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Impulsive Behavior in a Child

Kids often act before they think, but as children mature they begin to learn how to control their impulses. However, with some children, impulsive behavior continues on to the extent that it disrupts their lives and the lives of those around them. Often, helping these children requires a great deal of understanding and specialized knowledge.


The definition of impulsive behavior in children varies, but generally it is defined as erratic and poorly controlled behavior. The vagueness of the definition can cause problems for educators who want to label a child so that he can receive services. It is also not a particularly useful definition for parents who are unsure what good behavior consists of.

Time Frames

By the age of 2, some children begin to remember the consequences and admonitions of prior impulsive behavior; for example, they may remember a time-out and stern lecture about throwing a toy truck. By the time kids are preschoolers, they begin to develop some self-regulation. Once they start school, children are expected to be able to control their impulses most of the time, although when they are provoked — by teasing, for example — many older kids who have impulse control problems, and even some who do not, can react erratically.


Impulsive behavior in young children is often, although not always, related to their emotional reactions to situations over which they have no control. For example, the babysitter arrives and, as the parents head for the door, the child knocks over a potted plant. In older kids, impulsive behavior can run the gamut of kids blurting out comments in class to driving erratically.


Impulsive behavior in kids can originate from a number of causes. Although impulsive behavior is usually a component of Attention Deficit Hypertension Disorder (ADHD), not all kids who demonstrate impulsive behavior are diagnosed with ADHD. The child’s basic nature plays a strong role in whether he will have problems with impulsive behavior, as do family dynamics and stressful factors in their lives. Boys tend to exhibit more impulsive behavior than girls do.

Prevention and Treatment

Kids, particularly boys, are less likely to exhibit impulsive behavior when their mothers are responsive and sensitive, and more likely to develop impulsive behavior if their mothers were inconsistent and punitive. Patience along with positive reinforcement for positive behavior are key factors. Some parents, therapists and teachers help kids learn relaxation techniques, try to show them how to focus on one task at a time, creating a calm environment. Computer software is available that gives kids a chance to do some problem solving and self-regulation that can lead to the reduction of impulsive behavior. In some cases, doctors prescribe medication for children with severe impulsive behavior problems.

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