Learning to Stop and Think: Parents and Parent Educators Offer Tips for Helping Children Learn to Control Their Impulses (page 3)
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.”
Help focus restless energy
“A lot of (the impulsive behavior) for (my son) was holding and touching things,” says Wright. “Give their hands something to do while you’re trying to talk to them, something to play with while reading a story.”
“Active kids are physical,” adds Shannon. “Help them notice their bodies. Draw hopscotch squares outside, pound nails in a board, get out a jump rope. Rainy weather provides a challenge, but stomping in the puddles may be well worth it. Water play in the tub or sink or playing with cardboard boxes are other active indoor play choices.”
Create clear expectations—and help kids meet them
“We always tell our daughters they are part of a family,” says Louise Wang, an Albany mother of two. “Having (the oldest) clear her plate will help her learn to be helpful. At dinnertime, we always tell her to bring her manners. Reminding her helps her not to do the wrong thing. We also use silly spoons so she wants to be there too.”
“Take tasks, like homework, and break them into pieces,” advises Kim Wright, a Walnut Creek mother of four, so children don’t become overwhelmed. Kids feel more accomplished when the small tasks are completed.
Have a daily routine
“It really helps kids to have a set routine,” says Wright, “creating a pattern so they expect what comes next. Every night you do the same thing in the same way as much as possible.”
“We have a strict bedtime routine,” adds Wang, “where (our daughter) takes a bath, we dry her hair, and read a story, then she will go to bed. She knows what is expected of her.”
“Learning what comes next leaves (children) less room to make poor decisions,” agrees Riley. Telling a child that in five minutes it will be time to go also helps them be more prepared for transitions, she adds.
Redirect when needed
“When my oldest is about to have an outburst while I am changing her clothes, I ask, ‘Ooh, do you want some yummy cereal? When we’re finished, let’s go and eat some yummy cereal!’” says Wang, “And she’ll forget she doesn’t want to be changed.” Talking with children about what they’ll get to do next can help them get through tasks they don’t enjoy.
“Redirecting is a wonderful way to modify an impulse,” adds Neville. “A kid wants to bang on grandma’s vase and instead you give them a plastic toy to bang. This is really important self-esteem-wise because you’re giving the child a way to follow their impulse without causing harm.”
“Kids have to learn to redirect their energy,” says Wright, “into maybe jogging, biking, playing music. (This helps them) learn to not be angry at themselves for having a hard time concentrating on what’s in front of them.”
Relax before dealing with a frustrated child
“It is a challenge to see the bigger picture and not impulsively react to a child’s bad behavior,” says Kelkar. “Having grown up in India, yoga helps me calm myself and act rationally in a situation.”
- Stop and Think: Impulse Control for Children by Tonia Caselman
- Behavior Management: Impulse Control by Crystal Bowman
- Self-Calming Cards, by Elizabeth Crary, in English or Spanish
- Behavior Management Ideas, from Attention Deficit Disorders Association, in English and Spanish at www.adda-sr.org/BehaviorManagementIndex.htm
- Child care reference and referral agencies offer parenting classes and information on impulse control.
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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