Your child might know all of the rules you have set and the consequences for breaking them, but that doesn't always stop him from acting in a way he shouldn't. This is likely because he is still developing his impulse control, which is the ability to stop and think before acting. According to Education.com, most children learn self-control skills between the ages of 2 and 5, but sometimes older children continue to struggle with impulsiveness. With some practice, your child can learn to stay in control of his emotions and think about his actions.
One of the keys to developing impulse control is to recognize the difference between feelings and actions, according to Education.com. Often young children have trouble regulating their emotions and those feelings lead to negative behaviors before the child can think about them. Help your child learn to identify her feelings of anger or frustration by labeling them for her. Scholastic.com recommends validating your child's feelings and then modeling a more appropriate way to express them. For example, "No hitting Mommy. Hitting hurts. I see you are angry, so you can crumble this paper instead." This lets her know it is OK to have those feelings, but she cannot always act on them in an aggressive way.
Stop and Think
A child's inner voice plays an important role in his ability to control impulses. Children who don't understand how to control their impulses need someone to model this internalized speech and appropriate behaviors. You can show your child how to stop and think before he acts by "thinking aloud," uncovering the usually hidden process of reasoning. When you drop your cup and it spills everywhere, show him how you are feeling by saying something along the lines of, "Oh, no! I made a big mess and I'm feeling very frustrated. I need to stop and take a few deep breaths until I feel better." Teach your child techniques he can use when he starts to feel impulsive, such as deep breaths, finding a new focus or counting backward, which re-engages the thinking part of the brain, according to Scholastic.com.
Exercise and movement boost levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, according to Scholastic.com. These hormones can help improve focus and attention as well as concentration while decreasing hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Education.com lists inhibiting action, or the ability to wait for something to start, as an essential skill in learning self-control. Playing some active games with your child can help her learn about impulse control while having fun. Games such as red light, green light or Simon says encourage her to listen carefully, follow directions and control her body by stopping her motions at a given time. Another game that practices these skills is a freeze dance game. You can also play music and ask her to dance around the room, but as soon as the music stops, she has to freeze.
Memory Games and Goal-setting
A child's executive functioning skills are his ability to think, plan, problem-solve and execute tasks, according to Scholastic.com. Helping your child build those executive functioning capabilities can help him stop acting reactively and start thinking about his actions more. One way to do this is to play memory games. Research has shown that better short-term memory is linked to improved impulse control because the frontal cortex's cognitive load is lightened so it is more able to manage impulsiveness. Older elementary children are also able to set and work toward goals. Helping your child do this will improve his executive functioning and build self-control.