How to teach impulse control? — The Bump
School-Aged Children

How to teach impulse control?

Hi ladies,

I am new to this board, but have been active on TB since August.  I have a 7 year old and a 5 year old, both boys.  They are so much fun and are always finding new ways to keep me on my toes.  

I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  It's a bit of a rant with the hopes that someone has experienced this and can help me figure out what to do next.

My oldest is in 2nd grade, and he's very bright.  (that's not me being a proud parent - he's literally the top of his class).  But his behavior since Kindergarten has been pretty bad.  Referrals, write ups, etc.  At first we thought the problem was that he was bored - he knew his ABCs and numbers when he started K, so he's always been ahead of the game.  The school tried putting him in the next grade level classes last year, which seemed to help, but it wasn't a cure.  He tested to skip 2nd grade this year, but didn't quite make the required grades.  This year, they have refused to move him up a grade for a couple classes like they did last year, because of his behavior.  

We have now determined that the problem is simply impulsivity.  He wants what he wants when he wants it and he doesn't care what anyone else wants, thinks, says or does.  He realizes after the fact that what he did was wrong, but he doesn't think before he takes action.  I've tried explaining that he's allowed to feel frustrated, but not act on it, and he's allowed to feel angry, but not to hit/kick/etc.  He understands the concept, but when he gets frustrated and angry, all that seems to go out the window.  

Today, I got a call from his teacher saying that he'd been very disrespectful, argumentative and off-task during class.  He argued with the student-teacher about cutting in line, he argued with the teacher about putting his reading book away during math time, etc.  She has sent him to the office for In School Suspension for the rest of the day, and has written him a referral (the 3rd one this year).  

We've tried talking to him and explaining that he needs to be respectful and let the other students learn, and whatever the teacher says goes, and all that jazz.  We've tried time outs, we've tried taking toys (namely his Nintendo DS) and electronics away, we've yelled, we've spanked (yes, we spank, and I'm not looking for anyone to tell me their opinion on that), and nothing seems to do any good.  I've searched online for solutions but I've found nothing that works for him.  We've also found that he tends to get overwhelmed when he's around too many people, and we've informed his teachers that he sometimes needs just 5 or 10 minutes of quiet time - no reading, no noise, no playing, etc - to regroup and calm down.  This works very well for us at home - when we see that he's getting upset, we just remind him that he needs to take some quiet time, and after about 5 or so minutes, he's my happy exploratory little boy.  He tells me that he asks for quiet time, but his teachers refuse.  

I do realize that it's possible he has ADD (DH had it as a kid but was never medicated and grew out of it a few years later), and I DO NOT want to medicate him if that's what the problem is.  My brother (we're adopted from different families, so it's not in my genes, as far as I know) was on Ritalin and a number of other ADD meds and they made him anything but him, and he tells me now (he's 30) that he hated it - it felt like he wasn't in control of his own body.

I've considered putting him into private school, but it's just not in the budget right now, and I'm not sure if that would do any good anyway.

I'm hoping someone here can offer suggestion or provide some stories from their similar experience. Is this something I just have to wait for him to outgrow? Is there something I haven't tried that worked for you? What's going on?  Should I confront the teachers about them not allowing him a few minutes of quiet time? Thank you in advance!
Anniversary
Lilypie Kids Birthday tickersLilypie Kids Birthday tickers
BabyFruit Ticker
  DS #1 born 8/3/06, DS #2 born 10/2/08
TTC since 8/13 BFP 11/27/13, EDD: 8/3/14
US 12/9 found 2 Gestational Sacs, MC 12/10/13 6w3d
BFP #4 5/15/14, EDD: 1/25/14, HB 6/4/14 Movement 8/13/14
All Welcome

Image and video hosting by TinyPic  image

Re: How to teach impulse control?

  • Hmm.  Welcome to the board!  You have an interesting situation with your son, and I hope you get some good responses.  It's a pretty slow board, so it may take a week or two for people to reply, but don't get discouraged.  The majority of moms on the board have kids right about the age of your boys.  I'm going to give you my best response based on my experiences as a mom and a teacher.  I am, however, going to constructively challenge some of the things you say in your post.

    My sense is that when kids are still struggling with impulse control and really challenging behaviors in school after age 7, it's related to one of two broad causes.

    1. The child has not learned impulse control because the home environment tends to discourage impulse control and subtly encourage negative and/or aggressive behaviors.  Although I can't tell if this is the case from your post, I do get a sense that you are often functioning in "reaction mode" with your son.  What I mean by this is that it seems like you're always dealing with his behavior AFTER there's a problem, when you may need to be setting up systems that help him avoid behavior problems in the first place. I would say this is a good time to really take a step back from your own parenting and look at how you handle him very objectively.  Bright kids can be masters at manipulating their parents.  If you find yourself listening to his explanations or getting into long discussions about "fairness" in which you wind up justifying your decisions to him, then you may be falling into a classic gifted kid ploy that's contributing to his lack of impulse control.  Talk to your DH, set up some basic boundaries and consequences for your home, make your son aware of them, and then stick to that plan.  Don't entertain any discussion from your son on it.

    Also, if you're expecting him to "get it" and stop misbehaving after one time of losing the DS, or getting a swat on the backside, that's unrealistic.  Kids generally need to mess up and face the same consequence several times before they begin to develop impulse control.  It may be possible that you feel like "nothing's working" and you keep changing your methodology; in reality, any of the methods you've tried might work -- just not right away.  For example, my son really loves video games and has trouble stepping away from them when it's time.  DH and I wanted to put a stop to the drama over video games.  It took many, many tries for my son (then around 6 or 7) to gain the self control to walk away gracefully.  To set him up for success, we didn't just punish him afterwards when he had a meltdown over turning off the game.  We worked ahead of time to plan with him how long he could play.  We gave reminders as his time ticked down. We came up with a list of fun activities to do AFTER gaming.

    Even if you're pretty consistent with discipline, you may be robbing him of chances to develop impulse control if you are overprotective or if you never allow him to face the natural consequences of his actions.  I have found that my kids grow the most in terms of impulse control and responsibility when they are allowed to make age-appropriate choices but are forced to face the outcomes of those choices.  Good choices have good outcomes and bolster their confidence.  Bad choices have bad outcomes, but from those bad choices kids learn what NOT to do next time and learn to be resilient.

    2.  The child has a genuine neurological issue (e.g. ADHD or Executive Functioning Weakness) that gets in the way of impulse control.  You mentioned that your brother was tested for ADHD but "outgrew" it.  I think that's unlikely.  People can learn to manage ADHD, they can develop coping strategies, or they can move into adult life where the symptoms of ADHD are less likely to be displayed in the public eye, but my sense is that it's not something that people just "outgrow."

    I think you should talk to your pediatrician and your school's resource people about the behavior problems your son is having at school and at home.  

    If you do wind up getting testing for you son, and you find out that he does have ADHD, I would recommend listening to your doctor with an open mind about the benefits and drawbacks of medications.  I teach high-functioning LD middle schoolers.  Many of them have ADHD, and for some of them meds are really the difference between functioning as happy, healthy students and being an unhappy, anxious, miserable mess.  For some, finding the right medication allows them to reach their full potential and present themselves as the wonderful, smart, kind kids that they really are!  I know it seems like a lot of doctors just rush right to drugs as the answer to everything, and I would be skeptical about that.  But by saying "I don't want him on meds" you're essentially being as close-minded in the other direction.

    Think of it this way: if your son had a seizure disorder that was impacting his school and home life, and there was a medication for it, you'd never consider NOT putting him on that medication, right?  Why should ADHD be any different?  It's a chemical imbalance in the brain.  A good doctor will work with you to find the right prescription and the right dosage to get the maximum good effects with a minimum of side effects.  Also, a good doctor will help you decide if and when it's appropriate for your child to stop taking meds as he gains the coping skills needed to deal with ADHD on his own.

    I suspect that what you're seeing with your son is actually a combination of #1 and #2.  You guys need help, and a good starting place is your pediatrician and your school's special needs resource person or guidance counselor.  Good luck!
    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
    MoreThanSparrows08
  • Loading the player...
  • @neverblushed Thank you so much for your input! I do find myself and my husband listening to his stories and explaining our decisions to him.  How would you recommend we put a stop to that? He's a very curious child, and LOVES learning new things - how things work, why they work that way, what if they worked this way, etc - and I feel like if I don't explain things fully to him, then I'm robbing him of a learning experience.  I do realize that not ever decision I make falls into this category.  Also, my husband tells me that as a child, his mother explained the majority of her decisions to him, and he liked knowing why and such. Should I be employing the "because I said so" answer more often?

    Another thing we have learned out my son is that he is a "Rule-Follower" in terms of - if I say we need to do this, this and this today, he expects me to stick to that plan and not vary.  He gets pretty upset when I change the plan on him.  We have tried explaining that these are the rules, and if you break the rules, these are the consequences, but it doesn't seem to matter.  

    You  mentioned allowing him to make his own decisions and deal with the consequences.  Can you give some examples of decisions I should be allowing him to make on his own? He gets his choice of drink at dinner (milk, OJ, V8 or water), but that's about it that I can think of right now.

    Again, thanks so much for taking the time to read my very extensive post and respond.  It is truly appreciated!
    Anniversary
    Lilypie Kids Birthday tickersLilypie Kids Birthday tickers
    BabyFruit Ticker
      DS #1 born 8/3/06, DS #2 born 10/2/08
    TTC since 8/13 BFP 11/27/13, EDD: 8/3/14
    US 12/9 found 2 Gestational Sacs, MC 12/10/13 6w3d
    BFP #4 5/15/14, EDD: 1/25/14, HB 6/4/14 Movement 8/13/14
    All Welcome

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic  image
  • Loading the player...
  • @-auntie- Thanks for your response! I will try to address your responses indiviually.

    I think his impulsivity  is cause by both lack of ability to control and indifference to expectations.  From what I understand, the rules are clearly outlined, and once he's aware that he broke the rules, he understands what he did wrong, and can tell you why it was wrong.

    He can be aggressive when he acts out - yelling, yanking toys, throwing things at the ground - but not always.  It's a lot of talking back and copping an attitude.

    Can you clarify what ODD is?? and IEP?

    His quiet time in the classroom could be done at his desk after completing his assignments, supervised by the teacher.  It could also be alone in a separate area of the classroom where the rest of the students are not.  I realize that this is hard to do in a classroom setting.

    I won't jump on you for your choice to use meds.  That's completely your choice, and it's not my place to tell you what's right or wrong for your child and family.  I think it's more of a strong hesitancy to medicate on my end, not an absolute refusal.  If that's what it comes down to then it is what it is, but I'd like to exhaust all other options before moving to that.

    Again, thank you so much for your input! We are all going to sit down tonight and work out a more structured, reliable, proactive plan for expectations and consequences for both boys.
    Anniversary
    Lilypie Kids Birthday tickersLilypie Kids Birthday tickers
    BabyFruit Ticker
      DS #1 born 8/3/06, DS #2 born 10/2/08
    TTC since 8/13 BFP 11/27/13, EDD: 8/3/14
    US 12/9 found 2 Gestational Sacs, MC 12/10/13 6w3d
    BFP #4 5/15/14, EDD: 1/25/14, HB 6/4/14 Movement 8/13/14
    All Welcome

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic  image
  • I feel like I could have written this post! My 8yo son acts exactly like your son both at school and home. He is at the top of his class as well. We just got a Dx of ADHD and ODD(Oppositional Defiant Disorder). ODD is defined as an ongoing pattern of anger-guided disobediance, hostility, and defiant behavior toward authority figures that goes beyond the bounds of normal childhood behavior. Children suffering from this disorder may appear very stubborn and often angry.

    I decided to put him on meds along with seeing a counselor. We just started them on Friday so no change yet. I used to be against meds like you before his Dx but after I decided the meds would be able to help him feel in control again until he could learn to control things himself. As far as your brother on meds when he was younger. Meds have changed since then. Yes there is still Ritalin and Adderall(what my son takes) but there are more options plus different dosages than there used to be. If your son acts zoned out tell the pedi and he will change the dosage. If the side effects are too much they will change the dosage or the meds. Keep an open mind and do what you think is best for your child even if it means medication.

    An IEP is an individualized educational plan. The quiet time you want for your son would be a part of the IEP along with other things(dependant on what he is diagnosed with) and I believe how he learns. 

    I agree with auntie about getting an evaluation to find out whats driving the impulsiveness. Once you have the evaluation done take him to the pedi and you can get a Dx. The school cannot Dx him but the pedi will need an evaluation from the school to diagnose. 
                           SD(13) DS(10) DS(4) DS(3)
    Lilypie Pregnancy tickers



    MoreThanSparrows08
  • @neverblushed Thank you so much for your input! I do find myself and my husband listening to his stories and explaining our decisions to him.  How would you recommend we put a stop to that?

    I think there's a difference between being transparent and clear about rules and being put on the defensive by your child.  For example: a situation that occasionally comes up in my house is that my son will lie about brushing his teeth.  If we catch him, of course we make him brush his teeth. But we don't get mad at him or yell, even though he lied.  We talk about how his dishonesty causes us to trust him less.  When we can't trust what he says, we have to check on things.  So, it means that he will have less privacy until he earns our trust back.  I will have to hang out in his bathroom and make sure he actually does brush his teeth.

    It's one thing for me to explain it to him clearly and calmly.  But he inevitably will try to say, "Mom, you don't have to watch me brush my teeth.  I just didn't feel like brushing that one time, but I do it every other time.  You're so unfair!  You're invading my privacy, blah blah blah."  If I engage in that discussion, it sends a bad message.  If all I say is, "Well, if you enjoy your privacy and independence, you need to earn it back."  Rinse. Repeat.  Do not engage in any more explaining or arguing.  And then follow through with the checking (even though it's a total pain.)

    Another thing we have learned out my son is that he is a "Rule-Follower" in terms of - if I say we need to do this, this and this today, he expects me to stick to that plan and not vary. 

    This is a big-time GT kid trait.  But if he has any of the mild issues mentioned in auntie's post (ADHD, ODD, Exec Functioning Weakness) he may be SO preoccupied with rules and fairness that it's actually a problem for him.  Rigidity in thinking and expectations (and rigid patterns of responding to problems) can be associated with a lot of the most common issues.

    You  mentioned allowing him to make his own decisions and deal with the consequences. 

    Choosing milk vs. OJ at dinner is small-time.  Here's an example of a real choice I allowed my son to make:  His class recently earned a reward for good behavior.  The students voted to have "bring in an electronic device" day. Of course, he wanted to bring in his 3DS.  It would have been very easy for me to say, "Oh, no -- choose something else, because if anything happens to your 3DS, you'll be devastated."  But I didn't.  I talked over the pros and cons of that choice with him, but I told him he'd have to make the decision himself.  I was fully prepared for him to lose or break that valuable toy and for the MONTHS of whining and boo-hoo-ing that would have followed as he explored ways to earn the money to buy another one.  In the end, he decided to take an older, less-valuable device.

    In terms of smaller choices, finishing dinner is a good example.  If my kids don't eat their dinner, I don't bug them about it.  It's their choice whether to eat it or not.  But they know that if they don't eat the meal, there's no other food until the next meal.  They can save the meal for later and return to it.  But I don't engage in any badgering or bribing or "two more bites" stuff.  It's on them to eat or not. 

    Sibling fights are another good place to teach responsibility and impulse control.  The only time I step in is when the fight gets physical (rare for my kids now that they are big enough to hurt each other, but more common in younger years.)  A common pattern with my kids is for the younger one to want the older one's attention.  If she's not in the mood to hang with him, he'll try to provoke her into an angry reaction so that he can run to me and tell on her.  I don't take the bait.  I turn it back on him and tell him that if he wants her to hang out with him, he needs to start doing something that's so interesting she won't be able to resist.  If he needs help thinking of something, I'll talk it out with him, but I mostly leave him to figure it out.

    HTH!! 
    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
    MoreThanSparrows08
  • My nephew sounds just like your child, same age too.  My SIL is using the Feingold Diet and she has seen major improvement in him.  The diet is an option before trying out meds.  My nephew has also gone through sessions of occupational therapy too to give him the tools to help his impulsivity.  His teacher has seen an improvement since he's doing the diet and the Occupational Therapy.  As a parent I would want to exhaust every other possibility before putting my child on meds. In my opinion, meds by themselves don't fix the problem in the long-term because the child never learns the tools to fix his behavior issues.  So even if in the end you choose to medicate make sure to get some sort of occupational therapy to teach him the tools he needs to cope in life.

    MoreThanSparrows08MesmrEwe
  • This is exactly what we are experiencing as well.  We just took him for an evaluation after his in house suspension.  He is also in the second grade.  That was the last straw for me and when I realized we need to understand what is going on with him before we go any further.  We are waiting for the results next week.  We were also trying to stay away from meds and will be trying neuro-feedback if it seems like he is a good candidate based on the results of his evaluation.  
  • DS acts very similar to ours, except he's 6. Thanks for all of the responses, great information.

    Lilypie Kids Birthday tickers


     






     

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic image

  • Wow, a lot of great replies.  Everything I wanted to say has already been covered.  I would also recommend the book 'The Explosive Child', there is a half hour video that sort of summarizes the book called 'Calming the Tempest: Helping the Explosive child'.  I borrowed both of them from my local library.  I also like the book 3-2-1 Magic, here is also a video, but I would read or watch The Explosive Child first.  I pull strategies from both books depending on the situation.

    My son sounds very similar to your son, trouble with impulse control and a very high IQ.  My son however was diagnosed at age 3 with an autism spectrum disorder, which changed to Aspergers when he got older and now back to ASD with DSM-5, then more recently with ADHD as well.  His impulse control and emotional immaturity is to a point that he requires being in a special ed classroom, despite his 150+ IQ.
This discussion has been closed.
Choose Another Board
Search Boards