Executive Functions: Impulse Control Part III: Behaviour Approaches

In this issue I want to share key behavioural approaches to help your child build impulse control. Practicing new behaviours is way easier than thinking about how to change their behaviours, which is also important (and will come later). These approaches are adult intensive; however, supervised practice is a critical first step to developing control. 

The Marshmallow Test
If you haven’t seen it already, you really should check out the Marshmallow test on youtube.
This video is based on a classic experiment to see if kids can sit and wait long enough with a marshmallow in front of them without eating it to earn a second marshmallow. Some could. Others started crying as soon as they heard what they were supposed to do, saying it was too hard. And others still threw the marshmallow in their mouth before the instructions were even finished being given.

The researchers followed up with the kids later in life and found that the kids who could hold off from eating their marshmallow to earn their second marshmallow were more successful socially, academically, and in their work. They even had healthier weights as adults.
It appears that delayed gratification – waiting to get what we want – is tied with long-term success.
The major key to the kids’ success was that they found ways to distract themselves. Some sat on their hands. Some sang while turning away from the marshmallow. Others closed their eyes. Bottom line: they found ways to keep busy so they would not eat the marshmallow.

And, the most successful were the ones who found FUN things to distract themeselves with.
Thus, finding appropriate replacement behaviours (i.e., to keep themselves occupied with something else) to improve delayed gratification is important in helping with impulse control. The key then is to practice those behaviours in structured environments, so kids experience success. Then slowly increase expectations.
Delayed Gratification
This skill should be taught to any kids any age. For younger kids, earning a reward at the end of the week can be difficult to do, especially at the beginning of the week when the weekend is so far away! (And the effort to hold it together might seem so impossible so why bother trying anyway.)
Therefore, small daily rewards, even something as simple as stickers, that go towards the big reward, such as a trip to the pool, is helpful.
You can also practice things like the marshmallow experiment too. Set a timer and see how long kids can go without eating that cookie in front of them. Can they wait until after dinner to get two instead?
Remember the goold ‘ol days when you had to wait a whole week to see the next episode of your favourite show? Or wait to continue watching your show after commercials? Or call back your friend later once the busy signal is gone? Kids live in a world where they can access to things now, now, now, so we need to build in some waiting space.
Our kids essentially need to learn the virtue of patience. Timing is everything. We often wait until the heat of the  moment - when they are having trouble waiting - to try to teach. This is not a good time. If kids are already restless or bored or frustrated, the teaching opportunity has passed.

Instead, at a different time, when everyone is calm, problem solve ideas to help them pass the time. First, identify those times they get bored and have a hard time waiting. Then create a list of things they can do when they have to wait together.

One thing you might want to do is have your kids create a patience jar or box. When it is decorated, write each idea you come up with from your list onto a small piece of paper. Then, when your kids need to wait for something, they can go to their jar and pick out three ideas and choose the best one in that moment (i.e., based on what they think will be the most fun or depending on the location or materials needed).
Here are some ideas you can add, but add your own and be creative!
  • Draw a picture
  • Make a comic strip
  • Make up lyrics to your favourite song
  • Try to find all the letters of the alphabet, in order, on street signs/license plates
  • Skip count. By 2, 3, 4, 6 etc..
  • Find as many yellow things as you can
  • Paint a picture
  • Make a thank-you card for someone
  • Make a maze
Kids (and teens even!) may need your help at first, especially to warn them a situation is coming up when they need to be patient, to pick ideas, and to ask them what they are going to do again to wait patiently.

Also have activities on hand for your kids when you go out to the community. My kids love mad libs. Or, you can have them complete crosswords, finish mazes (using their left hand!), or try to make up their own super hero. (I always try to have a notepad handy wherever I go!)
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Now, go practice!!!

Make it a family affair. See if you can hold off on checking your emails (or social media). Have everyone wait an hour after eating before having dessert. Sit through commercials (well, maybe that's a stretch - maybe only watch one episode of a show at a time)!
BUT!!!! Don't dangle the carrot and constantly bring up the reward. That'll make it harder for kids (and can turn to bribey-punishment). Say it once. And only if you need to - if you already have expectations, such as no dessert unless dinner is eaten, there is no reason to say anything.
If you need help setting something up, feel free to email  me and I can help offer some ideas!

Happy to help.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions about anything in this article or any other related topics.

Be sure to also check out my Parent Super Tip of the day!
Dr. Caroline Buzanko

Dr. Caroline Buzanko is a mom (with ADHD) who has first hand experience parenting kids with ADHD. She is also a leading expert working with families and kids with ADHD and has years of clinical experience to share with you.
If you found this article helpful, feel free to share!
Copyright © 2018 Dr. Caroline Buzanko, All rights reserved.

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