Their bodies move before their brains - they act before they think. Is that lack of impulse control a hallmark of ADHD? Or just being a normal kid? And what, if anything, can you can do to help them along?
Impulsive kids act without thinking (Tick!)
Impulsive kids do things they later regret (Tick!)
Impulsive kids can’t seem to wait for what they want (Tick!)
Let’s be real. Impulsivity is a normal feature of normal kids. But there’s a point at which it may become problematic and edge into an actual disorder - ADHD being the most common.
But research increasingly suggests that impulsivity is also a factor in a host of other mental health issues in later life - from eating disorders and substance abuse to suicide attempts.
The good news for mums and dads? A few simple, practical parenting strategies can significantly reduce kids’ impulsive behaviour.
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario studied rule-breaking, risky behaviour and other impulsive activity among more than 4,500 children aged 8-11.
They found the two biggest factors were sleep and screen-time.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics and featured in Psychology Today, was based on Canada’s 24-hour movement guidelines. Those guidelines were drawn from previous research that found children who slept 9-11 hours, logged a maximum of two hours of recreational screen-time and engaged in “moderate to vigorous” physical exercise every day enjoyed a host of advantages.
They tended to think more clearly and plan more effectively. They were less likely to have an obesity problem. And overall, they had better quality of life than kids who didn’t meet the guidelines.
Impulse control and screen-time
The most recent research looked more narrowly at impulsivity - and it found sleep and screen-time were clearly linked with less disobedience, unruly behaviour and risky choices.
Kids who got enough good quality sleep and stayed within a two-hour screen-time limit were more likely to finish their homework. They also showed better self-control when upset.
Limitations and links
Did the study prove screen-time and sleep could reduce or even prevent impulsivity problems? No - and it’s important to recognise the difference between a link or an association (which is what this research uncovered) and a cause and effect relationship.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is almost certainly a relationship between the two factors that emerged most clearly - that is, reduced screen-time and better quality sleep. Cyber experts universally agree that good digital hygiene means shutting down all devices an hour before bedtime - and keeping devices out of the bedroom entirely.
It’s been well established that putting sensible limits on screen-time is one of the best ways to safeguard your child’s sleep. Studies like the present one suggest the ripple effects may go further still, influencing behavioural patterns that affect our kids’ wellbeing more broadly down the track.