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Impulse Control Techniques That Work for Children

By Amy Morin, LCSW (

A lack of impulse control is at the root of many behavior problems. An impulsive 6-year-old may hit when he doesn't get his way and an impulsive 16-year-old may share inappropriate content on social media without thinking about the potential ramifications.

Without appropriate intervention, impulsive behaviors can get worse over time. But the good news is, you can teach your child impulse control techniques.

The more impulse control your child gains, the less likely he'll be to grab things out of your hand and he'll be more likely to think twice about accepting that dare from a friend.

1 Teach Your Child to Label Feelings

Kids who don't understand their emotions are more likely to be impulsive. A child who can't say, "I'm angry" may hit to show she's upset. Or a child who can't verbalize, "I feel sad," may throw herself to floor and scream.

Teach your child to recognize her feelings so she can tell you, rather than show you, how she feels.

Start by teaching your child to label emotions, like angry, sad, or scared. Then, talk about the difference between feelings and behavior.

Make sure she knows it's OK to feel angry, but it's not OK to hit. When she can talk about her emotions in a meaningful way, she'll be less likely to act them out.

2 Ask Your Child to Repeat the Directions

Sometimes, kids behave impulsively because they don’t listen to the directions. Before you’ve finished your instructions, they sprinting into action without any idea what you said.

Teach your child to listen to directions by asking him to repeat your instructions before he takes action. Ask, "OK, what did I just tell you to do?"

When he can correctly repeat back what you said—whether it's clean his room or put his homework in his backpack—let him take action.

You may need to start your instructions by saying, "Before you move, I want you to explain the directions back to me."

3 Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Although brainstorming solutions sounds simple, problem-solving can be one of the most effective impulse control techniques.

Teach your child there is more than one way to solve a problem. And it's important to evaluate several potential solutions before springing into action.

So whether your child is trying to fix the chain on her bicycle or she can't figure out her math problem, encourage her to find five potential solutions before taking action.

After identifying possible solutions, help her evaluate which solution is most likely to be effective. With practice, she can get used to thinking before she acts.

4 Teach Anger Management Skills

Low frustration tolerance may cause impulsive outbursts. Teach your child how to manage his anger so he can deal with his emotions in a healthy way.

Show him specific strategies, like taking a few deep breaths or walking around the house to burn off some energy. You can even create a calm-down kit filled with tools that will help him relax.

Send him to time-out when necessary, but teach him he can place himself in time-out before he gets into trouble as well.

5 Establish Household Rules

Use an authoritative approach to parenting. Create clear rules and explain the reasons behind your rules.

Make your expectations known before your child enters new situations. When he understands he needs to use an indoor voice in the library and walking feet in the grocery store, he'll be less likely to misbehave.

Explain the negative consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time as well. Then, he'll be able to make better-informed decisions about his behavior.

6 Provide Structure and Be Consistent

Keep your discipline consistent. Offer reminders like, “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.

With enough practice, your child will...(click here to continue reading)


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