At What Age Do Kids Have Impulse Control?

The impulses that enter the mind are the precursors to behavior, states the University of Louisiana 1. If an impulse is negative, it could lead to unacceptable or harmful behavior if the person does not practice effective impulse control 3. As children grow and mature, impulse control will help prevent behavior problems from occurring 3.

Basics of Impulse Control

Without impulse control, a thought enters the mind and a child may be off and running to turn the thought into an action without any analysis about the thought at all 3. A lack of impulse control often means that the child makes inappropriate or hurtful statements about and to other people or the child may act aggressively or inappropriately toward other people 13. With effective impulse control, a child can analyze the impulse to determine whether it would have a positive or negative outcome if he acted on the impulse 23.

Development of Impulse Control

Sometime between the third and fourth birthdays, many kids will begin developing impulse control skills to help them control responses and behaviors 23. The Illinois Early Learning Project advises that kids between the ages of 3 and 5 are old enough to learn impulse control 123. You might compare learning impulse control to building muscles, though 3. Just as it takes time to make muscles stronger, it takes time for children to learn how to control emotions and actions.

Talking about Feelings

With awareness and understanding of feelings, children have more success controlling impulses, asserts the Education website. Give feelings a name so children can talk about them and express them. You might say, “I can see you feel really frustrated right now.” Teach your child that once she recognizes a feeling, this is her sign that she needs to stop and think before she does anything. Ensure that the foundation of your message is that all of your child’s feelings are acceptable – but she needs to express them in a respectful and acceptable manner.

Activities to Improve Impulse Control

Games and activities can be effective for helping children improve impulse control 23. Try an old-fashioned round of follow-the-leader to encourage kids to focus their efforts on repeating whatever actions the leader presents. This game can be challenging for children, especially if they distract easily from watching what the leader does. Look for opportunities to help your child learn impulse control in conjunction with delayed gratification 23. Offer one sticker now or two stickers if your child waits for five minutes. Offer 10 raisins now or 20 raisins if your child waits for a few minutes to get them. Initially, a child may not choose to wait for more treats, but with practice he’ll learn the benefits of waiting.