Impulse control or self-regulation is that ability to stop and consider the options before acting and/or do what needs to be done (even if you don’t want to). Not being able to control your response in a given situation can appear to be a blatant disregard for the “rules” (whether explicit or implicit) but it is usually not. This inability to control the reaction to a situation long enough to consider the consequences or alternatives is what gets many children with ADHD in trouble, even though after the fact they can clearly explain what went wrong. It is the immediacy of the reaction whether it is verbal, physical or emotional that causes difficulties in both academic and social situations. You’ve probably heard of the marshmallow experiment they did with some young children back in the 1960’s. If they could wait fifteen minutes before eating the marshmallow in front of them, they would get another marshmallow. Those that could wait, (showed signs of self-regulation) seemed to do better in school and in life.
As adults, those with self-regulation challenges will become more “tuned” in to other’s reactions to their behaviors and often they decrease but may continue to be seen as having a short temper.
Blurts out answers or interrupts with questions
Hits, pushes, grabs or runs off
Blows up if homework becomes difficult or can’t continue
Tantrums and play date disasters
Yelling and screaming when things don’t go their way
Inappropriate comments or jokes (and not noticing the other person’s reaction)
Ways to help:
- Make sure your child/teen is really aware of what happened. Often times we assume they understand when they really don’t. Talk with him or her after everyone is calm and get their perspective of what happened and why. (I call this rewind and review)
- Sarah Ward suggests teaching children to STOP and Read the room. STOP (slide 34) is an acronym for Space, Time, Objects and People and it teaches children to use the information they can gather to make decisions based on checking such things as; where they are, what is happening in the moment, what do they need, and what is that person asking them?
- Set up a secret signal or warning word that lets your child or teen know that they are heading towards an inappropriate response and should stop and consider alternatives before reacting.
- Before going into a potential situation discuss the types of things that could happen and work with your child to provide alternatives. Setting clear expectations with behavior options before the situation arises is the best way to prevent potential problems.
- Provide examples of your own use of self-regulation by talking out loud as you go through the mental process of choosing a response. Ex. “I am so frustrated that this is not working out and I feel like I am getting mad at myself, I think I need to take a short break and think about how else I can fix this.”
- Some teens benefit from having a preset reward. Be sure to build up their tolerance levels by slowing increasing the length of time and push the reward out as well.
- Understand that your child/teen is not doing this deliberately, it is neurobiological. Also those with ADHD are emotionally/developmentally about three years behind their peers (Barkley). If possible, change the environment in any way to prevent potential problems.
Self-Regulation is probably the toughest skill to master, yet it has the biggest payoff. Using positive reinforcement before your child acts out, asking “what” questions and not “why” questions, (which often imply wrongdoing) and practicing positive responses will help build your child’s ability to self-regulate. As school begins, be sure that your child’s teacher understands Executive Dysfunction and has effective, positive strategies to help your child – or find one that does.