My kids have been getting pretty good at helping in the kitchen, so when they asked if they could make cookies, I was for it. All went well until the cookies came out of the oven. The kids began arguing about whether the cookies needed more time. My son grabbed the hot pan from my daughter only to be surprised by the sizzle of the heat on his fingers. He immediately threw the pan on the counter. He didn’t burn himself, but he did learn a painful lesson about impulse control.
Knowing how to teach kids impulse control is tricky because it can feel like it’s something they can only learn when they experience the consequences of their actions. Natural consequences are good teachers, but there are games, exercises, and routines that also can help. Here are 3 ideas for each age group: toddlers, elementary kids, and teenagers.
Play impulse control games.
Remember playing Red Light, Green Light? Learning impulse control starts early by learning to listen and respond.
Change your negative words to positive.
If you want your toddler to learn better impulse control, you need to be clear in your directions. Give them words they can use in the future. Stay away from negative words like don’t touch that or no running. Instead, put a positive spin on it like, “Keep your hands to yourself,” or “Walking feet only,” to clear up any confusion.
Know their triggers.
There was definitely an increase in taking breaks when my son was tired or hungry. Knowing your child’s triggers means you’ll know what activities to avoid when you know your child is more prone to acting impulsively.
Name the emotion.
If kids are more aware of how they are feeling, they’ll be less likely to act impulsively on those feelings. I often tell my kids that feelings come and go, but the way you react leaves a mark.
Structure eliminates the guesswork in trying to figure out expectations. Not knowing what comes next can be a source of anxiety for some kids. They are less likely to act impulsively in a given moment if they know exactly what they’re supposed to do in that moment. With routines in place, they’ll be less likely to give you pushback than if you just spring it on them.
Get them active.
One idea for how to teach kids impulse control is to get them moving! Physical activity can help them destress and reset so they are less inclined to act out.
Make sure they get enough sleep.
Research from the University of Ottowa tells us that when teens get enough sleep, they won’t act as impulsively. Keeping screens out of teens’ bedrooms can help ensure that they aren’t just catching up on social media, but that they are catching enough z’s.
Talk through the consequences.
According to an article by Daniel Romer, teens experience an increase of dopamine which means your teen’s brain is rewarding them and encouraging them to take more risks. Talking through consequences can help them make wise decisions when you’re not around.
Have a script.
According to an article in ScienceMag, teens tend to be more impulsive in social situations where they feel threatened. Knowing what to say when faced with peer pressure can prepare your teen for stressful social encounters. If they’re offered alcohol or drugs, they’ll know what to say to get out of it confidently rather than give in because they’re feeling insecure.
What stage is your child in? How will you teach your child impulse control?