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Helping Children with Impulse Control


When children learn impulse control, they are learning to stop themselves from doing or saying something. Parents can help children learn impulse control by giving children small tasks that require that they stop what they are doing.  For example, stop kicking the front seat of the car when they are in their car seats or seat in front of them while on the bus. This is what teachers call ‘setting limits’.

Setting Limits is Part of Loving
Kids-Mezzannine-16x9_913.jpg.resize.454x255Children need and want limits and boundaries. They need and want caring adults who understand that setting limits is a part of loving…and that it can take a long while to be able to stay in the limits. Finding the appropriate balance between kindness and firmness — when to say yes and when to say no — isn’t easy for most adults, but it is important if we want children to grow in their ability to know when to go and when to stop.

It’s hard for children to understand the reason for rules and limits that we set for them. That’s why they need adults to provide caring supervision — stopping them at the curbside, fastening their seat belts before driving a car, having them wear helmets when they ride a trike. Gradually children will learn to follow the rules by themselves.

Talk about Safety
Talk with the children about ways to keep safe in their homes and in the community. For instance:

  • Explain that traffic lights can let us know when it is safe to go and when to stop.
  • When there is no stop sign or traffic light, we keep safe when we stop and look both ways for cars.
  • Wearing seat belts in the car is a way to stay safe if the car stops suddenly.
  • Wearing bicycle helmets keeps children safe in case they fall.

Most adults find that it’s enough to say, “I don’t want you to get hurt.” Talking about possible accidents in graphic detail can make children overly fearful.

Help Children with Feelings about Rules
Children may have strong feelings about following rules, especially rules they don’t understand. Giving them a chance to talk about those feelings can be a way of managing them.

  • Let children know you care about their feelings, but that safety rules are important.  You can say something like, “You don’t have to like the rule, but you still have to go along with it.”

Let children know that it can be confusing when rules seem to change. Talk with them about times when it is all right to do something and times when it is not — like singing loudly is okay when a baby is awake, but not when a baby is sleeping.


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