A lot of children struggle with impulse control. They hit out or are aggressive, then 20 minutes later they are so sorry, but they just couldn’t stop themselves.

To prevent this, talk to your child about the four methods of impulse control, and  your child can choose their favourite, to help them to stop before they react. It’s helping them create a pause button, because it’s crucial to help your child stop and think before they explode with anger.

1. Traffic lights

The first method is to help your child imagine traffic lightsThe red light means stop.
The amber light means think about how to respond.
That could be walking away, saying how they’re feeling, or perhaps asking someone to stop.
Rather than saying anything they will regret later.
Then the green light means go ahead– do the right thing – do what they planned….

2. Remote Control

The second method is for your child to imagine they’re holding the remote control. Like the remote control they use at home.
They can pretend to press the pause button, to freeze the action, and think of the best thing to do.
Then they can press the ‘go’ button when they have worked out the best thing to do

3. Three long, slow deep breaths

The third method is to take three long, slow, deep breaths before reacting.
Take a big breath in, then breathe out the longest, slowest breath out that they can, and repeat that three times.

It’s useful to understand what’s going on in their brain.
If your child is angry, in the brain is a small almond shaped structure called the amygdala.
When the amygdala is triggered, it starts the fight or flight reaction. That makes your child take fast, shallow breaths, and sends oxygen to their muscles ready for them to run away or hit out.

However, if  they take three long deep breaths, it overrides the amygdala. It’s like the deep breathing causes the brain to think: “OK, we thought we had an emergency, but now there’s long slow deep breaths, so we can calm down now. Panic over.” The deep breathing also gives your child the chance to stop and work out what they should do next.

The calm button

The final method is for your child to set a calm button’, to help them feel calmer when they feel angry or upset.
To do this,your child needs to be into a completely calm state. Perhaps when they are just about to go to sleep or relaxing on the sofa.
When they are feeling as calm as possible, they should set their ‘calm button’ by putting their right thumb on the palm of their left hand, with the other fingers on the back of their hand and squeezing gently. Or by touching their thumb and one of their fingers together. It’s important to really tune in to how calm they are. And how floppy their muscles feel.
They should do this up to 15 times.
Then when they feel angry or annoyed, they can press their calm button to calm themselves.

Go through these four impulse control methods with your child and get them to choose the one they want to try first. If you see your child beginning to get angry, say something like, “remember the remote control,” to help them use the technique they chose.

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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