How to Assist an ADHD Child with Impulsivity Issues

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For parents of children with ADHD, their role and responsibilities are made even more difficult by the behavioral and emotional challenges posed by the disorder’s symptoms. The child may not understand not being allowed to scale the side of the house to the roof, but, as parents, you certainly do. Your job is to help your child learn to control the impulsivity.

Allow Physical Activity

“Why should I learn how to assist an ADHD child with impulsivity issues? After all, they’re kids with energy, and they should be allowed to work it off.” On the surface, yes, they should. But . . . think about this. Defined, impulsivity makes it difficult for the child to see possible ramifications of what they want to do.

“Mom, I want to go play on the roof! Why can’t I run into the street?” The child doesn’t perceive the dangers, both immediate or remote, that accompany the thoughts which then become immediate actions. Impulsivity “acts as a blindfold with a tiny hole in it,” says child psychologist Dr. Steven Richfield. The tiny hole represents the action the child wants to take and the desire to carry it out.

This said the parent of a child with ADHD can help channel the child’s impulses toward physical activity. Sign the child up for a physical sport, such as martial arts, gymnastics or swimming. When the child has the opportunity to burn off that extra energy, impulsive actions might just decrease. [1] In addition to physical activity, the parent can provide other outlets for (healthy) impulse discharge – let the child play video games for a limited amount of time every week; one parent can go for a brisk walk with the child or the child can be allowed to listen to music.

It is important to allow the child free access to “impulse control” activities, especially during times of stress, potential emotional meltdown or when he or she is struggling with especially strong impulses, says Dr. Richman, a child psychologist in full time private practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He developed the Parent Coaching Cards, which help parents of children with ADHD to learn self-control and social skills. [3]

Avoid Power Struggles

Parents of a child with ADHD must avoid being backed into a win/lose or either/or situation with the child. Harshness will not encourage compliance – instead, the child will dig in their heels and resist.

Dr. Richman recommends that instead of issuing ultimatums, parents should approach in a nonthreatening manner and explain why the child cannot do something. When the parents stay calm, the child may also stay calm and may be better able to listen. [1]

How to Assist an ADHD Child with Impulsivity Issues is continued on the next page:

Listen to Your Child

Parents of a child with ADHD already know their child does not have much patience. For this reason, it’s more important to listen more than they talk. As they listen, they need to try to understand why the child has engaged in an impulsive action – or why he or she wants to do so. Dr. Richman points out that buried in the child’s explanation there is some rationality. When the parents find that, they need to discuss it with the child in a non-confrontational way.

As parents get more used to detecting impulsive actions about to take place, the better they get at stepping in and assisting their child at stopping the behavior. [1]

Have a Behavior Plan

The child with ADHD needs a concrete (written out) behavior plan. This applies at home as well as in school. This plan should include specific behaviors that are expected of the child. [2] If the child slips up and acts out impulsively, parents should immediately impose a behavioral consequence. This could include the loss of privileges, favored toys or activities, depending on the age of the child. Caveat: the consequence must be immediate, in order for the child to understand the connection between the behavior and the consequence.

Praise for Good Impulse Control

Parents can learn how to assist an ADHD child with impulsivity issues. They are in the best position to teach – and train – their child because they are present for so many hours in the day.

When the child successfully resists acting on a momentary impulse, the parent who witnesses this breakthrough should recognize and praise the behavior out loud. It can be done in private or in front of other family members, but it must be out loud and it has to happen right away.

In addition, the parent must praise the specific behavior the child used to resist the impulsive behavior. This way, it is clear to the child what he or she did right; both parent and child will know the behavior that is being highlighted. [2]


[1] Dr. Steven Richfield. The Parent Coach: Helping the Impulsive Child. ADD Helpline, retrieved at

[2] ADD/ADHD and School Helping Children with ADHD Succeed at School HelpGuide, retrieved at

[3] Dr. Steven Richfield Author Information. K12 Academics, retrieved at