Excitable as they are, children can often be seen diving into action or immersing themselves right into things. They’ll interrupt when mom or dad are mid-sentence or run around without checking their surroundings.
It is in part due to childhood innocence; if they have not yet been hurt, how would they know to be cautious?
By and large, impulsiveness is a regular part of childhood and is something that is not necessarily harmless. Unless children throw sharp objects around, hurt themselves or someone around them, there’s no need to be concerned.
Nevertheless, we must remain attentive to our children’s ability to hold on to what they want to say or do. It is a gradual process, not a matter of either you have or not. Impulse control remains an important executive function, one of the many skills that let us plan, focus our attention, and remember instructions. In other words, it is crucial that we allow our children to develop this skill at a pace that is reasonable for their age.
Below, you can find some ways to help your child develop this his/her impulse control:
Teaching by Example
The most basic approach is to lead by example. Kids tend to adopt behaviors not always considering its benefit. Therefore, we should be a good role model and practice the behavior we want our kids to display. To help children visualize this, talk to your children through your thought process. For example, “I would like to watch TV, but I know I have to clean the bedroom first.” Speaking out loud will go a long way in teaching your child to internalize dialogue that helps them manage their impulses.
Give your child fun opportunities to practice delaying gratification. One way to implement this is to reward your child’s good behavior with tokens which they will redeem later for predetermined rewards (preferably non-tangible such as ‘daddy-and-me time’). Let your child also know that there is a more significant reward if he saves enough tokens, like a trip to a theme park or the movies!
Putting A Label on Emotions
Our little angels sometimes jump into action because they don’t know how else to express themselves to us. When we help our children understand their emotions, we help ourselves by reducing the chances of tantrums and teach them to deal with their inconvenience independently. Talk about the differences between feeling and behavior, letting them know that it is okay to feel angry, but that it is not okay to throw things to express that. As always, be sure to lead by example. If they see their parents yelling at each other when they’re angry, they’ll naturally think there’s nothing wrong with doing the same.
Drilling It in With Repetition
Sometimes, our children want to see our faces light up with pride that they’ve done something well. So, when you give them instructions, they nod and get right to it. Instead, ask your child to repeat your directions before they get moving. Make sure to praise them so they’ll feel encouraged to do it again next time!
Keep It Positive
Use games like ‘Simon Says’ and ‘Red Light Green Light’ that give children ample opportunities to practice impulse control. With these games, they’ll learn to wait for instructions, or to stop and think, all while they’re enjoying themselves. You can also have your child practice reading with a partner, taking turns to read each paragraph and letting them practice waiting for their turn.
Consistency Is Key
Our children need us to be consistent, or they might get confused as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. Simple things like “Hold my hand and look both ways before crossing the road,” will go a long way if you practice this each time we approach the street. Routines will create less opportunity for chaos, which helps to reduce impulsive behavior.
While helping our children develop impulse control, do remember that it is a learning process and not an overnight change. Praise them to acknowledge good behavior and encourage your children when they make a mistake. Even adults make mistakes at times, so let them know that it is normal to make a once-in-a-while mistake and motivate them to do better next time.