It's hard for kids to hold back when they see something they really want. They need the ice cream cone NOW. They want their turn at the new video game NOW.
Most kids learn self-control as they get older. Yet it can be harder for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to gain control over their impulses. As kids they might blurt out answers in class without raising their hand. Or they might jump into games without waiting their turn.
In the teenage years, impulsivity can lead kids to drive while drunk, get into fights, have unprotected sex, or abuse drugs and alcohol.
Impulsive kids can seem out of control. But there are effective ways to get a handle on this behavior. Treatments that can help include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
Teach New Behavior Skills
One way to help your child gain control over his or her impulses is with behavior skills therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and a form of CBT called social skills training, teach kids with ADHD how to:
- Take charge of their behavior
- Interact more positively with others
- Learn the consequences of their actions
In CBT, children learn important skills, such as how to:
- Wait their turn
- Read social cues, like facial expressions and body language, and adjust their behavior based on these cues
- Play by the same rules as other children
- Understand the results of their actions
You can also control your child's impulsivity at home by using tools such as:
Here are some tips:
Distraction. When your child acts impulsively, distract him or her by redirecting to another activity. For example, you can say: "I know you want the video game. But why don't we play a game of catch until your friends are done playing with it?"
Consequences. Set clear and consistent consequences for bad behavior. For example, you can say: "You didn't stop interrupting so I'm sending you to your room to quiet down."
Rewards. When your child stays in control and controls his impulses, reward him or her with praise.
Work With Teachers
Your child spends most of the day at school. That's why it's important to reinforce in school any behavior skills your child learns at the therapist's office or at home.
To curb impulsivity during the day, make the teachers your allies. Try taking these steps:
- Keep in close touch with all of your child's teachers.
- Ask frequently how your child is behaving in school.
- Work together with teachers to find solutions for any impulsivity issues that arise.
If you've ever sent your child outside to burn off some energy when he or she was misbehaving, you were on the right track. Studies are finding that exercise can help control impulsivity and other behavior problems in kids with ADHD.
Consider signing your child up for a sports team, such as basketball, soccer, or baseball. Playing a sport not only gives kids exercise, but it also teaches them important social skills, such as how to follow rules and take turns.
When other treatments don't work, or your child also has other ADHD symptoms, your doctor might recommend medicine. Stimulant medicines act on the brain chemicals that contribute to impulsivity.
Several different stimulant drugs are available, including:
- Adderall (dextroamphetamine/amphetamine)
- Concerta and Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
It can take some trial and error to find the medicine and dose that manages your child's impulsivity.
Even if you find a drug that works, medicine alone can't "cure" impulsivity. You will need to combine it with other therapies, especially during times when your child is off the medication, such as at night or on weekends.
It's common to get frustrated when you're living with a child with ADHD. Taking an active part in your child's treatment will help you feel more in control. And it will give you a better handle on impulsivity and other behavior problems.
Consider taking these steps:
- Learn as much as you can about ADHD and impulsive behaviors.
- Take a parent ADHD training program to learn ways to manage your child's behaviors.
- Keep in close contact with your child's doctor, teachers, and therapists.
- Join a support group to learn from other parents who have been through the same issues.
Finally, don't give up. You will find solutions to your child's impulsivity problems if you stay consistent and involve a team of teachers, therapists, and other experts.
WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on January 09, 2013
© 2013 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.