Acting without Thinking

The other day I went out and bought a pair of red shoes. As my husband put it, “I didn’t know you wore red?!” He’s right, I don’t. The shoes were on sale, and I bought them on impulse, without thinking. Luckily I don’t do this too often. Some children, however, constantly leap before they look, which inevitably gets them into trouble. Their spontaneous behavior may be due to a genetic link, some organic problem related to attention deficit disorder, watching their parents act the same way, or anxiety interfering with their ability to think straight.

o Talk with impulsive children about the benefits of being patient. For instance, if they were at a dance and had to pick a dance partner, would it be better for them to pick the first boy or girl they saw, or wait until they saw everybody first and then chose a partner? In addition, you can explain to them how other people may perceive impatient children as being spoiled brats, because they always insist on having their own way.

o Put up a big banner in your classroom reading “All Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.”

o Train young children to stretch their waiting time by talking to themselves (see self-instructional training).

o Be aware of your own style of operating. Studies have shown that teachers who act impulsively rub off on their students.

o Start displaying random pieces of your student’s work, whether it looks good or not. This may inspire those children who typically hand in chicken scratch to take more time in doing their schoolwork.

o Teach children mental imagery to help them wait for longer periods of time. For instance, children’s waiting time can seem shorter if they imagine themselves doing something fun, like making a sand castle of eating an ice cream cone. This diverts their attention away from what they want right now.

o Let children face the natural consequences of their unthinking actions. This may mean keeping the red sheet of paper when they really wanted a yellow one, following through on a larger-than-life promise, or having to play with a legless batman doll.

o Role-play situations where children act without thinking. Help them explore other solutions, and discuss how other people may respond to each one.

o Assign children a special word or symbol like a “C” for control, which they can make with their thumbs and index fingers to remind themselves to stop and think before they act.

o Ask children to write down their thoughts or count to 10 before giving their answers in class. This gives them time to think about what they want to say, and makes sure they do in fact have something to say.

o Let children use a timer or a watch to help them see how much time is left before a special event they’re waiting for. Reward them if they can wait the entire time period without asking you, “How much time is left?”

o Encourage impulsive children to play games. While playing Checkers for instance, children must wait to take their turns, think through moves before making them, and plan sequences of moves.

o Pair an impulsive child with one who is more reflective and patient, and assign them a joint project. The impatient child may come out learning some good study habits like rechecking work, diligence, finishing work, and taking the time to do a neat job.

o If impulsive children have an interest in computers, ask them to develop a simple computer program. Each step in their program must have alternatives and logically connect to the next step. An easy computer program to start with is Logo.

o For basketball buffs you could try taking them out onto the court, and teaching them how to stop and concentrate before taking a shot. Each time they concentrate for 10 seconds before shooting, they get a reward. Encourage them to “Think the ball into the hoop.” Gradually introduce the cue word “think,” and a hand signal to mean “stop.” Later these can be transferred into your classroom to help children control their impulsive behavior.