Guest Post: Recognizing and Correcting Impulse Control in Your Child

Guest Post: Recognizing and Correcting Impulse Control in Your Child

Article by: Tiara Swinson of

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Does your child have self-control issues? Can he or she reasonably control their impulses and behaviors? Children with poor self-control are more likely to develop aggressive behavior, as well as anxiety and depression. If your child cannot control their impulses, this will greatly affect their social, academic and professional future. If they are never taught to think before they act they will be on a self-sabotaging path that is hard to break from. Developing self-control is an ongoing process, but the major changes and awareness of self-control happens between ages 3 and 7.

Recognizing Impulse Control Issues

How do you know if your child has self-control issues? It is different for every child, but some common behaviors of children with low impulse control are:

  • Having trouble listening or following the rules
  • Behaving silly or inappropriately for attention
  • Being overly aggressive toward other kids
  • Overreacting to disappointment or frustration
  • Always wanting to be first
  • Always wanting the last word
  • Not understanding they can or have hurt people with their words or actions

As I said, this looks different in every child. However, children with self-control issues are often getting into trouble at school or with friends; they will not be invited to playdates and can be labeled as “bad kids.”

Correcting Impulse Control Issues

It is common for these kids to get in trouble without knowing why, and because of this they will often make the same mistake again and again. There are many ways that parents can help their children that goes beyond time-out and punishments.

  • Red Light Green Light: Kids love to play this game. They have a great time and learn impulse control. If they move when they are not supposed to they have to go back to the starting line. Freeze Tag is also a great alliterative. Once your kids are getting better with Red Light Green Light you can switch up the rules or add more colors; i.e. green means stop, red means go, purple means dance, yellow means crawl.
  • Be Frequent, Be Consistent: When learning any new skill, frequency and consistency are necessary to fully understand and master it. Remind your children the rules before a task at hand: “remember to listen to your math teacher” or “remember you can’t touch the soccer ball with your hands unless you’re the goalie.” Repeat the rules each time and as you do see if they can finish the sentence. “Remember not to touch the soccer ball unless you’re the ____?”
  • Reduce Temptation: While children are learning impulse control they often struggle from over-stimulation. Reduce temptation where you can. This can be done by assigning seats, only allowing certain amount of toys out at a time, or giving them two or three options for snack time instead of five or six. Also setting a timer to accomplish tasks and rewarding them for completion helps children understand how to manage their time. Allowing your child to help strategize lets them think about circumstances and fosters self-control
  • Enforce Limits: Self-control is effectively taught through consequences and rewards. An appropriate loss of certain privileges, such as screen time or going out with friends, will help wean out bad behaviors in impulsivity. To the same effect, getting an extra snack or 10 more minutes of play time, after your child has a positive self-control experience will reinforce this behavior
  • Don’t Overwhelm: Learning self-control is a long and hard process. It utilizes parts of the brain that are not regularly used, especially in a child. Self-control takes a lot of focus and energy and if you ask for too much self-control in too short a time your child will burn out, and their bad behavior will return. Instead, it is important to give them breaks between activities that require a lot of self-control, especially when they are starting to learn how to control their impulses.

Children with a well-developed sense of self-control grow up to be happier, more competent and more confident adults. They often perform better in school and on standardized tests. Recognizing if your child has impulse control issues is one thing. Helping them overcome these issues and shaping them into confident, respectable members of society, is where you as a parent will shine.