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41 Ways to Manage Impulsivity (for Children, Adolescents and Adults with ADHD)

Updated: May 15, 2023


Impulse control is our ability to stop and think before we say or do something. It is, therefore, a significant factor in our personal, professional and social development. People with a diagnosis, suspicion or traits of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might have response inhibition or impulse control challenges. This is due to their potential executive function challenges and emotional dysregulation. We must remember that impulsivity and immediate reactions to particular situations, words and actions without foresight, is a natural aspect of learning and development. Nevertheless, it becomes an issue when repetitive consequences and external pressures do not impact the individual’s behaviour management. In this article, we will discuss impulse control and specific ways to help control impulsive behaviour for children, adolescents and adults. We know now from studies on neurodiversity that it takes, on average, 66 reiterations for brains that are wired differently to build new habits. This also depends on habit difficulty and/or other comorbidities. The best way, therefore, to use the strategies that will follow is with ADHD coaching. These are not standalone strategies or accommodations. For best results, they need to be tailor-made, tweaked and measured regularly. You can book a complimentary call with Anna here to discuss your current challenges and the best way forward.


For specific games, training, activities and recommendations per age group to manage impulsivity, exclusive articles will be released in January that will only be available as part of the three available coaching packages.

IMPULSE CONTROL STRATEGIES FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS WITH ADHD

  • Working with your child to manage impulsivity requires parents or caregivers to always be clear, specific, and consistent with their expectations and consequences.

  • Practise accountability. Explain to your child the importance of knowing what is right and what is wrong. This will help them become increasingly responsible for their actions.

  • Create an environment of creative structure where mistakes are OK, but there is also increased accountability going forward.

  • Prepare your children for the unknown, potential impulsive reactions and distracting surprises. A lack of structure can set off a sudden response. It is recommended that any arrangement is mutually agreed upon, creative and not strictly obsessive.

  • More importantly, adults should model response inhibition and reinforce thinking before speaking or acting at and outside the home. Explain to your children what strategies you use to help you with delayed gratification. Work with your children to support them and also to build reasonable impulse control.

  • Use role-play scenarios and social stories that require impulse control. You can read stories about situations where people find inhibiting responses challenging and discuss the consequences of not thinking before acting.

  • Count together loudly with your child from 1 to 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 before saying or doing something.

  • Arrange for your children to play games with other children of their age group that requires them to wait for their turn or delay a response. Aim for games that reward patience.

  • Encourage your child to be patient with a younger sibling.

  • Encourage your child to complete long, multi-step tasks appropriate for their developmental level.

  • Encourage and remind your child to review homework instructions or help them with them until your child starts being more independent. Be with your child to discuss what needs to be done before starting. This will encourage them to follow instructions and go back to them when necessary.

  • Ensure your child understands instructions and what is being asked of them before beginning to work. Even a slight misunderstanding of what needs to be done can lead to a significant roadblock.

  • Puzzle-based video games are also highly encouraged because they promote delaying actions so that strategic thinking is being developed.

  • Promote high activity levels during free time.

  • Mindfulness, breathing, yoga, or meditation, when practised often and consistently, can help harness self-control.

  • Work with your child to build bespoke self-regulation strategies.

  • Be proactive. Parents are encouraged to respond to children's positive actions with genuine specific praise, the right rewards, and attention immediately.

  • Use correct reward point systems if developmentally appropriate. Part of helping a child with impulse control difficulties is achieving rewards gradually as their acceptance, tolerance, and patience are being developed. When used correctly, younger children may respond well to this technique when they earn rewards for positive behaviour.

  • Provide a quiet and distraction-free study or working environment. This will help children remain undistracted and stay away from temptations for extended periods of time.


IMPULSE CONTROL STRATEGIES FOR ADULTS WITH ADHD

The following impulse control strategies for adults can help with managing reactivity:

  • Build self-awareness.

  • Ask questions such as: Where does reactive behaviour manifest?

  • Ask questions such as: When does reactive behaviour manifest?

  • Ask questions such as: How does reactive behaviour manifest?

  • Ask questions such as: What are the most common negative consequences of impulsivity?

  • Identify positive consequences of increased impulse control.

  • Identify the challenges or obstacles that are in the way for increased impulse control.

  • Begin by keeping a tracking sheet or inventory of your impulses.

  • Make a list of recent impulsive behaviours and current behaviour that others find impulsive.

  • Practise discernment. Determine which among impulsive behaviours might cause harm to you or others.

  • Practice mindfulness. This might not be easy as you start, but it will help you in the long run. This will help you identify what causes your impulsive behaviour. Consequently, it will help you create a distance from your triggers.

  • Recognize your urges before acting impulsively.

  • Label your urge/trigger (e.g., “What I feel right now is anger”).

  • Identify what action does your emotion leads you to (e.g., “I want to berate my spouse (because I am angry).”

  • Identify the concrete steps you need to take to stop impulsivity (e.g., “I need to step away and come back when I am calm and cool already.”).

  • Go back to the situation and document your emotion, what you feel like doing and what you ended up doing instead.

  • Always remember to be kind to yourself. Use a compassionate, supportive, and encouraging voice as you manage your emotions, particularly your impatience.

  • Check in and take action. Take inventory of your emotions and your predominant thoughts before acting on impulse. The main goal is to identify the inner dialogue going on inside. Once identified, you can challenge it.

  • Do not give in. Once you master self-awareness and mindfulness, you can quickly pinpoint where and when you act impulsively. To further harness the power of impulse control, go back to your impulsive behaviour inventory, and write possible behaviour management solutions.

  • Do calming activities for impulse control. Doing relaxing activities can develop adult ADHD impulse control. The following are suggested impulse control activities: guided imagery, listening to calming music, practising deep breathing techniques, exercise, and progressive muscle relaxation.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Managing ADHD impulsivity can be pretty challenging at times, but again it is doable.

To control impulsivity, self-awareness, mindfulness, and patience are key. The process may take some time, but it will all be worth it. With the constant evolution of science and research coupled with ADHD and executive function coaching, children, adolescents and adults with or with a suspicion of ADHD can overcome and reach greater heights in whatever paths they choose to take.


Parents can act as role models and model some impulse control interventions so that their children can build their impulse control from a young age. The same applies to all professionals working with children and adolescents.



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