For children who are overrun by impulses, their behavior is significantly affected – blurting out the answer before they’re called on, shoving to get to the front of the line, or throwing things in the face of disappointment are just a few examples of negative outcomes. While some kids are capable of stopping and considering the consequences of their behavior before engaging in them, the process almost reverses itself for those who struggle with impulse control; it’s not until after they’ve acted out that they face and grasp the consequences.
Although it sometimes takes making an error to learn not to repeat it, it can take several instances of making the mistake before an impulsive child learns the appropriate behavior. When left unattended, this can negatively impact their self-esteem, relationships, and learning abilities. As parents, this can be equally frustrating and disappointing but, with consistency and patience, using the following strategies can have a lasting impact on your child’s self-awareness and control:
Acknowledge & Praise Following Directions – on the First Try. This can build your child’s awareness of appropriate and expected behaviors, and enable them to feel good about what they’re doing so that they are more likely to repeat it. Moreover, when praised for following directions on the first try (e.g., you give them an instruction, and they follow it before you have to remind them a second time), your child can learn about the importance of immediacy in their behavior.
Talk about Stop Signs. Yes, the kind used in traffic control. Explain to your child how stop signs guide cars to prevent accidents, and how people have their own stop signs (thoughts of consequences) to help them avoid mistakes. You can gently remind your child to tune in to and follow their “stop signs” before entering certain settings, and point out when they successfully follow them.
Getting started, it could be helpful to come up with a subtle hand signal you give your child as a reminder to follow their stop signs (for example, if you notice your child getting frustrated, give them the signal – and make sure they notice it – as a reminder to think through their reactions).
Re-Establish & Review Behavior Expectations. I think I speak for everyone when I say that, the more directions there are, the harder it is to remember and follow them (with the number of times I assembled the same dining chairs from IKEA, I still don’t think I could tell anyone how to do it). With children, simple (and clear) is better. Think about instructions you often give, simplify as much as possible, and check in with your child periodically to remind them of these rules. While reviewing, encourage your child to tell or repeat back the directions to you to ensure they know them.
For visual learners, you may want to consider posting the instructions somewhere your child will notice. For example, you and your child could decorate a poster with the directions and place it somewhere, like in your child’s bedroom, where they will often notice.
Allow Wiggle Breaks. When given enough opportunities to be physically active, your child can be less inclined to act out physically. As much as the situation permits, encourage some movement with your child – this can include stretching, jumping jacks, or a quick round of tag.
Don’t Rule out Medication. For some kids, medication can be necessary just to learn, implement, and sustain strategies like what’s already been suggested. That said, it’s worth a discussion with your child’s pediatrician or a psychiatrist to consider the safest, most practical options for your child.
Again, consistency and patience goes a long way when applying these tips. If you’re looking for more support for your child or tips for yourself to help parent your child, contact us today to schedule an appointment.
For a list of books to help teach your child self-control strategies, click here.