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Controlling Impulsivity

The tendency to jump into a situation without thinking or making a plan of attack characterizes the impulsive child. This behavior is evident in approaching academic work and everyday life. Helping the child control impulsivity may require consistent and concerted effort from everyone concerned. Modeling rather than talking through control techniques should be used. Initial instruction may need to focus on specific situations. The following are descriptions of two programs that are based on cognitive behavioral modification.

  • Think Aloud
    Psychologist Donald Meichenbaum has developed procedures designed to assist impulsive children in controlling their own behavior. Think Aloud assists children to "Stop! Look! and Listen!" before acting. The steps used to teach a child these self-control techniques are as follows:
    1. The adult performs a task while thinking out loud about what he or she should do. For example, "When I do two-column addition, I need to line my columns up straight, start adding in the ones' column and be sure to carry from the ones' to the tens' column."
    2. The child performs the same task under the direction of the adult following their words while doing the problem.
    3. The child performs the task while instructing himself out loud.
    4. The child whispers instruction to himself while doing the task.
    5. The child does the task while using private speech.

    Meichenbaum's research concluded that impulsive children may appear impulsive because they do not understand the requirements of the task, because they do not use self-talk for self-control, and because they produce self-talk but fail to heed their own words.

  • Stop and Think
    Phillip Kendalls' technique, Stop and Think, has as its focus the control of impulsivity and anxiety through the use of common academic content. Since variations on creative problem solving are found in literature on both learning disabilities and giftedness, this should be a familiar and favorite strategy regardless of the setting. The specific five-step problem-solving process taught to the children is as follows:
    1. "What am I supposed to do?" or "What is the problem?"
    2. "Look at all of the possibilities" (Generate alternatives)
    3. "Focus in" (Try to shut out environmental and mental distractions)
    4. "Pick an answer" (Choose from among the alternatives)
    5. "Check out my answer" and "Praise myself if I'm right and, if not, try to go more slowly and work more carefully next time"

    This variety of content underscores the universality of the problem-solving approach. The "focus in" step is an excellent addition for the distractible or impulsive student.

Council for Exceptional Children

Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.


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