Activities to Teach Children Impulse Control

By Laura Agadoni

If you don't teach your child how to control impulses, you're likely to wind up with a little hellion who has tantrums, hits others, makes mean or hurtful remarks, takes things and doesn't understand right from wrong. Some parents mistakenly excuse those behaviors as just part of being a kid. However, parents can play a huge role in managing their child's impulsive behaviors. The goal is to teach your child self-discipline and to be aware of how his actions might affect others. You can teach impulse control in many fun ways.

"Red Light, Green Light" and "Simon Says" Games

In "Red Light, Green Light" and "Simon Says," children must do as the leader says to play the game. In "Red Light, Green Light," a child must walk or run to you when you say "green light" and must stop when you say "red light." Reverse the game in "Opposite World" by having "green" mean "stop" and "red" mean "go." Reversing the meaning makes a child act against habit, which inhibits his impulses, says Dr. Gwen Dewar on the website Parenting Science. "Simon Says" works in a similar way. A child cannot do what you tell him to do unless you first say the words, "Simon says."

Musical Games

Have your child play an instrument such as a tambourine or maracas. You are the conductor, so you wave a baton to signal your child when to begin, when to speed up the tempo, when to slow it down and when to stop playing. Reverse what your baton signals mean to get your child to control his impulses. Moving your baton slowly means the child plays rapidly, and moving the baton quickly means your child should play slowly.

Role-Playing Using Puppets

Role-play stressful situations with your child using puppets. Say your child just had a meltdown because you wouldn't let him have the candy he wanted at the grocery store or the cookie he wanted right before dinner. Using puppets, act out the scene. Now that your child is playing, he can verbalize what he wants, and you can explain your side. Have your puppet ask his puppet how he feels about not having the candy or cookie. You can then explain that he can sometimes get a treat at the grocery store but not every time or that he can sometimes have a cookie after but not before dinner.

"Good Choice, Bad Choice" Exercise

Describe a scenario to your child and ask him what some children might do in such circumstances. One scenario could be that one child broke another child's toy. Ask your child to name some of possible consequences. If he can't think of any, coach him. For example, explain that the toy owner might hit the child who broke the toy and ask whether that's a bad choice or a good choice. Write "hitting" on a poster board marked "bad choices" after he answers. Another choice might be to bring the toy to an adult to see whether the adult could fix it. Write "bring broken toy to parent" on another poster board marked "good choices." Think of three or four different scenarios and outcomes, and add them to the correct poster board. When done, draw an "X" on the bad choices. Let your child decorate the good board to hang in his room.

About the Author

Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.