Control Impulsiveness: Have Kids Think Before They Act

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The call came from the school to the father’s cell phone. It had happened again. His seven year old son had gotten upset when he had been bumped in the hallway. This time he threw one of his textbooks and hit one of his classmates in the head. It was another example of the son’s impulsiveness.

The father wished his son would take a minute and think about the situation before responding and not just going with his first impulse. With a deep sigh, the father headed to his car to pick up his son from school. This time he had been suspended for a couple of days.

While not all children have quite the hair-trigger as the boy above, all children do need to learn to think before they act. This is particularly difficult for younger children who are still developing control over their emotions as their brain matures.

Parents can prepare their children to think before they act when confronted with a difficult situation. One way is to teach them to take a time out from the situation. Parents can remind their children that the first solution they come up with is not necessarily going to be the best one. By taking a break, children can consider other solutions that may be even better. Children can practice the time out by counting to ten, reciting the alphabet, or physically removing themselves from the situation for a few minutes.

When children are taking the time out from the situation, parents can emphasize that they should be reviewing the situation and asking themselves questions. These can include whether a person was joking, if it was an accident, and has this person been mean to them in the past. By teaching children to think about these questions, they begin to understand that the situation may not be what they thought it was initially.

While a time out can help with thinking about a situation, children still have to deal with the adrenalin rush from the situation. Many times children will use that adrenalin and strike out physically, like the boy in the hallway. If a child is prone to acting this way, parents need to give him other ways to work out the energy. This can include taking a short walk to calm down or squeezing a stress ball in his coat pocket.

In some situations, children cannot simply walk away from the situation. In these cases, they need to learn ways to excuse themselves from a situation in order to give themselves the space they need. This can be as simple as saying, “excuse me” or “I need a minute.” These are not phrases that will automatically pop into children’s minds so parents should practice with them.

Finally, parents should role play and practice with their children regarding different situations where they might get upset. The role play should come from situations where the child has had difficulty in the past. This can include someone cutting in line, being called a name, or someone making a joke. The practice makes it more likely that the child will think before he acts.

When children take a break from a situation, it allows them time to think and make better decisions. Teaching children how to do this will help them to develop these skills sooner and will provide them with lifelong skills in how to deal with difficult situations.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on February 26, 2016.

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