Handling Impulsive Behavior in Children

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Impulsive behavior in children is a common complaint among parents and teachers, but it can be handled if you know the right techniques and approaches. In this lesson, we will explore some strategies on how to deal with it.

Handling Impulsive Behavior in Children

Impulsive behavior is common in young children, and it can be worse if a child has ADHD. Studies have shown there is an element of personality and individual difference when it comes to impulsive behavior. However studies have also shown that there are ways to reduce and improve such behavior in children. In this lesson, we are going to talk about some of the approaches and ways of handling an impulsive child.

Causes of Impulsive Behavior

One of the first things to understand is the primary source of impulsive behavior. The most common cause is ADHD, which appears to be present in 8-10% of children aged between 3 and 17 years old.

However, there are other possible causes. In some cases there is a problem with executive functioning. The student may not be good at self-control, delayed gratification, and pausing to think before acting. Another less common cause is when a student may have poor language skills. If a student does not understand the instructions being given to them, it is hard for them to comply. This may be interpreted as impulsive behavior, but it is really just a lack of understanding.

Once it is confirmed that understanding is not the issue, there are things that we can do to improve a child's executive functioning and manage impulsive behavior.

Self-Control Games & Activities

There are lots of games that you can play with a young child to help them develop self-control. For example, you could play the stop and go game, where students skip or dance around the room when the teacher displays a green light and freeze in place when the teacher displays a red light. To make this even more effective, you can reverse the meaning of the two lights every so often, so that students have to think instead of operating on autopilot. (The traffic light in the stop and go game can be easily created by cutting circles out of red and construction paper or card stock and gluing them to each other so they can be easily turned.)

Other games that can help include Simon Says or Duck Duck Goose. Any game that involves freezing an action or changing an action on command will help with self-control.

Games that involve planning and take take time to reach a conclusion help children with self-control. These kinds of games teach students delayed gratification as they go through each step to complete the game. Examples include scavenger hunts, treasure maps, following instructions to complete an obstacle course blindfolded, or even baking or crafting activities where there are step by step instructions to follow.

You can also use role-playing games that involve acting out scenarios and encouraging students to stop, think, and imagine what will happen if they choose a particular action. For example, students could act out a situation where a person pushes in while lining up for lunch or where one student takes a toy or piece of equipment from another.

Rewards and Re-Direction

With any behavioral issues, you can provide rewards for good behavior and address bad behavior. If you provide rewards for good behavior, you can amplify the positive effect by giving students an opportunity to delay gratification. Offer students a small reward immediately, and medium reward later, or a large reward at the end of the day. This will also aid self-control. Make sure you always follow through on these delayed rewards or students will learn to take the quick reward.

When dealing with bad behavior, it is important to address it quickly and if possible, give consequences as soon as possible. Remember to remain calm; if you respond to bad behavior with anger or another strong response, children will learn to emulate your behavior.

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