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Stop Impulsive Behavior

November 4, 2009
By Drs. Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel

Impulse control is the ability to stop and think before acting. It's one of the executive functions children need to control thoughts and actions.

It's important for parents to remember that young children, 5 and under, are not expected to consistently control their impulses or their thoughts and actions. They rely heavily on adults to help them control themselves.

As kids mature, however, we expect them to internalize rules and to develop better and better self-control so that they are not at the mercy of their impulses. Not all children develop at the same pace as their peers in this critical area, however.

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If you have a child in kindergarten or older who talks excessively or interrupts; grabs, pushes or hits; runs off in stores or has difficulty with homework, she or he could benefit from some behavioral interventions. Here are a few that may help:

When she talks too much or interrupts, try this:

Teach rules she can apply in a variety of settings. Say, "When you walk into a room or join a group, first listen to see what they're talking about. Then you can add a brief comment on the same topic."

Fact Box

Clearly lay out expectations. For example, "Jack and Susan, you will each have a turn with the new pool toy. Ten minutes each. I'll use my watch to keep track of your turn."

Offer a visual cue, such a holding up a hand traffic-cop style. Use rewards to reinforce proper behavior. For example, if she has played quietly while you were on the phone, respond immediately by offering to play a game with her.

When he can't stop from grabbing, pushing or hitting, try this:

Stop the action and do a retake: "Whoa, it's not OK to hurt people. No hitting. I can see that you're angry. You can say, 'I'm mad,' and stomp your foot. Let me hear you say that."

Clearly lay out expectations. For example, "Jack and Susan, you will each have a turn with the new pool toy. Ten minutes each. I'll use my watch to keep track of your turn."

Create a diversion. To keep a child from grabbing toy pieces, for example, as you lay them out for a game, tell him to hold on to the edge of the table while you lay out the game, and then reward him when you're done.

When she can't control a negative or irritating behavior, try this:

Provide a kinesthetic "fidget" toy. Say, "Here's a pipe cleaner to keep your hands busy while we're in line. You may not poke your brother."

Plan in advance. If her restaurant behavior involves kicking under the table, seat her at the end, away from others, and tell her why you are doing so.

-Drs. Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel are clinical psychologists and co-authors of "Late, Lost and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning" (Woodbine House), www.latelostandunprepared.com.

 
 

 

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