Dealing with impulsive behavior

Psychologist & Author Gordon Neufeld, PhD, shares advice for parents on the best way to deal with your child's impulsive behavior
Tips For Dealing With Impulsive Behavior In Children
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Dealing with impulsive behavior

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We all start off impulsive. It’s nature’s plan. We’ve got to be able to experience one emotion at a time, just like in the eyes, one set of signals at a time until the signals mix and then we have depth vision. One hemisphere at a time in solving problems until both are established and then we have the bridge, the corpus callosum. The same thing is one emotion at a time. And with every emotion we feel like doing something – there is an impulse. And so when we say impulsive, what we mean is a child is only experiencing one emotion at a time. And it’s the way it’s meant to be. Now, the mixing bowl of the brain – the prefrontal cortex is where the emotions will mix, but that doesn’t even get going until 5 and 7 years of age. And it needs lots of developmental support. A child needs to feel his feelings to have a soft heart and this process needs to be supported by having mixed feelings. You’ll know when, because a child starts saying, “A part of me feels this way and a part of me feels that way.” “I’m really made at you, mommy, but I don’t want to hurt you.” “I’m really excited about the school play, but I’m afraid people might laugh at me.” And you actually see that emotional discord inside of them. And when that happens, it’s the beginning of self-control. And it’s a beautiful process. When children are more intense, it takes longer. Often, it doesn’t happen until 7 to 9 years of age. If their conditions are not conducive – I’ve dealt with it for years with delinquents – and they had prefrontal cortexes the size of a 4-year-old, and so they were impulsive by default. Impulsivity is always indicative of immaturity, always indicative of a lack of a pre-frontal cortex functioning. Good news is it’s never too late. The bad news is we have to start at the beginning, it’s like a muscle, it grows as it’s exercised. As parents, we must be patient – our children will grow out of impulsiveness if we support the conditions that are conducive for growth. They need to feel all of their feelings – it’s very important – but they only feel that one at a time. Now if they’re young or if they’re very intense, have patience – the nature will answer as it has answers to most of the problems that we encounter in childhood.

Psychologist & Author Gordon Neufeld, PhD, shares advice for parents on the best way to deal with your child's impulsive behavior

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Gordon Neufeld, PhD

Psychologist & Author

Dr. Gordon Neufeld is a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist with over 40 years of experience with children and youth and those responsible for them. A foremost authority on child development, Dr. Neufeld is an international speaker, a bestselling author, Hold On to Your Kids and a leading interpreter of the developmental paradigm. Dr. Neufeld has a widespread reputation for making sense of complex problems and for opening doors for change. While formerly involved in university teaching and private practice, he now devotes his time to teaching and training others, including educators and helping professionals. His Neufeld Institute is now a worldwide organization devoted to applying developmental science to the task of raising children. Dr. Neufeld appears regularly on radio and television. He is a father of five and a grandfather of three.

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