Teaching children impulse control

Published 11:01 am Sunday, August 7, 2016

QUESTION: Would you give me some help in how to teach impulse control to my children?

RESPONSE: Impulse control and self-control are skills we have to learn, just like addition and subtraction.

Perhaps learning how to positively cope with delayed gratification, not getting what we want immediately, is one of the most valuable skills in life. “Not yet” does not mean “no;” so, it’s important that our children have practice slowing themselves down and not over-reacting to the “not yet” message.

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It’s often a matter of practicing timing. It’s one of the reasons that learning to do things successfully in groups is so important. Where and how often can you help your children practice taking turns: playing board games, sleeping on the top bunk, holding the hose to water the flowers, choosing which DVD to watch? What do we teach our children to do while they are waiting? Are they able to watch someone else and be encouraging? Are they able to decide to engage in something else in a positive way while they wait?

Remember: parents teach first. Our opportunity and responsibility as parents and grandparents is to keep teaching, which means explaining and showing how things can be done. Here are some ideas:

Use the choice ball. When your child is about to make a poor choice, hand her a soft ball or textured object of some kind and say, “Jenny, while you think about your choice, throw the ball in the air three times.” You are handing over responsibility for the choice to your child and giving her a tool that says, “I don’t have to make an immediate decision. I can think about my choice before acting.”

Walk out of the store empty-handed.  Practice going into a store to look and talk about items you would all like to own. Do not purchase anything. Talk and think about those things at home. If the desire holds and the money is saved, then return to make the purchase, or perhaps something identified will become a future gift.

Affirm your children when they are showing self-control. When your younger child is cooperatively playing with the toy handed him because his older sibling took the “favorite” toy, be sure to say thank you to your younger child for letting his older sibling be first and set the timer so he gets his turn with the favorite toy as well. Being first has its own rewards; be sure that the child who is waiting receives your warmest smile and focused attention.

To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528.  For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.  Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org