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The importance of teaching impulse control in children

Posted in: Blog | June 17, 2020

Impulse buying, eating, shouting! At some point we have all acted on impulse. There’s even a (dubious!) perfume named ‘Impulse!’ suggesting impulse is a desirable quality. By definition, impulse is, ‘ a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act.’ The questions are, is impulsive behaviour a desirable quality, and is impulse control an innate characteristic, or a skill we need to learn?

Babies are born with no impulse control at all. They react purely on instinct, not having the experience to reflect on the consequences of their actions. Reflection is key to managing impulse control. It is only through experience that we learn the need to control some impulses, in order to keep ourselves, and others, safe and happy.

The Australian parenting website, ‘’ , says, ‘From around about 12 months, they ( babies) begin to understand and manage their behavioural reactions.’ As in all things, they do require help, and they learn from example, and modelled behaviour. Here at TinyToes, we practice teaching self-regulation (impulse control) through modelled behaviour, games, and fun activities.

The first things babies learn is how to self-soothe, and to anticipate events. In TinyToes baby room, our staff are alert to the involuntary cues the babies give us. Some of these include; yawning, rubbing eyes, no interest in interacting, and/or becoming fractious. These cues indicate the child feels it’s time to sleep. Research shows there is a fifteen minute window in which to commence the baby’s sleep routine. Miss this, and it can lead to prolonged periods of crying and distress, ( That’s just the parents!) as the babies desperately try to get to sleep. Being too tired to sleep, is a very real phenomena! Tiny Toes has a very clear routine for our babies, and they recognise the cues they are given, such as being settled for lunch, and learn to control their impulse to demand instant gratification ,because they are hungry and want food NOW! They know when lunch/tea is coming, as they learn to read the cues, and learn to wait.

As the children pass through Tiny Toes, they learn, through games and activities, to control their impulses. Turn -taking, waiting games, sharing, following a rhythm, freeze dancing, even squeezing play-dough when they feel stressed or angry, all contribute to teaching impulse control.

Learning to control impulsive behaviour stands children in good stead for life choices. In adolescence and teenage years, having good impulse control pays dividends when, in the early twenties, the pre-frontal cortex ( responsible for decision making) becomes fully developed.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment’ found pre-schoolers who were better able to delay gratification, went on to have higher educational levels, and better emotional coping ability than their peers, who gave into impulse right away.

Here at Tiny Toes we do our very best to help our children reflect on their experiences, which in turn, helps them take control of their impulses.


Sue Ord

Level 6 Qualified Teacher Status

Specialising in Early Years Childcare Development