Impulsive behavior is one of the main features of ADHD. Understanding your child's ADHD and the impulsivity that comes along with it allows you to manage this troubling symptom.

“[I]mpulsivity is one of the core symptoms of ADHD,” explains to Terry Matlen, ACSW, who is a psychotherapist and the author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD.

Carol Perlman, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in ADHD and is credited with developing an effective cognitive behavioral therapy for adult ADHD, warns that impulsivity is “one of the more challenging aspects to treat and manage.”

However, whether your child has impulsive tendencies associated with ADHD or they also have an Impulse Control Disorder (or both), there are ways to control impulsivity.

ADHD and Impulsive Behavior

Impulsive behavior is a part of ADHD. In fact, this symptom often plays a huge part in the diagnosis of ADHD. Some children with ADHD are unable to stop and think before taking actions, even if those actions are potentially harmful. Impulsive behavior manifests differently in different kids. But in general, these kids tend to blurt things out and interrupt people. They also have a hard time waiting for their turn.

ADHD Diagnosis

There are three main types of ADHD: ADHD with predominant inattentiveness, ADHD with predominant hyperactivity/impulsivity, ADHD with a combination of predominant features. Only a licensed medical professional can diagnose the disorder. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must meet the following DSM-V criteria:

Impulsive Definition

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the word impulsive means "acting or done suddenly without any planning or consideration of the results." Children who are impulsive don't stop to think before they act and they have an extremely tough time controlling their response to the immediate situation. These kids don't have the ability to change their behavior based on future outcomes or consequences. Children with impulsive behavior lack self-control. Because of these traits, people often see impulsive children as aggressive, disrespectful, weird, or defiant.

Other signs of impulsivity include:

  • Interrupting others
  • Trouble waiting
  • Risk-taking
  • Blurting out comments
  • Trouble controlling emotions
  • Speaking without thinking

Impulse Control Disorder

While impulsive behavior is a symptom of ADHD, it is the defining feature of impulse control disorders. There are several impulse control disorders, but they all share an extreme lack of self-control. People who have these disorders are incapable of stopping themselves from doing things that are harmful to themselves or others. All of the impulse disorders are characterized by the inability to control one's own actions even though it has a negative impact on their life or the lives of other people they care about. Impulse control disorders, which include the following recognized conditions, occur independently or comorbidly with ADHD.

  • Pathological gambling
  • Kleptomania
  • Pyromania
  • Trichotillomania
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Compulsive sexuality
  • Internet addiction
  • Computer game addiction

ADHD Impulsive Behavior Examples

Children with ADHD have a tendency toward impulsivity. It is important to remember that not only does impulsivity manifest differently in different children, but displays of impulsive behavior can change over time in the same child. Here are a few of the impulsive behaviors parents of children with ADHD might notice.

  • Does silly or inappropriate things in an effort to get other people’s attention (class clown)
  • Has a hard time following the rules consistently
  • Is aggressive toward other kids
  • Has difficulty waiting for his/her turn
  • Grabs things from people
  • Pushes in line
  • Wants to have the last word
  • Also wants to have the first turn
  • Doesn’t understand the impact his/her words or behavior have other people
  • Overreacts to emotions such as frustration, disappointment, mistakes and criticism
  • Doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions

How to Control Impulsive Behavior

Even though it may seem that there is nothing you can do about your child's impulsivity, this simply isn't true. There are many things parents can do to help their kids control impulsive behavior. To start with, parents need to prepare themselves before they can help their children. Parents of ADHD kids with impulsive tendencies should begin by taking the following steps.

Steps for parents:

  1. Talk with your child's teacher - You child's teacher spends the entire day with your child in the classroom five days a week. This makes him or her a valuable source of information.
  2. Talk with your child's doctor - Your pediatrician is the one who makes the ADHD diagnosis and is the best one to provide you with medical advice specific to your child.
  3. Learn as much as you can - Knowledge really is power and you are your child's best advocate. The more you know about your child's diagnosis and the symptoms that go along with it, the better.
  4. Connect with other parents - Even if it is just online, connecting with other parents who are dealing with the same issues is a great way to get support and exchange ideas.

Steps for children:

Now that you are prepared, you are ready to help your child learn to control their impulsive behavior. These ten steps will help your child get control of his or her impulsivity.

  1. Teach your child to label their feelings, so they have the language they need to discuss their emotions.
  2. Ask your child to repeat directions when you give instructions.
  3. Teach your child how to use problem-solving skills.
  4. Establish household rules and stick to them.
  5. Teach anger management skills to your child.
  6. Provide structure and be consistent with discipline.
  7. Practice delayed gratification, which can be done with a reward system for good behavior.
  8. Be a good role model. Don't just tell your child how to control their impulses, show them.
  9. Encourage plenty of physical activity to expend your child's energy.
  10. Play impulse control games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Follow the Leader.

Focusing on your child's negative behaviors is all too easy. Make sure you catch them doing good things too. When you do, reward them for their positive choices and actions

Understanding Impulsivity in ADHD

The more you understand your child's ADHD diagnosis and the impulsivity that goes along with it, the better your chances of teaching your child how to control their impulsive behavior. Don't be afraid to reach out to your doctor or other experts for advice. Although this is one of the most challenging symptoms of ADHD to manage, there are steps you can take that will make a difference to your child's self-control in the long run.

Featured image CC by 0, by Trinity Kubassek, via Pexels

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