Impulsivity

Is your acting without thinking?

Is your child:

  • Acting now and thinking later?
  • Making mistakes and feeling remorse afterwards?
  • Moving constantly?
  • Never thinking about his or her actions or the consequences of such?
  • Running away from you at the grocery store or in a parking lot?
  • Seeming to have no concern for safety?
  • Acting hyper and intrusive, even when another child has had enough?
  • Liking to hug and roughhouse, even with kids who do not appear to be having fun?

LET'S TALK ABOUT IT

As a parent, you may find yourself constantly saying, “No…wait…no,” “Stop!” or “ouch, you hurt me!” Children who are impulsively moving about tend to accidentally hurt themselves or others. They break things all the time and bump into people constantly.

Impulsive children see something and move toward it; they hear something and go for it.

Impulsivity is the inability to hold back on doing things, even things that are not such a good idea. Some children exhibit extreme impulsivity. These kids never stop moving. You will feel exhausted after an hour with them.

It may seem like all the child can see are green lights. Any time something interesting appears, it is instantly met with an action. Often, these children are out of their seats when they shouldn’t be, rushing through homework, and having difficulties waiting in line.

These impulsive behaviors often lead to getting into other people’s space, annoying others and not stopping to read social cues.

This behavior may be observed when the child approaches a carefully constructed train set, and without a moment’s thought, he breaks the track, and crashes all the trains.

Impulsive children often play too intensely and wildly; accidentally running over a friend’s foot with a bicycle tire or mowing down a friend’s beautifully built block tower. Because it was a complete accident, they are often left feeling remorseful if someone is hurt.

These children may have trouble making friends because they can’t seem to slow down enough to see what the other kids want to do or to share in a conversation.

In older children, you might notice that your child is excluded in group work because the other kids are so frustrated from being pulled off task or distracted.

CLINICAL DESCRIPTION

Impulsivity, can be roughly defined as action without forethought.

More specifically, impulsivity is considered the behavioral manifestation of an individual’s inability to inhibit the prepotent response. In plain English, this description means that the child is having trouble stopping himself from what he automatically wants to do.

It is the situation where the child sees the cookie on the table and knows full well that mom has told him to wait until after dinner. The child instantly grabs the cookie and devours it, much to his own surprise. When mom enters the room, wagging her finger and asking, “Why did you do that,” the child has no idea.

Attention Problems: Impulsivity could be related to attention challenges and to lack of impulse control. If a child does not have the ability to slow down, stop and think before acting, then bad decisions may be the result. In the absence of emotional challenges, these symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity may be related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Emotional Regulation: Some impulsive behaviors have an emotional origin. That is, your child may be somewhat out of control in terms of managing his or her feelings, leading to regrettable behavior.

Impulsivity in the context of irritable mood or frequent mood swings might indicate a Mood Disorder. Your child’s tendency to be grouchy, angry, or moody may lead to erratic and unpredictable behavior.

Social Skills: The underlying problem here could also be related to social awareness, social perspective taking or social understanding, which are challenges commonly associated with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Failing to read other children’s cues effectively can lead to social mistakes. Children with ASD may have an impaired ability to read social space or to refrain from giving a bear hug to a shy classmate. Thus, your child’s behaviors may seem impulsive when he or she is actually lacking social savvy.

Behavior Problem: Impulsive children may act in a certain way without understanding the ramifications of their actions. For example, the child may push a child out of his way to get to the front of the line for the slide on the playground.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS VERY IMPULSIVE

Clinically, impulsivity, can be roughly defined as action without forethought.

More specifically, impulsivity is considered the behavioral manifestation of an individual’s inability to inhibit the prepotent response. In plain English, this description means that the child is having trouble stopping himself from what he automatically wants to do.

It is the situation where the child sees the cookie on the table and knows full well that mom has told him to wait until after dinner. The child instantly grabs the cookie and devours it, much to his own surprise. When mom enters the room, wagging her finger and asking, “Why did you do that,” the child has no idea.

Attention Problems: Impulsivity could be related to attention challenges and to lack of impulse control. If a child does not have the ability to slow down, stop and think before acting, then bad decisions may be the result. In the absence of emotional challenges, these symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity may be related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Emotional Regulation: Some impulsive behaviors have an emotional origin. That is, your child may be somewhat out of control in terms of managing his or her feelings, leading to regrettable behavior.

Impulsivity in the context of irritable mood or frequent mood swings might indicate a Mood Disorder. Your child’s tendency to be grouchy, angry, or moody may lead to erratic and unpredictable behavior.

Social Skills: The underlying problem here could also be related to social awareness, social perspective taking or social understanding, which are challenges commonly associated with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Failing to read other children’s cues effectively can lead to social mistakes. Children with ASD may have an impaired ability to read social space or to refrain from giving a bear hug to a shy classmate. Thus, your child’s behaviors may seem impulsive when he or she is actually lacking social savvy.

Behavior Problem: Impulsive children may act in a certain way without understanding the ramifications of their actions. For example, the child may push a child out of his way to get to the front of the line for the slide on the playground.

SIMILAR SYMPTOMS

If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for links to information about other related symptom areas.

  • Attention challenges (Focusing): difficulty with attention will often relate to challenges with impulsivity
  • Emotion regulation or mood swings: being impulsive can be related to underlying mood swings, breaking rules might be caused by irritable mood; feelings of sadness and depression
  • Social problems (Socializing): being impulsive can be related to trouble reading social cues and knowing when to stop; this behavior can look impulsive
  • Noncompliance: being impulsive can be related to poor behavior choices. The child may think, “if I hit or push, then I get my toy back.”

POTENTIAL DISABILITIES

Children who have significant problems in this area may have any of the following potential disabilities. *Note, this information does not serve as a diagnosis in any way. See the ‘Where to Go for Help’ section for professionals who can diagnose or provide a referral.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: social skills difficulties and an inability to read social cues can make a child appear impulsive
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Combined Type or Hyperactive Impulsive Type: challenges sustaining attention; distractibility; hyperactivity; impulsivity; may lead to impulsivity
  • Behavior Disorders: behavioral disorders that are created by accidental reinforcement of bad behaviors (it’s reinforcing to push a sibling and get the toy you want). Children with behavior disorders may appear to be impulsive.
  • Depression: depressed mood, or, in children, irritability that is pervasive; decreased interest in activities that used to be enjoyable; may respond in a negative manner. Children who are extremely moody may appear impulsive.
  • Bipolar Disorder: irritability that is pervasive; alternating with periods of elevated mood, pressured speech, increased goal-directed activity, and impulsivity. In children, cycles tend to be less differentiated; these periods may blend together; and the child may appear hyperactive or impulsive [9].

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help; they may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.

  • CLEAR Child Psychology: to obtain a customized profile of concerns for your child or to consult ‘live’ with a psychologist
  • Psychotherapist or play therapist: to treat emotional symptoms that arise and to help with social skills training, planning and organization
  • ABA therapist: to treat behavior; to conduct an analytical Functional Analysis of the function of the behavior that can help guide treatment
  • Psychologist or neuropsychologist: to consider a full assessment to examine symptoms in a mental health and/or behavioral context
  • Psychiatrist: to prescribe and manage psychotropic medication for inattention, impulsivity; stimulant medication for ADHD is effective in a high percentage of children with focus and impulsivity challenges

These professionals may recommend or administer the following tests for this symptom:

LEARN MORE

[1] Barkley, Russell A. (2013). Taking charge of ADHD, 3rd edition: The complete, authoritative guide for parents.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Taking-Charge-ADHD-Third-Authoritative/dp/1462507891/

[2] Siegel, Daniel J. & Bryson, Tina Payne (2012). The whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture your Child’s Developing Mind.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Whole-Brain-Child-Revolutionary-Strategies-Developing/dp/0553386697/

[3] Greene, Ross W. (2001). The explosive child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Explosive-Child-Understanding-Frustrated-Chronically/dp/0060931027/

[4] Smith, Bryan & Griffen, Lisa M. (2016). What were you thinking? Learning to control your impulses (Executive function).

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/What-Were-You-Thinking-Learning/dp/1934490962/

[5] Kroncke, Anna P., & Willard, Marcy & Huckabee, Helena (2016). Assessment of autism spectrum disorder: Critical issues in clinical forensic and school settings. Springer, San Francisco.

Springer: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319255026

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Assessment-Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Psychological/dp/3319255029/.

[6] Cook, Julia (2012). Personal space camp.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Personal-Space-Camp-Julia-Cook/dp/1931636877/

[7] Esham, Barbara (2015). Mrs. Gorski, I think I have the wiggle fidgets. (New edition) (Adventures of everyday geniuses.)

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Gorski-Fidgets-Adventures-Everyday-Geniuses/dp/1603368175/.

[8] Papolos, Demitri & Papolos, Janice (2002). The Bipolar Child: The definitive and reassuring guide to childhood’s most understood disorder. https://www.amazon.com/Bipolar-Child-Definitive-Reassuring-Misunderstood/dp/0767928601/

Image Credit:
Description Curious little boy playing with electric plug. Trying to insert it into the electric socket. Danger at home
Stock Photo ID: #120516725 (Big Stock)
By: avemario
Impulsive-behavior-in-child
Previously Licensed on: May 20, 2017
Stylized by Katie Harwood exclusively for CLEAR Child Psychology

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