Impulse Control and Problem Solving Skills with Children

The hassles in the lives of some youth with potential occur largely as a result of their impulsive nature and limited repertoire of problem solving skills. When frustrated, these children quickly resort to defiance, yelling, hitting, breaking things, swearing, and pushing; and never seem to learn from experience how to better control themselves or solve problems more effectively. The following techniques will help to teach your young Compeer friend how to develop better impulse control when frustrated or provoked and a problem solving formula to solve problems more effectively.

To get started on the road to better impulse control, it’s important to introduce the child to self-talk or self-guiding statements. Self-guiding statements are the private thoughts that all humans use to direct thinking, behavior and problem solving efforts, and to evaluate personal performance at any given moment. To help the child grasp this concept, offer a clear definition of self-talk and give examples. Self-talk is something that all kids and grown-ups do all the time, but nobody sees. Self-talk means the private thoughts that you have in your mind about your behavior, and about what is going on around you. For example, when you feel hungry, you probably think something like “It’s time to get a snack.” That thought is your self-talk. Kids can learn all kinds of self-talk to help improve self-control in tough situations and to help them choose better ways of solving problems. Children can also use the following method to deal with all kinds of frustrating situations and social problems. (Kendall & Braswell 1993, Nelson & Finch 1996).

Step 1: Stop and think!

The goal of this step is to help the child interrupt his seemingly automatic, aggressive responses long enough to consider alternate ways of solving problems. To help the child learn this first step, encourage him to imagine specific frustrating situations that typically elicit his aggressive responses – tell him these are exactly the times to incorporate the words “stop and think” into his self-talk.

Step 2: What is the problem?

Gives the child a chance to identify and define the problem in clear and simple terms.

Step 3: What are some possible solutions?

Have the child generate 3 solutions to his problem.

Step 4. What are the possible consequences or outcomes of each solution?

Have the child anticipate the likely impact and outcome of each solution.

Step 5. Pick the best solution and use it.

The child makes a choice on his sense of which solution stands the best chance of solving his problem with the least risk of getting into trouble.

Step 6. How did the solution work?

Have the child step back and make a judgment about how well the solution worked. If it worked well, encourage the child to praise himself for a job well done. If the plan didn’t work, go back to step 1 and find another solution.

The following is an example of what this might look like in a real life situation:
At a party two boys decide to play a practical joke on “Jake”. As one boy talks to Jake, the other boy sneaks up behind him and stuffs an ice cube down his shirt. Both boys then start laughing about Jake’s visible discomfort. Although Jake is furious, he remembers his impulse control and problem solving plan. A slow motion picture of this moment might look like this:

  • Stop and think!
  • What’s the problem? 
    The problem is these guys are being mean to me.
  • What are some solutions? 
    I could beat them up, I could be a good sport about the joke and act like I don’t care all that much; I could get help from one of the adults.
  • What are the consequences of each of these three solutions? 
    If I try to beat them up, I’ll get into trouble and miss out on the rest of the party. If I stuff my feelings, act like I don’t care, I’ll stay out of trouble and the other kids might think I’m pretty cool. If I go tell an adult, the kids will think I’m a tattletale.
  • Which solution do I want to use? 
    I’ll pretend to go along with the joke, be a good sport and act like I don’t care about the ice down my shirt. Jake selects this solution and uses it.
  • How did everything work out? 
    A few minutes later Jake asks himself- how did it work, this worked! I didn’t get into trouble, and I’m still having fun at the party. One of the adults noticed what those boys did to me and they got scolded. That’s good enough for me. I did a good job handling this problem.