Ideas for impulsive boys

Parenting can be very lonely - especially when your child is frustrating or embarassing you.  I started writing to share my experiences and join a community of practical, grounded parents who know there are no perfect children or perfect parents, but want to enjoy parenting.  A mother of a 6 year old boy recently contacted me for ideas to help her with her impulsive child.

My 6 year old son struggles with behaviors as you described of your son.  He's impulsive and is very short fused.  I was curious to know some of the strategies you have tried with your son.  My son has especially gotten bad over the summer.  (I am a teacher and so he stays home with me).  I just feel so bad for him b/c he can be so good but I know SOMETHING is bothering him and making him act like this.  Please help!

 I'm not a mental health professional or a teacher - so I'll share what's worked for us as just that - personal experience and no more. 

  1. Take a look at sleep.  My son is much more impulsive when he's slightly tired - like 30 minutes off.  We forgo homework, which I hope your six year old doesn't have, time with us and pretty much everything else in exchange for going to bed at the same time every night.
  2. Try a simple reward chart - it has to be broken into very short intervals and he has to know what success looks like - so be specific. He should be able to earn points every 15 minutes and when he has a lot of points, there's some reward (a favorite meal, time one on one with a parent, in my son's case - time in a batting cage).  Examples are (in 15 minutes intervals): waits turn to play/speak, responds the first time asked, shares a toy.
  3. Give him an alternative way to express his physical energy - and it will be a physical alternative.  We gave my son a soccer trainer where he could kick the ball very hard and it wouldn't go anywhere.  We taught him some yoga positions that he could create pressure on his body that would calm him.  We got him permission to go run/pushups/burpees/squats.  Something that could not hurt someone else and would help him burn the energy.
  4. He's reacting because he is hurt. Something or someone frustrated or hurt his feelings. Don't invalidate what he's feeling (even if it seems trivial or out of proportion).  Validate it - son, I think you are upset/hurt/frustrated. Son - tell me what upset/hurt/frustrated you.  I'm sorry you feel that way, it must be very hard. We may not be able to change what happened, but we can choose what happens next.  What would you like that to be?  Make sure every adult who supervises him follows this sort of script - he'll calm down much faster if you don't fight him.  This doesn't mean approval - just validate his feelings before holding him accountable for his choices.
  5. Try to teach him a mantra or other mechanism to cool off when he feels upset.  This is really hard for adults - but if you can make it a habit - count to twenty in three languages, add two really big numbers together, something that redirects his mind - you'll help him for life.

He's a work in progress and virtually every interesting, driven man I know was an impulsive and hot headed youth.

When he is closer to 8, if its still an issue, I recommend investing in comprehensive academic, cognitive and behavioral testing with a psychologist qualified and experienced to do all three. We discovered that our son is exceptionally bright/gifted - but that his brain processes information incredibly fast yet auditory processing was well below average.  "People talk too slow" - and he hears so well that all the other noises get in the way while he is waiting for people to talk faster. Once we and his teachers understood his gifts and his issue, we could insist on providing directions to him in writing and giving him an escape from assemblies when the sound is too much.

One thing I noticed you mentioned is that your son found some sort of release.  That is something I am having trouble finding with my son .... other than video games ... *sigh*.  Also, We had my son evaluated by a preschool team and they did say that he is very bright/gifted but also has trouble processing information.

Do you also think that summer vacation is especially hard on kiddos like our boys b/c it is less structured?  What  can I do to help that?  Should I have a set schedule every day (soooo not my personality haha)

We have very strict rules on video games - during the summer, they can use them for 2 hours on the weekend (while we sleep) and one hour, twice a week.  They have unlimited use of Kahn Academy and Typing Ace.  But they are older than your boy - frankly, I'd take away the power cords to the video machines for a few weeks so that he learns another soothing solution.

We make our kids read a book, go outside, draw a picture.  I believe (and there is research to support it) that video games are soothing/brain numbing.  Does your son like sports?  building things? music?

Finally, I live by routines.  The kids know what to expect and when to expect it.  In between those structures, they are free.  It's much less anxious for the kids and we find behavior is much better.  For example, they know they are leaving the house by 8am.  So when they get up, they have to get dressed, eat, organize their stuff before 8am.  They can do whatever else they want as long as those three things are done.  Then they go to camp during the day - or have some sort of input into their day (we're going hiking and then can play outside for a few hours, then we are going shopping).  So - I would suggest creating a predictable routine with plenty of time for self-expression, imagination and unstructured play.  But let them know when it will end so that they can plan their play. Teaching executive function while you are at it.

It's not easy - but parenting never is.  Impulsive kids are interesting, creative, energetic and once they learn to harness their capabilities - they truly shine.

Kvelling of the Yiddisha Mama

It’s amazing that a book about the extreme discipline and focus of a high-achieving Chinese-American working mother has sparked a national discussion on parenting priorities. Certainly Professor Chua’s style is highly focused on measurable achievement – top scores, top grades, perfect performances. And David Brooks argues that she’s coddling her girls by keeping them from learning to navigate the social and emotional world.

Every parent I know (an admittedly self-selected set with fairly synchronous socio-economic characteristics) has high expectations of their children and values education. And we have a surprisingly varied array of approaches to conveying that value to our children.  We also value emotional intelligence and struggle to balance letting our kids learn by experience versus coaching them through social situations.  Here are some of our core values and how we are trying to teach them.

  • Responsibility - we use homework as an opportunity to develop this value. We expect them to do their homework and do it neatly. If they don’t do it properly, it’s between them and their teacher because that’s how we teach them to be responsible for their own work. But we do check in that they are doing it.
  • Achievement - we expect them to apply themselves and work hard in school and in their activities. We let them know that we are communicating with their teachers and getting assessments on their effort. We want them to know that we will hold them accountable for making their best effort.
  • Continuing education – last week, my son asked about his college fund and tuition.  I showed him his account and we looked up tuition at Cal Berkeley and Stanford. He appreciated how much money it would take for him to get an education – and that education is an investment.
  • Community – we discuss that our children are representing us, our school and our people in the world and that we expect them to treat people with respect and try to make the world a better place. And if they don’t, we express disappointment on par with if they don’t do their best on a test. That said, we believe that they should work out their own disagreements and ask parents for suggestions and advice, but not to fix it. They know we are in their corner, but they have to make their way in the world.
  • Mastery – every parent I know struggles to get their aspiring Mozart to practice their instrument and we are no different. Each piece of music is an opportunity to achieve mastery. Often, we find that having a performance focuses their practice and the fear of performing badly motivates more effort – resulting in the pride of mastery. 

At the end of the day, my husband and I think you cannot change a child’s inherent wiring but with lots of sleep (11 hours plus per night), good food (no soft drinks, juices or excess sweets), little screen time during the week and consistency in our expectations for school, behavior and music, we have a shot at creating self-directed, well adjusted but ambitious adults who are inspired to make a real contribution to the world.

What are your key values and how do you engage with your children to help them develop them?

Overhearing talk of drugs and sex

At some point in adolescence, my kids are going to hear someone they respect bragging about drugs and/or sex. The question is how will they react to that experience. Will they talk with me about it, avoid mentioning it or lie?

My friend's 13 year old son has a 17 year old mentor/friend. Together with other people, they went on a camping trip recently and at some point, the 13 year old overheard his friend talking about trying pot. The 17 year old was NOT talking about it with the 13 year old.

Smoking teenagers

The 13 year old came home and talked with his parents.  He told his parents that he was really disappointed in this 17 year old and that he thought what the 17 was doing was wrong.

They responded that they were so glad he told them about this. And they talked about why he was disappointed.  They didn't get angry or jump into action to talk to the 17 year old or his parents. 

In NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman show that all children lie and parents cannot detect it.  They lie to protect us and to protect themselves and to fit in. They lie to copy us...what's a parent to do?

From Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman:

Increasing the threat of punishment for lying only makes children hyperaware of the potential personal cost. It distracts children from learning how their lies affect others. 

Lots of rules don't work either since parents cannot keep track, generally don't enforce consistently and children get good at avoiding getting caught.  It appears that most children lie to avoid confrontation (for themselves or their friends) - and that's what was so amazing about my friend's response to his son.  He didn't put his son in the position of ratting out his friend and he didn't start a confrontation.  He let his son talk it out with him and reach his own conclusion. 

It's never too early to create a relationship where your child can talk to you. I am thinking a lot about how I react and listen to my kids so that when they are 13, just maybe they'll share with me just like my friend's son did with him.

What are you doing to foster that sort of open dialogue while still conveying your values?

Raising smart kids

Everyone seems to talk about how their children are succeeding or struggling at school and many preschool, middle school and high school parents talk about choosing a school to maximize their child’s potential. We’re all aware that it’s a competitive world out there and that entry to good colleges is only going to be tougher.  There’s a lot of pressure on the kids and the schools.

Firstly, I don’t actually believe that going to a good college is a guarantee of anything AND I don’t believe that going to a less competitive college is a disadvantage, necessarily.  There are scores of accomplished people whose college you wouldn’t recognize.  And there are scores of graduates from top colleges that, while bright, haven’t accomplished all that much. There are simply no guarantees in life.

University Of Birmingham Hold Degree Congregations

Second, I don’t think accomplishment is the ultimate goal.  As a parent, I want my children to be self-sufficient, productive and happy.  I want them to learn to solve problems, make good choices and to accept personal responsibility for every choice they make – including how they react to situations that don’t go their way.  That’s my definition of a smart kid.

Thirdly, I think parents have to take as much responsibility for maximizing their child’s potential as they expect of schools.  I have a short list of what those actions include (thanks to NurtureShock for much of the research):

  1. Strict bedtimes.  Every night – seven days a week. It doesn’t matter when you get home, their needs come first. The research is very clear – children of all ages, and especially teenagers, need a ton of sleep in order to learn, manage their impulses, and be pleasant company. And the bedtime needs to be the same all seven nights. Read more about sleep.
  2. Limit screen time. Really – limit it.  Go outside. Read a book.  Play a game.  Do something that isn’t looking at a screen.  Mobile phone screens count. Research is strong here too. TV and computers are not effective babysitters – they don’t engage your child.  Everyone needs to unplug.
  3. Run your puppies.  Not only does it help your children learn a healthy lifestyle, research shows that daily physical activity increases the brain’s attention span and alertness.
  4. Eat dinner together as much as possible.  I’m realistic that many families simply cannot do this every night. But research shows that doing it most nights leads to children who do better in school, stay off drugs and are safer.  Plus, it’s an opportunity to talk.
  5. Limit junk food and soda.  The sugar spike gets kids wound up and then they crash – and no one can learn while fighting off a physical need to sleep.  Plus, it’s good to learn delayed gratification and healthy eating.

As a Trustee at a community day school, I invite and hear the expectations of parents regarding the school’s responsibilities to cultivate their child’s intellect. They are wonderful ideas and reflect the love and hope of these parents for their children. But if we graded ourselves, as parents, on just these five “subjects”, how many of us would get straight-As?