Many children struggling with childhood ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, struggle with impulse control. Impulsivity involves reacting to stimuli without thinking. For kids, this might look like blurting out, bolting away, or throwing a temper tantrum. Often, impulsivity can lead to greater challenges for children, such as behavior issues, feelings of shame, or difficulty forming relationships. It is important to remember that the cause of ADHD is neurologically based – it is in the brain and organic. Those children with ADHD are not choosing their behaviors, and are not lazy. When ADHD is not properly managed, impulsivity and its repercussions can follow children into adulthood.
The good news is that there are several strategies that are effective in helping children with ADHD learn impulse control, or how to stop and think before acting. Here are some you can try:
- Understand your child’s impulses- Know that your child’s impulsive behaviors are not intentional acts of disobedience, but a limited processing reaction. For example, a child does not necessarily want to run in front of a car when they see the ice cream truck. They just know that they want ice cream.
- Establish clear behavior expectations- Define the rules. Instead of telling your child to “be good” at school, be explicit about how you expect them to behave. When giving directions or expectations, ask your child to repeat them back to you. This teaches them to listen.
- Discipline effectively and consistently- Think of discipline as an opportunity to instruct, rather than to merely punish. Focus on the behavior itself as a problem that can be corrected, instead of making the child think he/she is the problem. Address the behavior as soon as it happens by clearly communicating the negative action and applying consistent consequences.
- Praise positive behavior- It’s important to be clear about what your child does right in addition to what they do wrong. Respond with praise when your child exhibits good impulse control, and be consistent. Many children who struggle with impulsivity want to behave and are more likely to do so when they understand what the preferred behavior looks like. Create a reward system, such as a token economy system, which can be a fun way to practice delayed gratification.
- Help your child understand and label their emotions- When children do not understand their emotions or how to properly express them, they are more likely to act impulsively. Teach your child to recognize and label their emotions, so they can tell others how they feel, instead of showing them. Talk about the difference between feelings and behavior (“It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to hit someone.”)
- Model healthy behaviors- Your child can learn a lot about impulse control simply by watching you. Demonstrate patience and delayed gratification. When you address your child’s negative behavior, do so in a calm, collective manner. Avoid impulsive, angry responses. Try to model healthy self-talk by pointing out your own impulse control (“This is a long line, but we have to wait patiently for our turn.”).
- Encourage physical activity- Giving your child opportunities when it is appropriate to run, jump, and climb will allow them to be more self-disciplined during times when these behaviors are not appropriate.
- Offer fun opportunities to practice impulse control- Games like Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Follow the Leader are great ways for your child to practice self-control. Your child should feel like this is for fun and enjoyment, so be careful in your approach. You don’t want them to feel like they are being forced to play.
- Encourage creativity in problem solving/suggest alternative behaviors- Help your child understand that there is more than one way to solve a problem and it is important to think through their options before taking action. Practice brainstorming different solutions to problems/alternative behaviors and evaluating these together. For example, if your child is feeling angry, screaming into a pillow or kicking a ball outside are better options than hitting someone.
- Work together on emotion regulation strategies- Teach your child to take deep breaths or take a walk around the house if they are feeling overwhelmed by strong emotions. Create a calm down kit that can help them relax on their own or establish a safe space that they can go to calm down.
Helping children with ADHD manage their impulsivity can be a challenging task for parents. If you find yourself struggling, reach out to us! We have several therapists that can help support you and your child with specific issues related to ADHD!
Source(s): childmind.org, ct.counseling.org, healthline.com, fastbrain.com, verywellfamily.com