Impulse control is the ability to stop and think before speaking or acting and to weigh possible outcomes and inhibit potentially hurtful behavior.
Beginning at an early age, friendships and group play offer natural opportunities for young children to practice interacting through cooperative play and sharing. Then, as children get older, they use those experiences as they learn to stop and think, weigh potential positive and negative outcomes, and decide whether an action will have a positive social result.
In babies and toddlers, it’s normal for children to act on impulse. But as children grow and learn through the preschool years, they develop the ability to understand social norms and follow common sharing rules such as taking turns on a swing set, or choosing between two desired toys. As you evaluate your child’s impulse control, consider whether he still displays instinctive behaviors more common in younger children, such as pulling hair, having tantrums, or being unable to wait, take turns, or refrain from speaking when necessary.
How to Help
Take turns playing the games Simon Says, Mother May I and or Red Light, Green Light to practice this impulse control with your child. Remember that coaching works best when feedback is kept positive and fun.
Point out any times you are using the stop and think skill before acting, explain your thought process, and discuss potential positive or negative outcomes. This will help your child learn, and reinforce it is an important skill for people of all ages.
Help your child impulse control in social situations by role-playing this scenario: A school project is due tomorrow and you have not started yet, but your best friend wants to come over to your house after school to play video games.
Discuss possibly responses and outcomes. A potential consequence may be that you don’t finish your project and get a bad grade, or you have to stay up late to get everything finished.
Help your child identify situations and places where she needs to improve impulse control, such as with siblings or in school. Handwritten notes or pictures can be used as reminders and can easily be placed in notebooks, on bulletin boards, or wherever she will see them when she needs help remembering.
Start a conversation with your child by asking her, “When do you think it is really important to stop and think?” Have a discussion about how it can lead to trouble when people do things without stopping and thinking. Give personal examples from your childhood and from other family members, such as when siblings or aunts used or needed to use stop and think.