Caring for a child with a lack of impulse control is overwhelming in several ways. Many parents suffer from devastating feelings of sadness and frustration because they do not know how to help their child combined with feelings of guilt brought on by their annoyance with some of their child’s impulsive behaviors. If you are such a parent, you are not alone in your roller coaster of emotions.
Lack of impulse control is quite common in young children; however, there are many instances in which impulsivity is more than an issue of immaturity or inadequate sleep. Several mental illnesses and mood disorders can cause a lack of impulse control, such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, and even various phobias.
This article has only begun to touch on the numerous causes of impulsivity in children. If you are beginning to suspect that your child may be experiencing more than just ‘childhood energy,’ continue reading to learn about the various causes of impulsivity in children, signs that your child may have difficulties with impulse control, and how you can help them most effectively.
What Causes Lack of Impulse Control in Children?
Most parents know their children are full of energy that can become irritating, overwhelming, and destructive at times. However, some children experience much more extreme cases of impulsivity than others – so much so that their behavior begins to disrupt the lives of both the children and their parents.
Several factors can influence a child’s lack of impulse control, from immaturity, lack of sleep, and stress to more serious issues like ADHD, multiple impulse control disorders, and various mental illnesses and mood disorders.
General Impulsivity in Children
You’ve most likely heard the phrase, “Kids will be kids.” This is the attitude that most parents have toward normal impulsive actions in their children. Nonetheless, there is a fine line between ‘being a kid’ and exhibiting a severe lack of impulse control. If you are noticing that your child is becoming incredibly disruptive or acting out in other ways, there may be an easy fix.
Some of the simpler issues that can cause a lack of impulse control in children are:
- Immaturity – Sometimes, your child’s age may be to blame. Younger children tend to be more impulsive than older children. So, if you’re dealing with a toddler that is consistently interrupting every conversation around them, there is a chance that they will simply grow out of the behavior. However, if you’re dealing with a 10-year-old destroying their bedroom after being told no, you may be looking at a more serious issue.
- Lack of sleep – Parents can relate to how lack of sleep can affect your entire mood. Being tired is not conducive to dealing with the day, and children are more likely to act out impulsively if they are exhausted. You can combat this by setting an earlier bedtime for older children and encouraging younger children to take naps in the afternoon.
- Stress and frustration – Children are just little humans, and they feel stress and frustration just like adults do. However, they are not as used to dealing with these feelings as adults are, so they are more likely to resort to impulsive behaviors when experiencing these emotions because they are often unsure how to react to them. You can help lessen impulsivity as a stress response by initiating an open dialogue with your child about emotions, stress, and frustration so that they know they can go to you when they are experiencing those feelings.
ADHD Is Characterised By A Lack of Impulse Control
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that many children face. One of the most noticeable signs that your child has ADHD is a lack of impulse control.
Other signs that your child may have ADHD include:
- They daydream frequently.
- They often forget about and lose things.
- It is challenging for them to get along with other children.
- They constantly fidget and move around.
If you suspect that your child may have ADHD, you must bring it to your family doctor’s attention. Since this disorder has many symptoms that overlap with other disorders, finding out if your child has ADHD is a long process that requires many steps. The diagnosis is typically not given quickly.
While you are waiting to find out if your child has ADHD, there are a few things you can do to help lessen the symptoms (including the impulsivity), such as:
- Ensuring they get enough sleep
- Encouraging physical activity and exercise
- Play games that require them to stop quickly e.g. musical statues, What’s the time Mr Wolf
Signs of Impulsivity in Children
Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell whether your child is acting out because of their age or an underlying reason. But there is a significant difference between a child running in circles and a child running from one end of their house to another, hitting people and knocking things down in the process.
Here are some signs that your child may be exhibiting a severe lack of impulse control:
- They often interrupt conversations.
- They typically just take what they want without asking.
- They scream and yell when they are frustrated or upset.
- They are known to have emotional outbursts.
- They take unnecessary risks and do not consider the dangers of their actions.
- They are incredibly impatient.
- They often get into physical altercations with other children.
How to Help Your Child Control Their Impulses
As you can see, there are several reasons for lack of impulse control in children, ranging from easy fixes to lifelong struggles. Psychologists and doctors may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. As a parent, though, waiting for appointments and diagnoses can be frustrating, so knowing some ways to help your child at home is essential.
Some ways that you can help your child with their impulse control issues at home are:
- Calmly talk to your child about their impulsive behaviors to help them become aware that they are acting inappropriately.
- Use games to help improve their emotional regulation e.g. musical statues, freeze game
- Teach them calming techniques like taking deep breaths or counting to ten.
- Explain to them the importance of patience and reward them for being patient. (Don’t forget to try to remain patient with them in the process.)
- Provide them with a structured household with set rules that are consistently enforced.
- Talk to your child about feelings and teach them to identify emotions.
Most importantly, you must remember that your child will mimic your behaviors. Teaching them to control their impulses by example is a fantastic way to lessen negative behaviors.
Lack of Impulse Control Can Be Managed
Parents want the best for their children, and watching your child get in trouble because of the consequences of their impulsive actions is painful. While there are numerous causes of impulsivity in children, the most effective ways parents can help their child are by remaining supportive, being patient, and helping them find the reason behind their behaviors.