Teaching your Toddler Impulse Control

Frustration, excitement, disappointment, anger and joy are all a normal part of growing up. Mastering how to control this slew of emotions is what is referred to as impulse control. Sadly, a large percentage of children in this generation struggle with impulse control and this ultimately results in behavioral issues that may persist until later on in life.

prefrontal cortexAccording to neuro-scientists learning to control impulses at a tender age is an uphill task because the pre-frontal cortex is not yet fully developed.  The pre-frontal cortex is an integral region of the brain that helps in moderating social behavior, decision making and personality expression.

The good news for all parents is that with the right tactics, we can help our children manage their impulsivity, control emotions and start understanding the idea of rational decision making. This article is a brief but nonetheless comprehensive look at the benefits of impulse control in kids and effective steps you can take to address your kid’s troubling impulsive behavior.

The pre-frontal cortex is an integral region of the brain that helps in moderating social behavior, decision making and personality expression

  • Let’s begin by understanding what causes impulsivity and lack of self control in children

teach kids self control

Apart from the fact that the prefrontal cortex is yet to fully develop, numerous reliable studies have yet to point out what exactly causes impulse control disorders in children. Most knowledgeable and experienced professionals believe that it is a blend of multiple factors including environmental, genetic and physical risk factors. The symptoms of impulsivity vary depending on age and gender. Some indications that your child has a problem controlling impulses and keeping their emotions under control include;

  • Consistent lying
  • Excessive aggression
  • Stealing
  • Acting out, agitation and irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating and impatience
  • Elevated anxiety levels
  • Social isolation and low self esteem
  • Emotional detachment and in extreme cases depression

What benefits can your child accrue from learning impulse control?

Every parent can attest to the fact that nothing is more frustrating than trying to parent a child who flies into fury in a moment’s notice and does not take in simple instructions or rules. Aside from having pleasant children who will be easy to disciplined and teach; impulse control also has other crucial benefits including:

  • Impulse control comes in handy in helping children build and maintain quality friendships

helping children build and maintain quality friendships

Kids who can control their emotions such as frustration and anger are able to express their feelings using words. This makes it easy to make and keep friends. Having friends not only boosts self esteem but also substantially improves social and communication skills.

  • The ability to control impulses leads to better problem solving skills.

Mastering impulse control at a young age builds an emotional intelligence competency that positively impacts problem solving abilities. When a child is able to control their emotions, they tend to make better decisions and can avoid unpleasant situations such as getting into fights at school and throwing unnecessary tantrums.

  • Once a child has a hold on their emotions, he/she is able to organize time better and pay attention in class

This positively affects academic performance and also encourages creative thinking. In fact according to renowned American neuroscientist Dr Sam Wang when it comes to academic performance self control and impulse control are twice as important as intelligence.

Clearly the benefits of impulse control are indispensable in the healthy emotional and mental development of a child.

Once a child has a hold on their emotions, he/she is able to organize time better and pay attention in class

Here is a look at effective strategies that a parent can employ to help a child control their impulses;

  • Provide a consistent structure

Have rules to keep the child disciplined and be consistent about implementing them. For instance if there is a rule the kids are not allowed to use phones on the dinner table then ensure that it is followed without exceptions or excuses. With consistency the child naturally grows accustomed to the rules. The structure also applies to routine; when the daily routine is consistent there is less chaos and this can ward off impulsive behavior.

All kids especially those with impulse control issues can benefit massively from PRACTICING delayed gratification

  • Encourage and motivate your child to engage in plenty of exercise

Physical activity is indispensable in building impulse control. According to the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacey-nemour/the-transforming-power-of_b_579034.html) research by numerous reliable sources has irrefutably ascertained that structured physical exercises such as martial arts can help build self-control and enhance self discipline. Aside from helping improve self discipline and having numerous health benefits, martial arts also teaches perseverance and imparts knowledge on how strategise and use innate strengths and abilities.  Additionally, the controlled movements in martial arts impart the concept of thinking before acting with help build situational awareness and self-control.

  • Create opportunities for your child to practice delayed gratification

teach kids delayed gratification

All kids especially those with impulse control issues can benefit massively from practicing delayed gratification. The simplest way of imparting this important concept is to create a reward system in your household. This simply entails rewarding kids for good behavior and for exemplary academic performance. You can also teach delayed gratification by teaching your child how to save when they want something such as the latest video game. The simple act of saving to meet a target helps build self discipline and control. Practicing delayed gratification helps build perseverance and self control which ward off impulsivity.

  • Be a good role model to your children

Mahatma Gandhi famously said ‘be the change you want to see in the world. This famous saying holds water when it comes to teaching your kids impulse control. At a tender age humans are naturally impressionable and tend to learn from those around them. This means your child learns a lot by watching you.

Be a good role model to your children

Try as much as you can to showcase patience, delayed gratification and self control. It doesn’t hurt to point out impulse control techniques that you are using such as ‘this is a long line and I know are we all exhausted but we have to patiently wait for our turn’. Child psychologists agree that talking to oneself out loud in the presence of your children helps them develop the skill of internal dialogue which comes in handy in helping manage impulses.

  • Teach your kids anger management strategies

Teach your kids anger management strategies

Anger is an emotion no one can escape. In kids uncontrolled anger cause decreased frustration tolerance and this leads to impulsive outburst. The secret to overcoming this is to teach your child how mange their anger in calm and healthy way. Teach effective strategies such as internal dialogue, deep breathing, walking away until you come down and patience.

  • Starting from an early teach your child how to label emotions

Children who don’t understand their feelings are very likely to have impulse control issues. If your child can recognise that they are feeling bored, frustrated, angry, hurt or lonely then it they are able to develop positive and healthy coping skills. Teach them how to label emotions such as scared and sad. Once they can recognise emotions go ahead and talk about how they can behave positively even when confronted or overwhelmed by such feelings. Make it clear from the onset that it is natural and ok to feel sad or angry, however it is not ok to scream, insult or hit. The right response is it to communicate what you are feeling using kind words.

  • Impress the need for empathy

Teach your kids empathy

By teaching your child to be empathetic you are impressing upon them the idea of considering other people’s desires, needs and wants. This makes them act without being selfish and inconsiderate. When kids learn to recognize the feelings of others and care about them, they are less likely to react impulsively when confronted by emotions such as anger and sadness.


It is perfectly normal for young children to act out. The best way to prevent the lack of impulse control from getting out of hand is to start teaching your child self control and impulse tactics from a young age. Overtime they internalise the concept and can naturally control their emotions.