How to help children manage their impulsiveness

Impulsiveness is common among children who have special needs. It can cause a great deal of disorganization. The adults who care for special needs children may constantly feel as if they have a time bomb on their hands, since they have no idea when children will “explode”. What’s more, they may have the impression they are walking on eggshells or be afraid even the simplest refusal will spark a tantrum. Does this ring a bell? Probably. After all, impulsiveness is frequently observed in young children.

What is impulsiveness?

If we were to try to define impulsiveness, we may say that it represents the thoughtless side of a person or action. In real terms, impulsiveness is a lack of self-control that leads children to react very quickly, that prevents them from thinking before they act and often, leads them to overreact when they face a negative situation or emotion.

How does impulsiveness manifest itself?

It is not always easy to affirm or confirm that we are really dealing with a problem related to impulsiveness. Very often, at a young age, we believe that a lack of maturity or a lack of self-control causes children to act without thinking. A child who spontaneously hits one of his peers, a child who gets up before you have finished giving your instructions to the group, and a child who disregards rules can all be associated with poor self-control. Children want to have or do something and they immediately spring into action, as soon as the thought crosses their mind.

Several behaviours may be present. Here is a short, non-exhaustive list of behaviors you can encounter. A child may:

  • speak over his early childhood educator.
  • steal another child’s turn.
  • get up very quickly at the end of an activity, before listening to complete instructions.
  • explode with anger when he faces refusal.
  • hit another child when he is approached.
  • make errors caused by inattention, not because of an incapacity.

As previously mentioned, impulsiveness can often be linked to poor self-control which is normal in young children. As children get older, their self-control develops and their impulsive behavior should decrease and become less intense. In one-year-olds, we may observe the first signs of self-control through their brief (but real) capacity to wait. At two or three years of age, children can tolerate frustration without necessarily exploding in anger. In general, at four or five years old, children have the capacity to calm themselves and be flexible. Several factors, such as a child’s temperament, can play a big role in controlling impulsiveness. With time, you will be able to determine whether a child faces an impulsiveness problem. Certain diagnoses, for example, an attention deficit order with hyperactivity, have an impulsiveness component. Once again, most diagnoses will not be made during preschool years, even if your observations lead you to suspect certain difficulties may be present.

How can you help a child control his impulsiveness?

As I often say, it is important that we, as early childhood educators, stock children’s toolboxes with tools that will help them throughout life. This is also true when dealing with impulsiveness. Whether a child’s impulsiveness is developmental or a real problem, your role is to help him manage it. Here’s how you can fulfill this role.

  • Reward good behavior. Impulsive children can, day after day, display a great deal of negative behavior. You may have the impression you are constantly intervening. For this reason, it is highly important that you congratulate impulsive children for good behavior to try to encourage it.
  • Teach children to name their emotions and recognize the signs associated with each one. Managing emotions will have a direct impact on impulsiveness. Teach children methods they can use to control their emotions. Keep in mind that all emotions are healthy. Too often, it is the means children use to express them that you must work on.
  • When a child is going through a difficult situation, take the time to discuss the situation with him to help him identify solutions. Slowly, children will register the acceptable solutions you offer. This may help them avoid explosive situations.
  • Watch for signs that may precede a tantrum or an impulsive act and try to divert children’s attention before it’s too late.

Of course, managing impulsiveness requires a great deal of patience. Take it one step at a time and try to be consistent.

Source.

Teaching your child about impulse control

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.

Delayed Gratification
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.

 

 

Impulse control (video)

The following video is an illustration of how impulse control can come in the way of young students. It important to remind ourselves that having weak impulse control (Response Inhibition) is NOT a character trait, rather a developmental issue that can be solved with coaching.

I encourage you to watch this video with your child (ages 5-8):

Ask them if this situation is familiar, and feel free to share with them the last time it was difficult for YOU to resist what you wanted to say/do. Talk about the how we feel after and how others might feel when we interrupt them in the middle of an activity or a conversation. Finally, invite them to join you in creating ways to deal with the need to say/do something out of turn. Some strategies that work for students in 1st through 4th grades are:

– Sitting on a cushion

– Stretching while sitting

– Asking to be the teacher’s helper.

– Asking to introduce the story (if you are familiar with it).

– Setting a signal with the teacher to take a short break.

These are just examples to help your child think about strategies that work for THEM.

You should feel free to share with me your experience and ask questions if you wish.