Impulsive children are often labelled 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.
Impulsive children act before they think, often unable to control their initial response to a situation. The ability to “self-regulate” is compromised; they cannot always modify their behaviour to consider the future consequences of their response.
Many impulsive children spend their lives in time-out, grounded, or in trouble for what they say and do. Lack of impulse control can take years of patience and persistence to successfully support.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of maturity. Not all children develop at the same rate, and some just take longer than others to gain the ability to stop and think before acting.
But some children really are unable to put on the “mental brakes.” They may often interrupt people, grab things, and take physical risks. For those children, there may be something else causing the impulsivity.
Impulsive behaviour often makes children seem younger than they are. An 8-year-old might have the self-control more expected from a 5-year-old, for example. You might see behaviours that you thought would have ended long ago.
Struggling with impulsivity or any other behaviour challenge can impact how children feel about themselves. When children have more control over their actions, they feel more “mature” and have more positive self-esteem.
It’s easy to make assumptions about what’s behind a child’s impulsive behaviour. For instance, if a child makes a rude remark, people might think the remark was intentionally insulting. But in a lot of cases, children don’t mean to be rude or aggressive.
In addition to ADHD, there are also mental health issues, like phobias and mood disorders, that can lead to impulsive behaviours in children.
Lack of sleep can also cause impulsive behaviour, as can stress and frustration. When children are struggling with something in school or in everyday life, they may act out. Young children don’t always have the words to say what they’re feeling.
The ability to delay gratification, or to wait to get what you want, is an important part of self-control. People are often able to control their behaviour by delaying the gratification of their urges.
For instance, someone who wants to buy an expensive console game might avoid spending all their money on going out with their friends. They want to have fun, but they know that by waiting and saving their money, they can afford the console game.
Delaying gratification involves putting off short-term desires in favour of long-term rewards. Researchers have found that the ability to delay gratification is important not only for attaining goals but also for well-being and overall success in life.
The “Hot-and-Cool” System
The hot system refers to the part of our willpower that is emotional and impulsive and urges us to act upon our desires. When this system takes over, we may give in to our momentary desires and act rashly without considering the potential long-term effects.
The cool system is the part of our willpower that is rational and thoughtful and enables us to consider the consequences of our actions in order to resist our impulses. The cool system helps us look for ways to distract us from our urges and find more appropriate ways to deal with our desires.
When it comes to online gaming, it can be very easy to get hooked. Be aware of how long you’re playing for, and make sure you take breaks.
Here are some warning signs that online gaming is starting to affect your life:
- You find yourself isolating yourself from friends and family- hardly seeing or going out with friends anymore and reducing the time spent with your family when at home
- You’re lying to friends and family about how much time you’re spending gaming online
- You choose to play games rather than do your homework, and it’s starting to get you into trouble at school
- Playing your game is the first thing you think about when you wake up, and it’s on your mind all day at school
- You’re playing late into the night, meaning you aren’t getting enough sleep so you’re very tired during the day
- You get angry, frustrated and anxious when you aren’t allowed to play or have to stay away from gaming for a longer period of time
- You are starting to spend money in the game and can’t control this as you feel a need to buy bonus packs or loot boxes within the game
Impulsivity doesn’t appear the same way for every child and may change as children get older. Children and teens with impulsivity might:
- Do silly things to get attention
- Have trouble following rules
- Be aggressive toward other children
- Overreact to frustration, disappointment, mistakes, and criticism
- Want to have the first turn and the last word
- Not understand how their words or behaviour affect other people
- Not understand the consequences of their actions
- Take more risks with dating and sex, driving, and alcohol or drugs
When ADHD is the cause of impulsivity
One of the most common causes of frequent impulsive behaviour is ADHD. ADHD makes it hard to contain intense feelings, like anger. Researchers don’t know what causes ADHD and its symptoms. But many children and adults have ADHD, and it often runs in families. Research has shown that some parts of the brain take longer to mature in people with ADHD. Those parts of the brain help children use executive functioning skills, which include impulse control. This may explain why some people with ADHD are more impulsive than people who don’t have ADHD.