Sharing is part of a child learning to control his behavior.

How to Teach Preschoolers Impulse Control

by Amber Keefer

While impulse control is an important part of developing emotional self-control, it’s an emotion that doesn’t come easily to 3- and 4-year-olds. Rest assured that your little tyrant isn’t the only preschooler who gets bent out of shape when he doesn’t want to wait his turn or share his toys. It may help you to know that kids this age are just learning how to separate their feelings from their actions and don’t always think before they act.

Encourage your preschooler to tell you or another grownup if she’s feeling mad or upset instead of shoving her playmate or bopping him on the head with a toy. Too often, youngsters release their anger and frustration by becoming physically aggressive toward others who happen to be in their way at the time. When a situation heats up, taking your child outside to play gives her an outlet for all that extra energy. Use physical activity to redirect her emotional energy and decrease her impulsive behavior.

Compare your child’s temperament to your own. Accept that you and he may react differently to the same kinds of situations, suggests Dr. Michelle Anthony, an expert in developmental psychology. If you and your preschooler’s personalities fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, he may be more likely than you to want immediate gratification. Instead of letting his behavior get to you, try to understand where he’s coming from so that you can help him manage his feelings.

Let your little one know what types of behaviors you and other adult caregivers won’t allow. Tell her that nice little girls and boys don’t kick, smack or bite their classmates when they don’t get their way. At the same time, remember that it’s normal for kids this age to lack impulse control until their language skills develop enough so that they can tell you what they want.

Teach your child that there are other solutions when things don’t go his way. Rather than running off with a toy truck he doesn’t want to share, explain that the polite thing to do is to take turns. It may also help to remove your child from a potentially stressful situation before his agitation rises.

Establish consequences for when your child misbehaves. Enforce the same consequence each time an inappropriate behavior occurs so that your preschooler knows what to expect. If you decide to use a time-out as your method of discipline when your child acts on impulse, give her a time-out every time she behaves that way. points out that by this age, kids understand that there's a link between misbehaving and paying the consequences.

Remind your child frequently how you expect him to behave. If your preschooler grabs a toy out of another child’s hands, tell him that he must say he’s sorry and then give the toy back. Show him calming ways, such as finger painting or playing in warm water or sand, to release his pent-up frustration.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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