How To Deal With An Impulsive Child

Impulsiveness in children can range from the benign—speaking without waiting for his or her turn, to the downright dangerous—darting across the street into traffic. While some impulsiveness is normal in children as they learn the art of self-control, excessive impulsiveness can be a sign of deeper concerns such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or other Sensory Processing Disorders.

Can you picture this happening to your child?

The birthday girl sits amongst her presents, glowing with anticipation.  Her friends, sit around her, waiting for her to begin the unwrapping. She begins with the smallest box slowly making her way up to the biggest.

1115059_47592633This one’s wrapped in hello kitty paper and topped with a pink bow—it’s particularly alluring. It’s clear that everyone is waiting to find out what it might contain.

Suddenly and without warning, another little girl runs up and rips off the wrapping paper revealing the contents. “A doll house!”, she screams, proud of her discovery.

The birthday girl’s heart sinks and she begins to cry. The disappointment is palpable. If this is your child you may also be on the verge of crying.

Symptoms of the Impulsive Child                       

I define impulsiveness as displaying behavior with little or no thought of the consequences. Often, the behavior is inappropriate to the situation and results in undesirable consequences.

Some other indicators of impulsiveness might be:

  • Running in circles and banging into people or knocking things down during play
  • Blurting things out in the classroom without raising a hand first, or before the question is finished
  • Not waiting their turn in either academic or social situations
  • Unable to stay seated during class or at dinner

If your child consistently exhibits any of the above behaviors, your child might be impulsive. It’s important to be in contact with your doctor to be sure these symptoms don’t indicate ADHD. It’s also a good idea to visit an occupational therapist in order to rule out a sensory processing disorder.

How to Help Your Impulsive Child

The philosophy at Thrive Occupational Therapy is to see these impulsive behaviors not just as a disciplinary problem, but as an indication of an underlying issue. Once we can target the underlying reason for impulsivity, the problem can be fixed.

There is always a reason for a behavior, no matter how troublesome that behavior may seem.

The first step for parent is to detach. Remember, this isn’t about you. Your child’s behavior is trying to tell you something, view it as a message.

One of the tried and true methods of detaching is taking a deep breath. Say to yourself, “this behavior is not a reflection on me”.

Then, take three simple steps: watch, wait, and wonder.

Watch the scene unfolding before you. For example, imagine your child broke a valuable item. When you scold her, she does not respond. Moments later, when she spots you eating a granola bar, she tries to snatch it away from you. When you do not give it to her, she has a tantrum. Observe her behavior.

Wait and don’t respond right away. Remember: she might seem be misbehaving for no reason but reprimanding her without thinking it through may not yield the results you are looking for.

Wonder what your child’s behavior is trying to tell you. Don’t just listen to her words, play detective. Take a step back and ask yourself “What is my child asking from me? Perhaps my child is hungry, tired or needs my attention.”

Perhaps your child felt guilty and ashamed that she had broken the valuable item and responded by acting out to deflect her uncomfortable emotions. The two events seemed unrelated in your eyes, but they weren’t unrelated to her.

But you can only gain an objective awareness of what your child wants or needs from you once you have detached.

There are other methods that can help you deal with impulsiveness that take into account family structure and dynamics, and any other symptoms that might be present.

Impulsiveness and Sensory Processing Disorders

Most young children exhibit some degree of impulsiveness. It takes time for them to grow and learn how to control their impulses. As your child grows older and fine tunes her verbal skills, she will realize how her impulsive behavior affects others. For instance, in an effort to make friends she will likely stop snatching toys from other children and learn to take turns.

If however, you notice that as your child gets older, she is having an increasingly hard time socially or academically because of impulsiveness, consult an occupational therapist who can find and address underlying issues.


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