Controlling Impulse

In my daughter’s Kindermusik for the Young Child class this week, Ms. Carol asked the kids to pick up rhythm sticks and scarves, each in turn. This step required the kids to stop one movement quickly and start another one, all in line with the mood of the music. Music games are a great way to help kids learn impulse control.

Neurons (the nerve cells mostly in our brain) work in only 2 ways: on and off. Hopefully, by the time our children are adults, they have learned to balance the activation and inhibition messages of their brains. Clearly, however, there are neurological and other physical/psychological disorders that influence a person’s ability to regulate impulsiveness—and it is always important to make sure the expectations we have of our kids are developmentally appropriate for them and their particular circumstances.

I find it interesting, though, that the other side of impulse control can be a child’s tendency to stick to one action or thought for a long time. In this situation, rather than illustrating a child’s inability to turn “off” the impulse to act, perseveration illustrates child’s inability to turn “on” the impulse to act.

I’ve mentioned a few times about my new part-time Spanish teaching gig. While I am a trained secondary educator, in my new job I teach all of the kids at school, from Kindergarten through eighth grade. My background as a Kindermusik educator has been incredibly helpful, since Kindermusik classes span a similarly broad range of developmental milestones in kids, when you compare the babies to the first grade graduates.

Throughout my day, I see exactly how impulse control varies as kids mature. Kids’ ability to control their impulses influences their abilities to learn at school. Additionally, I note that for some kids, their pervasive impulsivity or perseveration presents some big challenges that may have life-long consequences for them. Every half-hour, though, as new classes come in, I have to adjust my expectations to allow for brain maturity—and, interestingly, some of my toughest kids are in the upper grades (because: puberty—when the brain forgets everything it was capable of doing just months ago).

Of course, as parents, we have to deal with the consequences of children’s impulsivity. I spend much of my day at home with the kids refereeing the “Moooommm, he hit me!” sentiments.

Have you seen this ad?  I’m sure the folks at the ad agency know exactly the kinds of situations that caregivers face when dealing with developing brains and poor impulse control.  When I see that kid’s smile at the end, I just want to give him a great big hug. (Small print: I’m not endorsing Clorox, nor is the studio paid to pass along this ad.  I am, however, their target audience so I see it a lot and my heart melts every time.)


One can find many resources for methods of dealing with the behaviors in the moment. But I love the idea of using games (when everyone is happy and not trying to rush out the door to school) as a tool for such development, too.

Other ways that we work on impulse control in Kindermusik classes include “freeze” dances for the preschoolers. With the toddlers, we have “fast and slow” dances, which invite kids to practice moving at different paces as cued by the music. Even with the babies when we transition from activity to activity, we are using play to help stimulate neural development.

Yes, in Kindermusik we teach music. But what a great way to use music to help develop the whole of our children!

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