How to Teach Kids Impulse Control | The OT Toolbox

How to Teach Kids Impulse Control

Kids with executive functioning skill challenges may suffer from impulse control difficulties.  The strategies indicated in this post are guides to help teach kids impulse control for improved attention, self-regulation, and learning in the classroom.  

You might know of a child who just can't help themselves in the classroom. They are the ones who are speaking out, interrupting, jumping up from their seat, and distracting their classmates.  There are underlying reason behind these behaviors and it is important to consider those causes for impulse-related behaviors.  It may be there are unmet sensory needs, difficulty with self-regulation, trouble expressing oneself, emotional causes, or other underlying areas.  

More than likely, the kids that need help with impulse control are being addressed in some way by the child's teacher or team in one way or several. But if impulses are something that need addressed, try the impulse control strategies outlined below.

You'll be interested in all of our executive functioning skill activities.

Use these strategies to teach kids impulse control in the classroom for better learning, focus, attention, and self-control.

Impulse control strategies for Kids

Parents, teachers, and therapists can use these strategies in different ways.  Consider that every child is unique and what works for one child may not work for another.  Likewise, it is very important to specifically design a strategy based on individualized assessment of the child.

Why is it difficult for kids to manage their impulses?

Children develop controlled impulses as part of their overall development.  The very young child does not have these skills.  In fact, there are those of us who have difficulty refraining from a second cookie as adults.  Impulse control requires will power, delayed gratification, and self-control.  For the child who struggles with development, sensory processing, attention, physical limitations, cognitive delays, or social impairments, the ability to control ones impulses is very difficult.  These individuals are cognitively and automatically focused on the underlying needs.  When other needs such as sensory or balance are the primary focus, it can be quite difficult to refrain from impulses.

Impulses seen in the classroom:

Speaking out
Interrupting classmates
Quitting games
Shoving in lines
Cutting in front of others
Jumping up from seat
Asking questions about irrelevant topics
Physical impulses
Hyperactive behavior
Hypo-active behavior
Personal boundary issues

How to teach kids impulse control:

Impulse control journal
Goal tracker
Reduce clutter
Make goals
Break big tasks or projects into smaller steps
Make a schedule (picture-based or list)
Social stories
Act out situations beforehand
Count to three before answering/responding
Reduce time to complete tasks
Increase time to complete tasks
Think through and predict social interactions before going into a situation
Control buddy
Ask for help
Habit tracker
Use a strategy checklist
Carry a goal list
Positive thought notebook

Executive functions all require the ability to pay attention.  Read about the attention and executive functioning skill connection and the impact of attention on each of the executive functioning skills that children require and use every day.

Impulse control issues in the classroom and strategies to help

Looking for more ways to address executive functioning needs?  Try these strategies to help with organizationattention, or task initiation.

Use these strategies to teach kids impulse control in the classroom for better learning, focus, attention, and self-control.