Controlling the Impulse


Kindermusik stop and go songs are among the favorites in our family. The anticipation builds as my kids and I wonder when the music will stop, and we laugh when we get it right—and wrong. I am probably not alone in feeling less amused by this little game when my conversations are the ones being interrupted by the absolute imperative to “Watch me right now!”

Impulse control is a tough thing for kids to master—and even for some adults. It requires so many other sub-skills like the ability to stop an action, to think about what is going on, to tolerate frustration, to change behaviors based on context (one’s behavior in the library is different than the backyard) and to have developed a few alternative behavior patterns like hitting a pillow or using words to describe emotions.

And it requires a particular level of brain development. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for our ability to regulate any particular impulse. Interestingly, the size of our prefrontal cortex is one of the things that sets us Homo sapiens apart from other hominins, illustrating not just how vital it is for the survival of our species but also how unique this gift of nature is for us.

prefrontal cortex

The PFC reaches full maturity by about age 25. Yes, you read that right. 25. Well after we have turned over our car keys to our kids, allowed them to vote, and sent them off to college. The only people who seem to have this figured out are the car rental agencies. There are some benefits to this late development, however. As human development author Kathleen Staseen Berger writes, “Enrolling in college, moving to a new state or nation, getting married, having a baby—all are risky. So is starting a business, filming a documentary, entering an athletic contest, enlisting in the army, joining the Peace Corps, rescuing a stranger.   Without emerging adults, all those activities would occur less often.” [1]

Studies tell us that being able to control one’s impulse is a good predictor of school success. Nevertheless, it is a skill that, like bicycling or swimming, improves with practice. Once our kids get to school they get plenty of practice in learning to raise their hands and waiting to be called on. But playing stop-and-go songs in Kindermusik aids in that practice, and it is infinitely more fun for the kids!

Parenthood is nothing, for me, if not the process of learning how to hold in balance adjusting my expectations to the reality of my children’s capacities, at the same time that I love them enough to hold high expectations for what they may be able to accomplish. The idea that my sweet daughter just may need to bounce around while she’s eating, while also teaching her how to sit at a table and eat like a human being (is that really a high expectation? I don’t know!) I’m so grateful that I have had the Kindermusik community to support me in that journey.


[1] Berger, Professor Kathleen Stassen. Invitation to the Life Span. 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2013

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