7 Strategies to Teach Kids Impulse Control
Many behavioral problems in children are due to a lack of impulse control. But learning how to control one’s impulses is not an easy task. This is due to the fact that the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed in little ones. It’s the part of our brain which deals with this particular task.
Besides, it is not always easy for adults either, so why would it be for children? Impulse control requires diverse skills that you have to start teaching as soon as possible. It’s all about control, a skill that they can begin learning, even from their first social interactions.
Aggressive and omnipresent advertising which tries to boost consumption makes it even more difficult than ever to teach children to control their impulses. At the end of the day, we’re accustomed to giving immediate gratification and, as adults, we also like to receive it. In fact, the stimuli around us urge us to make hasty and thoughtless decisions. Simply because we want to receive something in exchange that will give us instant pleasure. But, the pleasure is also fleeting.
Impulse control and success in school
Although success in school is not directly proportional to one’s future success, the truth is that it can offer many opportunities for one’s adult life. It can also make a child’s relationship with their parents more positive. In general, it can promote their family life.
In this regard, learning to control impulses can help a child overcome important demands that generate stress (homework, tests, etc.), to learn to wait his turn, to learn to listen and to learn to think before he acts.
Knowing how to control impulses also helps the child’s relationships with his peers. And even with his teachers and other adults with which he may interact.
Furthermore, impulse control helps a child learn how to organize his time, especially for studying. In fact, according to neuroscientists Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, self-control is twice as important as intelligence when it comes to academic performance.
It’s noteworthy that children who can control their impulses tend to think about their answers before writing them down and have greater critical thinking abilities to solve problems. Also, they can tolerate more frustration related to problem solving.
Strategies to help children learn to control their impulses
Fortunately, impulse control can be taught and learned. In fact, it isn’t an innate skill. It is possible to help children control their impulses when they are little, without needing to suppress them. You can do so consciously and in a healthy manner. Let’s look at some strategies to achieve this.
Learning to identify their feelings
Only when children are able to differentiate between feelings and behaviors, can they learn to control their impulses. For example, a child must understand that it is normal to feel angry but that it is not okay to hit others or to break things. This is the kind of child who can see that he has options to confront his feelings without reacting with violence.
Developing listening skills
Sometimes children behave impulsively because they have not listened closely. Therefore, they act before they have listened to everything they were supposed to pay attention to. It is fundamental to teach children to listen to instructions and to ask them to repeat what has been said to them. We should make sure there isn’t anything they don’t understand.
Learning to manage and control anger
A low tolerance for frustration provokes a great amount of behavioral problems. That’s why you have to teach children to manage and control their anger. This way, they will be able to calm down when they are upset. Strategies such as teaching them to take a break or pausing before doing anything when they feel angry may teach the child that he is capable of calming himself down.
Model appropriate behavior
Your child is going to learn much more about impulse control from what he sees than from what he is told. Besides offering an appropriate behavioral model, explain what you do when you have a problem in order to control your impulses. It is even better if you explain it with an example that the child has already experienced. Or even better, one that he is currently going through.
Lastly, here are a couple more strategies that can help children learn to control their impulses:
- Children need to learn to resolve their problems on their own. Children should be able to identify the problems they are faced with. They should be able to value their options and make decisions in a logical, thoughtful manner. A child who is capable of analyzing a problem and of thinking about their options will not react impulsively.
- Establish clear cut rules that show them what is expected of them. A child who knows what he has to do is more likely to control his impulses. Especially when he has to make a decision. Or even more so when he clearly knows the consequences of breaking the rules.
- Encourage physical activity in your child. When children are physically active, they can manage their impulses with greater ease. Moderate physical activity, outdoors if at all possible, is especially useful. Competitive games and sports are great activities for teaching impulse control. Competition is very healthy, as long as it is carried out in a controlled and supervised way. It should by overseen by professionals that will defend and work towards avoiding violence within the sport. They will encourage the resolution of problems and a good relationship between the participants.