I Want it Now! Dealing with Impulsive, Impatient Kids

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain

Back when my son wanted an iPod, I thought he was going to drive me crazy. So, we sat down and talked through how he could do projects around our home to gradually save up for an iPod. I thought our meeting went well, but as soon as I turned my back, there he was again. Pushing. For an iPod. Again.

“What can I do first?” he asked.

I gave him a task to do, which he completed much quicker than I could ever imagine.

“What’s next, Mom?”

I took him back to the first task and showed him how it didn’t meet my criteria for completion. He then began to whine and complain and howl about how he would never get an iPod.

Your kid might not believe you when you say it, but even adults “get it”. It’s hard to wait for something you want. It’s even harder when you discover that the wait will be longer than you first thought.

Yet sometimes our logic (and personal experience) doesn’t always guarantee parenting success, at least not right away.

“What else can I do, Mom?”

My son was focused on getting that iPod and nothing else.

So for the next six, agonizing months (both for me and my son), he gradually (and loudly) worked toward getting his iPod. I don’t think he realized how happy I was when he finally earned enough money to buy the thing.

Lesson: Science makes parenting difficult.

The child/teenage brain is impulsive. As a parent, we need to work with our kids to teach them how to wait, how to be patient, and how to not act impulsively all the time.

This is not easy for a parent.

Solution: Be Patient. Stand firm. Hold on!

Yet, it’s something we need to keep teaching our kids. We need to be the watchful eyes and anticipate when our kids could possibly get into a mess because of acting impulsively. When I saw one of my kids place a ladder next to the garage near a blanket on the ground and then climb to the top of the garage, I ran out there as fast as I could. A blanket was not going to make a soft landing.

Fortunately, that was one impulsive act I was able to stop. There have been others where there have been consequences (getting into debt, getting an F on a test after making the impulsive decision to play video games instead of study). I can go on for hours.

Even now, with parenting a high school student and college student, I’m still teaching them how to slow down, think things through before acting, and give that impulsive brain a rest.

When all else fails. Just hold on for the ride. It also helps to have a sense of humor ; )

Sometimes my kids tell me horror stories about the things they’ve seen their impulsive classmates do. I try to look on the bright side. The fact that my kids tell me these stories about how their peers are impulsive shows me that they are paying attention—even when it doesn’t seem like it.

Tell us about a time your child acted impulsively. How did you deal with it?

1. Peter Benson, Peter Scales, Nancy Leffert, and Eugene Roehlkepartain A Fragile Foundation: The State of Developmental Assets among American Youth (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 1999).

2. Image via Tyler-Adams on Flick’r.

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