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Understanding Your Child’s Impulsive Behavior


Understanding Your Child’s Impulsive Behavior


Is your child impulsive? Aren’t most children! The question is: is it something that your child will outgrow and can be ignored, or is it something that you must pay attention to with haste?

Impulsive behavior among children isn’t unusual. It is something that they learn to control gradually through the years. There are youngsters who develop self-control sooner than others, and there are those whose impulsivity remains noticeably strong beyond their age. For instance, a toddler may get “wild” at the sight of the ice cream truck and dash for it despite a speeding car. A child aged five or older would likely ask first if he/she could cross the street to buy ice cream. If the latter makes a dash like that, it is something you must worry about.

Impulsivity can be worrisome. More than the risks that it may bring your child, it can also be a sign that your little one is struggling with an emotional, learning, or behavioral condition.


Impulsivity: What is it?

A child’s “impulsive behaviors are those that are done quickly, without thought to the consequences.” The International Society for Research on Impulsivity defines it as “behavior without adequate thought, the tendency to act with less forethought than do most individuals of equal ability and knowledge, or a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions.”

Child Mind Institute’s clinical psychologist Dr. Matthew Cruger points out that
“It’s not easy to identify unusual impulsivity in kids…” For a child, it is normal because the ability to step on the “mind brake” is something they have not completely developed yet. This makes it difficult for a parent to identify if their child is just “being a kid,” or if it is an “unusual impulsiveness” that needs attention. Excessive impulsiveness may indicate something else, which is why it is important that a child’s impulsive behaviors are assessed by a professional.

The most common condition in children associated with impulsiveness is
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. This is the condition that most excessively impulsive children are struggling with. It is a brain-based condition that is affects about eight to 10 percent of all the American children aged 3 to 17. Statistics show that boys are more vulnerable to it than girls.


Behavioral Manifestations of Impulsivity

If you are more tolerant, you may just dismiss your child’s impulsive behaviors as a function of being a child. How would you know your child is just being a typical youngster or is more impulsive than normal and needs to be professionally assessed? “If your child is always on the go as if driven by a motor,” so that he/she is always figuring out in accidents compared to another child of the same age, their impulsiveness could be excessive.

A child’s ability to put a brake on their behavior is relative to age. Two-year old toddlers often act without thinking, but it is something they learn to control as they grow older. At age three or four, they may still be impulsive, but less so than when they were two. If your child is gripped with ADHD, however, they may manifest the same degree of impulsiveness as a toddler even when they reach school age. This underscores the importance of recognizing the signs of excessive, alarming impulsivity.


According to Understood (For Learning and Attention Issues), some behavioral manifestations of a child’s impulsive behaviors are:

  • Blurting out answers in class rather than raising hands and waiting to be called on
  • Grabbing toys from other children
  • Pushing or shoving other children when angry or teased
  • Butting in to the front of the line
  • Sensation seeking such as acting in dangerous ways to feel the adrenalin rush
  • Getting up from seat even though it is not the time to move around
  • Difficulty waiting their turn when playing games with other children, yelling or getting angry while waiting
  • Interrupting others during conversations
  • Rushing into tasks without listening to directions


The Roots of Impulsivity

Impulsivity isn’t just a result of ineffective parenting. It also isn’t an emotional condition. It is, though, a symptom that may indicate an emotional condition and learning or communication disorder. Aside from ADHD, some common triggers are anxiety, autism, and sensory processing issues.

Impulsivity could be an indication of an unrecognized anxiety. A child who has many fears and worries may have difficulty adjusting to nerve-wracking issues or stressful situations. An anxious child has the tendency to experience the “fight or flight” response more often, which isn’t healthy. Anxiety may also contribute to a child’s vulnerability to other emotional and behavioral conditions.

A child who has difficulty expressing their thoughts because of a communication or learning disorder, may find moving around and impulsively reacting to stimuli as a way to release their feelings and thoughts. Children with sensory processing issues and autism, as well as those exposed to a trauma or neglect are prone to impulsivity and anxiety – all these fuel impulsiveness.


Could it be ADHD?

Impulsiveness is a major symptom that is often associated with ADHD. Just because your child is impulsive doesn’t mean he/she is gripped with ADHD. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has three hallmark symptoms, to include inattention and hyperactivity. There are children with ADHD who are impulsive and hyperactive, but can pay attention. And there are those who can be inattentive, but not disruptive. The latter are the ones whose symptoms are more difficult to recognize.

Being more disruptive, children who are impulsive and hyperactive are the ones who are likely to attract your attention, maybe not in a good way, but they can make you worry more, prompting you to seek answers from an expert. Impulsive and hyperactive children with ADHD often have difficulty focusing on a task and have trouble sitting still without fidgeting. They don’t reflect on the consequences of their actions. As a result, they may perform poorly in school or have frequent clashes with other children for being excessively rowdy and/or unruly.


Helping Your Impulsive Child Gain Control

While impulsive behaviors are not unusual among children, they are not to be ignored when they are excessive for their age. They could be a symptom of an emotional, learning, or behavioral issue that needs professional intervention. Consulting a professional therapist independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services – Southern Pines, NC, could be your best option.

Seeking help for your child may mean the assessment of their symptoms, the diagnosis of their emotional, behavioral or learning issues, and their treatment. To help your child have a supportive and nurturing environment, your child’s therapist may also assist in your empowerment as a caring, proactive, and well-informed parent.

If your child has ADHD or is struggling with a learning or behavioral issue, working with a professional can help you get a better understanding and help him/her in their challenges. Together, you can develop and implement a therapy program designed to better manage your child’s symptom and reinforce their strengths. Contact Carolina Counseling Services – Southern Pines, NC, today. A licensed professional independently contracted therapist will be matched to your specific needs.


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