Understanding impulsivity in kids

By Gail Belsky

How many times have you seen kids act without thinking? Probably a lot. Most kids have moments when they’re impulsive and say or do things before they can stop themselves. They might blurt out something inappropriate or run into the street after a ball without looking.

When it happens once in a while, it can look like everyday kid behavior. When it happens a lot, though, a child may be having trouble with self-control.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of maturity. Not all kids develop at the same rate, and some just take longer than others to gain the ability to stop and think before acting.

But some kids really are unable to put on the “mental brakes.” They may often interrupt people, grab things, and take physical risks. For those kids, there may be something else causing the impulsivity. 

Impulsive behavior often makes kids seem younger than they are. An 8-year-old might have the self-control more expected from a 5-year-old, for example. You might see behaviors that you thought would have ended long ago.

Struggling with impulsivity or any other behavior challenge can impact how kids feel about themselves. When kids have more control over their actions, they feel more “mature” and have more positive self-esteem.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.