Impulse Control Strategies for School and Home
“Don’t interrupt!” “Keep your hands to yourself!” “Be careful!” Time-outs and lectures won’t magically cure the impulsive tendencies of kids with ADHD. But these real-world tips for teachers and parents just might.
Reviewed on May 10, 2018
The problem: Children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) are often labeled unruly or aggressive because of their impulsive physical and social interactions. Even though these children can be caring and sensitive, their good qualities are often overshadowed by their poor impulse control.
The reason: Children with ADHD act before they think, often unable to control their initial response to a situation. The ability to “self-regulate” is compromised; they can’t modify their behavior with future consequences in mind. Some studies show that differences in the brain in those who have ADHD are partly responsible for this symptom.
The obstacles: Many children with ADHD seem to spend their lives in time-out, grounded, or in trouble for what they say and do. The lack of impulse control is perhaps the most difficult symptom of ADHD to modify. It takes years of patience and persistence to successfully turn this around.
Impulse Control Solutions in the Classroom
Posting classroom rules and routines lets children know what’s expected of them, and also serves as a visual reminder for those with ADD who act before they think.
- Tape “behavior cards” to their desks. Some children benefit from seeing rules like “Raise hands before speaking,” etc. posted directly on their desks. If privacy is an issue, tape the cards to a sheet of paper that remains on the desk during class but can be stored inside the desk when necessary.
- Post the day’s schedule. Write the schedule on the blackboard and erase items as they are completed. This gives ADHD students a sense of control about their day. Alert the class in advance about any revisions to the daily routine.
- Prepare kids for transitions. To avoid meltdowns when moving between activities (another stress point), give the class a five-minute warning, then a two-minute warning of a transition, so that ADHD kids have adequate time to stop one activity and start another.
- Be prepared for impulsive reactions. In situations where a lack of structure or another circumstance might set off an impulsive reaction, have a plan ready to help ADHD kids keep their impulses in check. Perhaps the ADHD student can be given a special job, such as “monitor” or “coach,” to help him stay focused on self-control.
- Post expected behavior for younger children. Establish the good behaviors you expect from your young students and post them in the classroom. These can be as simple as: “Respect Others,” “Talk Nicely,” “Use an Indoor Voice”. Posting them in the classroom serves as visual reminder to ADHD students.
- Younger children often respond to a “point system.” This is a system in which they earn pennies or stickers for a positive target behavior. They can redeem their points at the end of the week for a prize.
Impulse Control Solutions at Home & School
- Discipline can and should be used in certain situations. While ADHD is an explanation for bad behavior, it is never an excuse. ADHD may explain why Johnny hit Billy, but ADHD did not make him do it. Children with ADHD need to understand their responsibility to control themselves.
- Discipline should be immediate, short, and swift. Delayed consequences, such as detention, don’t work for those with difficulty anticipating future outcomes. Consequences must be instantaneous: If he pushes another child on the playground, recess is suspended for 10 minutes.
- Provide positive feedback too. Be sure to also offer immediate, positive feedback and attention when kids with ADD behave well. Catch them doing something good. Specifically state what they are doing well, such as waiting their turn.
Impulse Control Solutions at Home
Children with ADHD have difficulty telling right and wrong, so parents must be specific, stating clear, consistent expectations and consequences. Telling your child to “be good” is too vague. Instead, be explicit: “When we go into the store, do not touch, just look with your eyes.” “At the playground, wait in line for the slide, and don’t push.” Other strategies to try:
- Be proactive in your approach to discipline. Respond to positive and negative behaviors equally. Recognize and remark on the behavior, then respond to positive actions with praise, attention, and rewards or immediately discipline negative actions.
- Hold your child accountable. Making your child understand what he did wrong is essential in molding a responsible adult. However, delayed punishment may prevent a child from understanding its relationship to the misbehavior. Punishment must come soon after the misbehavior.
- Let the punishment fit the crime. Hitting calls for an immediate time out. Dinnertime tantrums can mean dismissal from the table without dessert. Keep punishments brief and restrained, but let them communicate to your child that he’s responsible for controlling his behavior.
- Let minor misbehaviors slide. If your child spills the milk because he’s pouring it carelessly or hurriedly, talk to him about the importance of moving more slowly, help him clean the mess, and move on. Every misstep doesn’t warrant significant consequences.