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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Impulse Control: Managing Behaviors of ADHD Kids

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.

kids flying kite

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
  • Medicine

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:

  • Distractions
  • Consequences
  • Rewards

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.

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