. Simple board games can help your child practice the art of waiting her turn. Games like Ker Plunk and Don’t Break the Ice are great beginning board games (although they don’t actually use boards). Try taking it up a notch for older kids with a game of Jenga. Not only do they have to wait their turn, they have to work cooperatively with other players—a bonus skill!

Children act out in all kinds of ways, from tantrums to aggression to embarrassing remarks. Often, such outbursts may seem like an inevitability of childhood.В Yet according to neuroscience researchers Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, who co-authoredВ Welcome To Your Child’s Brain, “childhood self-control is twice as important as intelligence in predicting academic achievement.” So the question persists: How do we help our children manage their impulsivity? Three significant factors play into a child’s impulsivity profile: temperament, executive functioning, and development.

Temperament

Certain characteristics, such as child activity level, adaptability, mood intensity, and attention span, are instinctive rather than a result of parenting. Take note of your child’s temperament by identifying his reactions to situations or stimuli. Reflect on your own temperament and how it matches (or mismatches) your child’s: Recognize his or her feelings as separate from yours, but still valid. Taking this into consideration may affect your response to your child’s impulsivity. A shy child’s hesitancy can be more frustrating to the extrovert parent than it would likely be to the introvert parent, who would more easily understand and relate to the child’s temperament. In this case, a parent with a very controlled personality might misconstrue an impulsive child’s actions as defiance or refusal to listen.

Executive Functioning Skills

To an extent, some executive functioning skills — including the ability to think, plan, problem-solve, and execute tasks — are also inborn. For example, some children struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) while others suffer from hyposensitivity (when a child is “under-sensitive”). In general, overstimulation of executive functioning skills leads to unwanted consequences: Children have less available mental capacity to control impulses and less mental energy available for learning.

What can parents do? While you cannot control the temperament your child is born with, you can foster and support executive functioning capabilities. Early childhood and developmental psychology expert Dr. Becky Bailey believes the key to developing impulse control (and to allowing more mental energy to be available for learning) is to help your child respond with the thinking-planning part of his brain — with his executive function skills — as opposed to simply responding reactively in a flight-or-fight manner or with emotional defenses such as name-calling.

Development and Impulsivity

Ages Birth-2:В Even newborns have ways to regulate overstimulation (e.g., turning away from light or noise). Observe these calming forces and build off the skills your baby already has — this will build on his capacity to put a moment between impulse and action.В Toddlers struggle to balance theirВ intense drive for independenceВ with recognition of their own incompetence. When your child acts out (e.g., hitting or biting), stop the behavior with short, firm commands: “No hitting. Hitting hurts.” Then validate his frustration or anger and model appropriate ways to express them, such as throwing a soft ball at a target or roaring like a tiger who then gets quiet. Such strategies establish neural connections between survival instinct impulses and the executive brain’s understanding of limits and boundaries.В

Ages 3-4: Preschoolers are discovering the power of language to assert their needs and desires despite sometimes overwhelming emotions. Help your child develop strategies to withstand temptation; for delayed gratification, have her think about the desired item as a less tempting inanimate object. These problem-solving strategies allow your child to connect her emotional impulses with her executive functioning brain (“I have ways to succeed”). Over time, she will learn how to experience emotions instead of leading with them.

Ages 5-6:В Promote self-control through physical games and experiences, as opposed to expecting your child to sit and focus for long periods of time. Aamodt and Wang suggest that physical activity boosts academic performance, so support learning through control-building games like Red Light/Green Light or Simon Says. В В

Ages 7-8:В Seven- and eight-year-olds possess highly developed imaginative play capabilities, which are a perfect forum to build concentration and self-regulated rule structures. When your child steps out of bounds, help her learn ways to soothe herself. Model taking a break, finding a new focus (like naming all the colors in the room), counting backwards to reengage the thinking part of the brain, and physically moving to redirect mental energy.В

Ages 9 and up:В At this point, children are honing distinct interests and personalities. Support your child to set and achieve his own goals. This not only builds self-control and fosters executive function skills, but also helps him learn rules for successful management.В

5 More Ways To Encourage Self-Control

Use the Impulse Control Techniques PDF below to jump-start your kid’s self-control and impulse control skills!

Although kids with ADHD are most associated with having a lack of impulse control, (and for good reason- it’s a defining factor of the diagnosis!) ALL kids need to develop their impulse control ‘muscles.’

Impulse control isn’t something that comes naturally to many kids. And it’s something we are still working on as adults! (Think about the last time you walked past the candy jar. Or how many times you can go into Target and ONLY get the things on your list. I’m just saying, the struggle is real.)

If you’ve noticed that your kid tends to interrupt, has trouble listening to directions, or generally seems to act without thinking, these are all signs of under-developed impulse control. But it’s never too late to help your kids strengthen those impulse control muscles!

Try Out The Impulse Control Techniques PDF

This free printable is a great place to begin. You’ll get new ideas for impulse control activities for kids- that you can do today! And you’ll have a place where both you and your kid can learn about how to recognize and label the feeling of impulsivity. That’s a critical step in learning to control impulses

How to improve impulse control for more success with simple tips

How to Use the “Impulse Control Techniques PDF”

You’ll notice there are 2 sections to this printable. The technique we’re using here is stunningly simple, but so effective. First, identify the problem. Second, put actions in to place to improve the problem. So let’s briefly go over each step!

1. Label and Recognize the Feelings

The first step here is to call-out and label what impulse control looks like in your kid’s life. By recognizing times when they are good at resisting impulses, and times that they are not, you can help identify their strengths and then carry those throughout the rest of their day.

2. Activities to Build Stronger Impulse Control Muscles

Now that they know what that impulsive feeling is, you’ll need to help your kid strengthen their impulse control muscles. Your kid needs a chance to slowly build up these skills. It’s not a light switch; self-regulation and self-control takes time to improve. But you can have fun getting there with these impulse control activities for kids!

Further Reading

You might want to check out these other articles about impulse control, ADHD, and ways to make this challenging parenting journey a little more fun!

Start Addressing Impulse Control Today

If you’ve been concerned about your kid’s impulse control, try starting with the activities on this impulse control printable. Get your FREE download by using the sign-up form below.