10 Ways to Teach Children Impulse Control

Discipline Strategies to Help Kids Develop More Self-Control

Many child behavior problems stem from a lack of impulse control. If you’ve got a 6-year-old who grabs things out of people's hands or a 16-year-old who blurts out words he shouldn't say, it’s probably an impulse control problem.

Developing impulse control requires a variety of skills. But they are important skills that can keep your child safe and help her manage her behavior better. These discipline strategies can help your child learn how to control impulsive behavior.

Teach Your Child About Feelings

Teach your child impulse control skills.
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When kids develop an understanding of the difference between feelings and behavior, it can help them control their impulses. A child who understands that it is okay to feel mad but not okay to hit, will see that he has choices.

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Teach Listening Skills

Sometimes, kids behave impulsively because they don’t listen to the directions. Before you’ve finished your sentence, they are up and moving without really hearing what you said.

Teach your child to listen to directions by asking him to repeat back what you said before he takes any action. Provide correction when necessary or confirm that he heard you right. 

Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Teach your child to brainstorm several solutions to a problem. Whether he's trying to fix something that's broken, or he can't decide who should go first when he's playing a game, there's always more than one way to solve a problem.

Encourage him to identify five possible solutions to a problem. Then, he can pick the best solution. This will encourage him to spend a little extra time thinking before he springs into action.

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Teach Anger Management Skills

Low frustration tolerance leads many behavior problems. Teach your child how to manage his anger so he can deal with upsetting events in a productive manner.

Taking a few deep breaths, going outside for a minute, or getting some exercise can help him deal with his anger without lashing out. Send him to time-out when necessary, but teach him he can place himself in time-out before he gets into trouble as well.

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Establish Household Rules

Develop clear rules that help your child know what is expected of him. A child who knows he needs to use an indoor voice in the library is more likely to comply.

Explain the negative consequences for breaking the rules ahead of time as well. Then, he'll be able to make better informed decisions about his behavior.

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Provide Structure

Keep your discipline consistent. And whenever possible, keep your child's routine the same. Less chaos can reduce impulsive behavior.

If you are consistent in saying, “You need to hold my hand in the parking lot when we get out of the car,” each and every time you go to the store, your child will be less apt to take off running in the parking.

Practice Delayed Gratification

Sometimes, parents don’t tell kids about fun activities or surprises until right before hand because they know their child will ask about it constantly.

However, kids need opportunities to practice delaying gratification. A token economy system can be a great way to help your child learn this essential skill. 

When he knows he can do something now that will help him in the future, he'll begin to look at life a little differently. When he's older, he may be more able to resist temptations in exchange for long-term rewards.

Model Appropriate Behavior

Your child will learn a lot about impulse control by watching you. Model appropriate ways to wait patiently and tolerate delayed gratification.

Teach your child how to use self-talk by speaking out loud to yourself or to him when you are waiting. Say, "This is a long line but we have to wait patiently for our turn." This can show your child how to develop his own internal dialogue that will help him manage his impulses.

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Encourage Physical Activity

When kids are physically active they have a better chance at managing their impulses. Encourage moderate amounts of physical activity. Outdoor activity can be especially helpful if you have an energetic child

Play Impulse Control Games

Play games that provide a young child with a fun way to practice impulse control. Games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Follow the Leader require impulse control. There is also research from Stanford University that shows playing memory games can improve impulse control.


Neuenschwander R, Blair C. Zooming in on children’s behavior during delay of gratification: Disentangling impulsigenic and volitional processes underlying self-regulation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 2017;154:46-63. 

Tarullo A, Obradovic J, Gunnar M. Self-Control and the Developing Brain.


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