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Everyone has made at least one impulse purchase or put their foot in their mouth, saying something they wish they hadn’t, at some point. As we grow up, we are better able to regulate our impulses and development of inhibitory control is what allows us to do that.

What is Impulsive Behavior in Children?

Normal childhood behaviors include some natural impulsiveness. You may have noticed some (or all) of the impulsive behaviors on this checklist.

  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Blurting things out
  • Not waiting their turn
  • Interrupting
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Restlessness
  • Being easily distracted
  • Shouting out answers
  • Running into people
  • Knocking things over
  • Getting injured frequently
  • Grabbing toys or objects without permission
  • Lasing out verbally or physically without thinking

When it happens occasionally, this is just everyday, normal kid behavior because their brains are still developing. When you see these behaviors a lot, your child may have impulse control issues.

What Is Inhibitory Control?

Inhibitory control, also known as impulse control or self-control, refers to the ability to suppress or inhibit impulsive behaviors, urges, or responses that one would otherwise make. It is a cognitive skill (a mental process) that involves the regulation of one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in order to achieve a desired goal or outcome. Inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility are the three cognitive skills that comprise our executive functions – the directive capacities of our minds.

Inhibitory control develops gradually throughout childhood, typically beginning about the age of 4, and continuing to develop into adolescence and adulthood. The research suggests that our frontal lobes (the front part of the brain where inhibitory control operates) don’t fully mature until our mid-thirties. Still, the development of inhibitory control varies widely and individuals may have stronger or weaker inhibitory control skills. And inhibitory control is a skill that can be improved at just about any age.

Children and adults with strong inhibitory control are better able to:

  • Delay gratification: They can resist immediate rewards or impulses and postpone gratification in order to achieve a larger or more beneficial outcome in the future.
  • Follow rules and instructions: They are better able to adhere to rules, regulations, and social norms, even when they conflict with their immediate desires or preferences.
  • Manage emotions: They can regulate their emotional responses and control impulsive emotional reactions, such as anger or frustration, in order to respond appropriately to a given situation.
  • Stay focused and attentive: They are better able to maintain attention and resist distractions, allowing them to concentrate on tasks and goals for longer periods of time.

Developing Inhibitory Control

There are a variety of exercises, activities and programs that can help build inhibitory control. Note that developing inhibitory control takes time and practice; frequent, repeated engagement in these activities is needed for significant growth to be apparent.

  1. Games like Statues (Freeze), Simon Says, and Red Light Green Light. These are fun games and ideal for helping young children develop inhibitory control. They must freeze or stop/go or not act repeatedly during the game.
  2. Also, for young children, role-playing (dressing up) is a good way to develop executive functions, including inhibitory control. When a child is pretending to be a police officer or a teacher or a waiter, they need to stop themselves from taking actions and saying things that would be out of character.
  3. Mindfulness training. Practicing mindfulness regularly has been shown to enhance self-control.
  4. Many sports. Following the rules and controlling impulses in fast-paced situations (for example, not grabbing the soccer ball with your hands (unless you’re the goalie, of course).
  5. Computer-based cognitive training programs. Not all cognitive training programs address inhibitory control. Inhibitory control is one of the 43 cognitive skills developed in BrainWare SAFARI.

Impulse Management Techniques for Kids

Parents and teachers can help kids become more aware of their impulsive behaviors by:

  • Encouraging them to think through situations beforehand and imagine what might happen and what they could do.
  • Encouraging a cool-down time to gather thoughts if things get chaotic.
  • Telling kids they did something inappropriate and why it was a problem.
  • Explaining expected behaviors.
  • Teaching their child to label their feelings so they can tell you how they feel instead of acting out their emotions.
  • Asking their child to repeat the directions they are given before starting on a task.
  • Modeling and teaching anger management skills and ways to calm down, like counting to 10 or taking 5 deep breaths.


Schedule a free discovery call to learn more about how BrainWare can help your child develop their cognitive skills.



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