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10 Ways to Teach Children Impulse Control

Discipline Strategies to Help Kids Develop More Self-Control


Many child behavior problems result from a lack of impulse control. If you’ve got a 6-year-old who can’t keep his hands to himself or a 16-year-old who has a mouth that gets him into trouble, it’s probably an impulse control problem.

Developing impulse control requires a variety of skills. Most children develop impulse control slowly over time. You can help your child develop those skills through a variety of discipline strategies.

Read More: Surprising Reasons Why Impulse Control is So Important

1. Teach Kids About Feelings

Laughing girls playing in grassy field
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When kids develop an understanding of the difference between feelings and behaviors, it can help them control their impulses. A child who understands that it is okay to feel mad but not okay to hit, can see that he has choices about how to deal with his feelings without reacting impulsively.

2. Teach Listening Skills

Sometimes kids behave impulsively because they don’t listen to the directions. Before you’ve finished your sentence, they are up and moving without really hearing what you said. Teach your child to listen to the directions first by having them repeat back what they’ve heard before they take action.

3. Teach Problem-Solving Skills

When children learn problem-solving skills, they’ll learn how to think before they act. Teach your child how to develop several solutions to a problem and then analyze which solution is likely to have the best outcome. Then, instead of instinctively hitting a peer who cuts in front of him in line, he can problem-solve several different ideas of how he can respond.

4. Teach Anger Management Skills

Lack of frustration tolerance can be a big factor in impulse control. Teach your child how to manage his anger so he can calm himself down when he’s upset. Time out can be a great way for kids to learn how to calm themselves down, as long as it is used as a consequence and not a punishment. He’ll be less likely to seek revenge, break things or hurt people when he has a better understanding of how to manage his anger.

5. Establish Household Rules

Developing clear rules can help children have a better understanding of what is expected of them. When kids know that there is no hitting allowed, they are less likely to hit. Make it clear what the negative consequences will be if the rules are broken and your child will be less likely to break the rules.

6. Provide Structure

Providing structure can help you keep your discipline consistent and your routine the same. When kids know what to expect, there is less chaos and less opportunity for impulsivity. Set clear limits and repeat the rules often. If you are consistent in saying, “You need to hold my hand in the parking lot when we get out of the car,” each and every time you go to the store, your child will be much less apt to take off running in the parking lot.

7. Practice Delayed Gratification

Help your child learn how to delay gratification. Sometimes parents don’t tell kids about fun activities or surprises until right before hand because they know their child will pester and ask about it constantly. However, kids need opportunities to practice patiently waiting. A token economy system can be a great way to help kids practice delaying gratification.

8. Model Appropriate Behavior

Your child will learn a lot about impulse control by watching you. Model appropriate ways to wait patiently and tolerate delayed gratification. Teach your child how to use self-talk by speaking out loud to yourself or to him when you are waiting. This can help your child learn how to develop his own internal dialogue that will help him manage his impulses.

9. Encourage Physical Activity

When kids are physically active they have a better chance at managing their impulses. When they’re a bundle of energy, they are more likely to act without thinking. Encourage moderate amounts of physical exercise and activity to keep them physically and mentally healthy.

10. Play Impulse Control Games

Play games that provide a young child with a fun way to practice impulse control. Games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Follow the Leader require impulse control. There is also research from Stanford University that shows that playing memory games can improve impulse control.

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