"...goal directed self-imposed delay of gratification is perhaps the essence of emotional self-regulation: the ability to deny impulse in the service of a goal, whether it be building a business, solving an algebraic equation, or pursuing the Stanley Cup" (Goleman, 1995).
Managing impulses is not a habit or mindset that is ingrained at birth, but a skill that we need to learn. This skill is developed over the first several years of their education and through their interaction with other children and adults. Inside of my classroom, learning to manage and control their impulses is a challenge in several different ways. Some students struggle with shouting out, some with sitting still or reacting with their hands/feet instead of using their words. Throughout the year, I work with students to help them understand their impulses and how to best manage them in order to be the best version of themselves possible. Below, I provide several different examples and strategies that I use within my classroom to teach my students about managing their impulses.
Explicitly Teaching Impulse Management
It is imperative for young children to receive direct instruction on how to take responsibility for their actions, how to be kind and how to manage their impulses. Throughout the year, my students are taught the expectations and routines just as they are taught academic content.
I focus heavily on impulse management in the first several weeks of school during our morning meeting and transitions. As I teach my students how to manage their impulses, their ability to retain and pay closer attention to detail in academics improves.Throughout the year, we revisit the importance of impulse management. As content continues to increase in difficulty I tend to see an uptick in challenging habits from students.
At morning meetings we discuss what impulses are. I use guiding questions and anchor charts to support our thinking. Some of the questions that I have used in the past are:
Above you can see three examples of how students said they need to manage their impulses while in different areas of the building. Two out of the three students have a good grasp on what it means to manage their impulses. While they could dive deeper in understanding, it is a good starting point as they continue to master the habit to manage impulses instead of reacting immediately. One student will need additional supports for understanding and creating a habit out of managing their impulses. In order to best support this student, I would spend more one on one time with them practicing strategies. Some of these strategies might be having a fidget, having blurt cards (see bottom of page) or having a timer on their desk.
Above you can see another example of students completing an activity to show understanding of managing impulses.
Classroom Reinforcement Strategies
We follow the same daily schedule each day. Having a steady routine allows for students to feel more comfortable and structured. Minimizing change can help the students with managing their impulses by eliminating unpredictability. If there is going to be a change, we discuss the change during morning meeting. The schedule that we use allows us to move schedule cards around and change the times as needed. This helps the students see the how we incorporate and adapt to change proactively.
I also have Class Dojo and a timer displayed throughout the day. Students receive points for managing their impulses, following directions and several other "ding" opportunities. This is a positive reminder for them as this is tied to weekly and monthly incentives for positive behavior choices. Although they receive mostly positive points, if they are struggling to control their impulses, i.e. hitting others, running out of the room or shouting out, they can also lose a point. None of the students want to lose points and look forward to hearing a "ding" instead of the "dung" when they lose a point.
The timer that is displayed allows students to know when we are going to be ending one activity and starting the next. Having the timer on, especially during centers and independent work, helps students know when they are going to have to transition. The knowledge of when the activity is ending can reduce the amount of anxiety from surprise or lack of preparation, helping to better manage reactions and negative impulses from students.They are provided with a 1 minute and a 30 second warning. When the timer goes off, they must raise their hands to show they are not touching materials and can hear the next set of directions.
Throughout our classroom, I have posted several different reminders and ways to support students in managing their impulses. Having reminders and different formats of structures makes sure that there are supports in place for all different types of learners. Do you want to say the different types of learners?
During the first several weeks of school, we practiced using hand signals for questions that did not need an explanation. The hand signals require a simple head nod or shake as a response to give them the answer that they need and reduces the amount of wait time. This also reduces the number of times they blurt out or get out of their seats without permission. They can manage their impulses by using their hands instead of getting out of their seats and blurting out for trivial things like going to the bathroom or getting a pencil.
We also actively use our voice level chart throughout the day. The blue arrow on the side moves up and down based on the activity that we are doing. This allows students to refer and self-regulate for volume control. When this was introduced, students were able to practice what each noise level would sound like. While there are days where we need more reminders than others, they take accountability in understanding the expectations of voice levels so they can earn dojo points and bigger incentives.
While there are many different strategies in place for the entire class, there are some students that need additional supports when it comes to managing their impulses. There are certain students that have specific goals and I have created different systems to support them in reaching their impulse control goals. These students can then reach incentives in smaller increments and their goals adjust as needed depending on how successful they are. Some of the strategies are displayed below. On the left, you see a personal velcro schedule. The schedule gets built every morning and once that part of the day is done, the tab gets taken off the sheet. The one in the middle is a first and then card. In dry erase marker, the first step gets written down followed by the then step. This allows the students to manage one item at a time for control and to have a feeling of success. The last item on the right is a burst card. These are placed using Velcro on a desk or a clip board (depending on the student). Every time they either get out of their seat or speak out, one of the cards gets removed. After a pre-determined amount of time, if they have any cards left, they earn the incentive for the day. The time gets longer and longer as students get better at managing their impulses, until ideally, the systems are taken out of their routines.
Watching students grow throughout the year academically is very clear, but watching students grow in a way that shows they are understanding their bodies, reactions and impulses is another level of growth. The growth may not be measurable with a test score, but might be measurable in their ability to make friends, stand in line, or wait to ask questions. Most of these are measured by observations, but I can also see results when they start taking tests more seriously, finishing assignments in the allotted time and getting in less altercations. As my students grow in understanding how to manage their impulses, their skills inside and outside of the classroom improve as well. These skills, such as conversation ability, emotional understanding and higher productivity relate to and are the building blocks for skills that prepare students for high school, college and career pathways. Through explicit modeling, teaching and practice, students are able to better understand their impulses and how that impacts their future success.