Executive Functions: Impulse Control

Part II - Set them up for success

As I mentioned in Part I, impulse control is the most important executive function skill to master. In this issue, I introduce different strategies to help your kids develop this skill. There are so many things that can be done, so I have decided to break them down so you can practice and build on each.

In this issue I want to talk about the things you can do, at least at the beginning, to help kids develop stronger impulse control. Specifically, to help kids be successful in the first place.
Create a successful environment
There are lots of ways to create a successful environment. If you have been keeping track of your child’s triggers over the last week, hopefully you already know some ways you can step in to help your kids be successful. Here are just a few examples of things you can do to help your kids be successful:
Modification. One is to modify the environment, so kids don’t have the opportunity to engage in the problem behaviour in the first place. There are a few ways to do this.

One is to eliminate access to trouble situations. For instance, if the playground always results in fights, that child can be directed to other activities away from the playground.
A great example too is technology. Kids (well, all people most likely) have a really hard time avoiding the constant distractions. Setting up a successful environment might also mean  minimizing the constant notifications and distractions. Set boundaries and consistent expectations around technology.

You can also increase supervision. Knowing someone is there always watching can help reduce impulsive behaviours. I have kids who love to take apart electronics. Not allowing kids on electronics unless supervised is a great way to help reduce that expensive behaviour.

Be explicit. Clearly outline any rules or behavioural expectations. Clearly explain what you mean. What does “be respectful” mean? Quiet voice, looking at you, no name calling etc.? What does “be nice” mean? Share? Take turns? Follow other people’s ideas? Be clear.
Be predictable. Don’t assign a random punishment after a behaviour has occurred. Explain the consequences if rules are not followed beforehand so kids know what to expect. It's up to kids to choose how they act and to take accountability for their actions. This can only happen when they know to expect in the first place.
Be consistent. With expectations. If your kids must hold your hand in the parking lot, expect that every time. If technology must be turned off 1 hour before bed, then expect that every time. Also follow through with consequences.
Try to also maintain consistent routines. This helps automate behaviours and reduce impulsivity.
Give warnings. Kids often lose their mind when parents don’t give enough warning to transition, especially when they are on their video games. (If they are on video games, best to go sit with them and chat about their game – it is very jarring and hard for kids to withdraw from that world back to reality). 
Similarly, kids benefit from discussions about new situations. Who, when, where, for how long, and expectations for behaviour.

Collaborate. For greatest success, have your kids create the rules with you. And talk about why they are important. Get the kids’ buy-in, if they see the rules as important, it is easier to follow them. Don’t have too many though, focus on the most important ones that align with your values (e.g., respect for safety = no hitting).

Make it visual. Post the expectations somewhere where everyone can see it to help kids remember the rules.
Be proactive. Be clear about your expectations for your kids in any new situations. Going to Auntie May’s house? Be clear that kids need to have a quiet voice and keep their hands in their pockets at all times before they have the chance to annoy her. Better yet, have them say a quick hello and then do an errand to the corner store (for older kids) or have an activity for them to do instead of having to suffer through a long boring conversation about her cats (unless kids are into that, then that’s cool too).
Model. Kids learn a lot from their parents’ behaviours. So, an easy way to teach your kids is to model how you control your impulses. 

Self-talk is critical, so model how you talk yourself through the process. If you’re angry at a co-worker, identify your feeling and problem solve ways you can address the situation in a helpful way. It’s okay to ask your kids their input. “What do you think is a better idea, call him a jerk or ask for time to sit down and figure it out with him?”
Or maybe you really want a new car but talk out the pros and cons (e.g., but my new car works fine now and I really want to save that money so we can visit Grandma at Christmas).
Or maybe you are frustrated in traffic. Make comments like, “This traffic is really bad and I am going to be late. But, now I get to spend more time with you!”
How do you cope with stress? Model that too and talk through it. “I am stressed. I think I need to go for a walk to help me calm down.”
Exercise. Physical activity is important to help minimize impulsive behaviours. Be sure kids get lots of time outside, exercise, and movement breaks throughout the day.
Play games. Especially for younger kids. Engaging in fun games like Simon Says is a great way to practice impulse control in a fun way. And bonus, its great time to connect. 😉

Find the antidotes. Essentially, ignore the impulsive behaviours and acknowledge the positive. The good ‘ol, catch them being good approach.
Think of the antidotes; that is, the behaviours you do want to see instead of lying, yelling, hitting, stealing, or whatever other impulsive behaviour your kids engage in.

We often focus on those problematic behaviours when, in reality, kids are often doing some great things too. I doubt they lie 100% of the time. There are times they do tell the truth too. (Lying is a sore spot for me anyway – there is a reason kids lie and its often because they don’t feel believed anyway, so might be helpful to practice believing first). Catch them doing the things you do want them doing more than not. Let's draw attention to those things and those things will improve.

These are just a few of the things parents can do to help kids develop impulse control. But, there is so much more!

We cannot always manipulate the environment to avoid impulsive behaviours. And we’re not always around to catch them being good.
Kids need to learn skills to manage themselves too, which will be addressed in the coming issues....In the meantime, go start practicing some of these ideas to help your kids find more success in their day.


Happy to help!

For more information, feel free to contact me if you have any questions related to this article, or other related issues.

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 helpful, please share with others!
Copyright © 2018 Dr. Caroline Buzanko, All rights reserved.

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