Learning to Stop and Think: Parents and Parent Educators Offer Tips for Helping Children Learn to Control Their Impulses
San Carlos mom Liz Jolls remembers how her daughter would scream and cry when she left her at preschool as a toddler. “She and I walked around the preschool and talked about what she could do to make herself feel better when I left. And we discussed that I always came back,” recalls Jolls.
“The next time I left, parents told me she was talking to herself, ‘What make me feel better most? Ducky? No, he at home. Books? Yes. I go read a book.’ And she looked through books for a few minutes and was fine.” Jolls adds that her daughter, now five, still does this, “I can hear her in her room, talking it out. It is something she can use the rest of her life.”
Children who have learned to control their impulses will do better in school, have a higher self-esteem, and be happier with the choices they make, says Helen Neville, a child temperament specialist and parent educator with Kaiser Permanente and Bananas.
Parents and child specialists share tips for helping children control impulsive behavior.
Talk about feelings—and ways to cope
Parents can help children identify their feelings, says Alice Shannon, a Marriage and Family Therapist, by saying something like “‘You look pretty frustrated. You’re starting to throw Legos.’ (This) helps your child become aware of how he or she is feeling (and) avoid impulse reactions.”
“Rehearse situations that may be difficult for your child,” she adds. A parent might say “Sam is going to get a lot of presents at his birthday party. That will be fun for Sam, but it might be hard for the other kids. I wonder what they could do if they feel upset that they don’t have presents?” Parents and children can brainstorm together and parents can encourage the child to try some of these methods.
Games that make a child stop and think will help develop impulse control skills, says Madeline Meyer Riley, a Marriage and Family Therapist and consultant with the Infant Toddler Consortium. She suggests holding out your hand with a raisin and having your child count how long you both can look at it without picking it up—as well as playing red light/green light, Simon says, or a freeze game with music. Neville suggests that parents “sing a song and allow the child to tell you when to stop. (Then) have the child sing and you (say when) to stop.”
Anand Kelkar, an Agoura Hills father of five, says he helps his older children stop and talk about their impulsive reactions, and “see why (it) isn’t working.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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