This article will provide parents and educators with a diverse collection of 10 fun and engaging impulse control activities for kids, fostering the development of self-regulation skills in an enjoyable and accessible manner.
Impulse control for children
Impulse control is an important part of any development. Adults can easily forget how much they use impulse control and what that looks like for children who may not have to stop themselves from ramming another car on the road or screaming at their partner. Impulse control can look very different, especially for children, and it typically focuses on fostering self-regulation, such as:
- Not saying every negative thought that comes to mind
- Using coping strategies instead of physically acting out when angry
- Raising your hand to speak in a classroom
- Not talking over people who are speaking
- Asking if you can join in an activity or a game instead of just shoving your way in
- Standing in line without pushing other kids
- Asking to share a toy instead of taking it
- Being patient and learning to wait
- Waiting for instructions before doing something
- Staying focused on long-term goals like homework instead of getting distracted
There are several types of self-regulation for children that fall under impulse control, but for those children who have difficulty with impulse control, there are an equal number of activities you can try to help reinforce these concepts.
Impulse control activities for kids
Freeze and focus
One of the first impulse control strategies for kids is to freeze and focus. With a freeze game, children learn to focus by dancing.
An adult can hold up a picture of a stick figure in a specific position, like a specific dance move, and children focus on what they observe while listening to music. As soon as the music stops, they freeze when they get into the position that they saw on the placard or the piece of paper.
This activity is good for helping children with self-control, following directions, and basic memory skills like remembering what position they were supposed to land in when the music stopped playing.
Simon says mindfully
Traditional games like Simon Says can be turned into impulse control activities when they are done mindfully. With these types of strategies, the goal is to be the last person in a group because you only moved when the phrase Simon Says was initiated by the adult portraying the character of Simon.
But making it mindful can provide a better twist on the traditional game where kids jump or run. With mindful commands, it’s not a competition in the traditional sense but rather, commands that have children do things like melt into a puddle, move their bodies slowly down to the ground, or do deep breathing with the command to be like the Wicked Witch of the West when she was found lying flat on the ground.
These types of games can be very useful in helping children focus on what muscles they are tightening when they freeze and then what muscles they are loosening when they let their bodies melt. It’s particularly useful for helping children cultivate body awareness when they are stressed.
Emotion regulation through art
Other successful activities for impulse control include art. The nice thing about art is that it can be any form of artwork your child enjoys, such as:
- Paper mache
In some instances, the tactile engagement of things like making clay figures or painting with fingers can help with mood regulation. But art is also a way to be mindful, pause, and reflect on emotional states. Children who might not be able to express their emotions with words can find better success expressing their emotions with art.
Similarly, artwork can teach students to deal with negative emotions like impulsivity or anxiety in healthy fashions by using simple coloring books where they can exercise control when other things seem out of control.
Storytelling with interruptions
Storytelling can be a useful impulse control strategy for kids when they intentionally integrate interruptions. For example, you might get a story about self-control strategies or about recognizing different moods like stress, anxiety, or even depression. But with that come things like activities or opportunities for children to impulsively shout out answers or recreate elements of the story.
When children have difficulty regulating emotions or expressing emotions, activities for impulse control can include emotional charades. Emotional charades are like traditional games, but they help kids connect to their emotions by using body language and facial expressions to express how they are feeling.
Other participants can watch the feeling or emotion being acted out with body and face only and try to guess what it is. This helps children learn how to better communicate their feelings with body language.
Impulse control activities for kids need to help build several skills, like cognitive control. Cognitive control is what helps children and adults ignore distractions around them and focus on their long-term goals. Breathing Buddies is an activity that helps children practice mindfulness but in a way that is more appropriate for their age.
With this, children are given a stuffed animal or a toy or told to look at their hands, and that becomes their breathing buddy. During breathing buddy sessions, children can use any object to practice mindful breathing. The child lays down on the floor and puts the object on their stomach, and as adults count to three, they can watch their belly fill up with air, raising the object and then count to three as the children watch that same object go down as they exhale.
The waiting game
The waiting game can be a useful impulse control activity. With this, you ask a child a question, but they have to wait at least 5 seconds to answer. This teaches them to help control impulsivity by taking the time to pause before responding.
Role-playing and social scenarios
Role-playing and social scenarios can be equally useful as impulse control activities for kids because they give children an opportunity to play different roles and determine the impact that impulsivity has in different situations and how they might learn from others to control their impulses.
The whisper challenge
The whisper challenge is a take on the telephone game. One person Whispers something into the ear of the next person, and the person who is listening has to pay very close attention to try and figure out what it is they’re saying by reading their lips or listening very closely.
Sensory and calming activities
Other activities for impulse control extend to sensory and calming activities, which can help children integrate different senses while also providing a calming effect in moments when they might be impulsive or anxious.
Tips for parents and educators
If you are a parent or an educator looking for impulse control strategies for kids, there may not be a single strategy that works. You might have to consider several strategies at different times based on circumstances. Moreover, you shouldn’t limit yourself to these activities if you find something else that works equally well.
Implementing these activities effectively
You should also consider implementing these activities as early as you can. The earlier you start to incorporate activities that teach mindfulness and impulse control, the better the long-term results will be.
Creating a supportive environment for learning self-control
You should also create a supportive environment for children while they are learning self-control. That supportive environment can extend to having a specific chair, place on the couch, or room where children go to practice things like buddy breathing or the whisper challenge. It also means making sure that other people in the house or the classroom are an equal part of the activities for impulse control, especially if they are family.
Recognizing and celebrating progress
When using activities for impulse control, always recognize and celebrate progress, no matter how small it might be. You might exercise the waiting game, and your child might not make it past one second the first time you try it and then might not make it past 2 seconds the next few times. But in each of these cases, that represents progress, and progress should be celebrated.
Overall, activities for impulse control are essential in child development. It’s important that parents and teachers consistently integrate these activities in order to better nurture self-regulation. Impulse control is a skill, and it has to be cultivated with regular practice; however, that practice should be purposeful and enjoyable.