Impulse control is an essential skill we begin learning early in life. Kids need to work on controlling themselves so they can finish tasks they begin, take turns, and not interrupt others, but how do you teach it? The answer is simpler and more fun than you might expect.
Children can learn impulse control from doing activities and playing games that involve sharing, listening, and waiting patiently while doing something they enjoy. There are many options. This list explores the top ten impulse control activities for kids. Impulsive kids can accidentally get labeled as ‘bad’ simply because they tend to have vibrant, outgoing personalities. When coupled with impulse control issues, their enthusiasm can make it difficult for parents, teachers, and peers.
However, some children are simply hardwired for these energetic personalities. By helping them learn patience and self-control, you are setting your children up for a bright future with easier social interactions.
1. Musical Chairs
Playing a few rounds of musical chairs is a great way to promote positive listening skills if you have several children or a group. Set up two rows of chairs back to back. When you have lots of kids playing, you can also set chairs on the ends of the rows facing outward.
This game’s trick is always to have fewer chairs than you have bodies. Someone, typically the teacher or parent, plays music, and everyone circles slowly around the chairs as it plays.
At random intervals, the music stops, and everyone has to find a chair to sit in. Naturally, one person will be ‘out’ each round. They get to pick a chair and take it with them as they sit on the sidelines until the next game begins. If your impulsive child gets ‘out’ early, try having them help control the music.
2. Red Light, Green Light (AKA- The Traffic Lights Game or Go-Go Stop)
Red Light, Green Light only requires two players, but it’s more fun with more people. One person stands as far away as they can so long as players can still hear them. This can mean across the yard outside, across the room, or on the other side of the house.
The person who is ‘it’ faces away from the people playing and tells them ‘red light’ to stop and ‘green light’ to go. The winner is the first player to reach the one who is ‘it.’ Celebrate their victory.
Then it is their turn to be the traffic light. You can add a ‘move slow’ option with a yellow light, or get creative and add ‘blue light’ for backward walking or ‘orange light’ for hopping only. Your impulsive kid will have to listen and control their movements to win this game. Anyone spotted moving during a red light or not following instructions has to return to the start.
3. Simon Says
Simon Says is another great game you can play with two or more people. One person is ‘it’ and tells the other to do simple actions like “jump up and down” or “sit on the floor.” Try always to give specific directions. The trick to this game is that the player(s) only do it if you say “Simon says” and then state the action.
Simon tries to trick people by giving rapid-fire instructions and sometimes not saying “Simon Says” first. Players have to listen and do as they’re asked. They ‘lose’ if they do something without, “Simon says,” first.
4. Freeze Dance
Freeze Dance is a silly dancing game. All you need is music. Players dance any way they want when the music is on, but once the music stops, they have to freeze in place like a statue. Freeze Dance is an excellent game for focus and using up excess energy.
5. Listening Helper
The Listening Helper game is a fun way to help kids who have trouble following instructions. You can use a puppet or favorite toy as the ‘listening helper.’ Instead of you telling your child what to do, the listening helper says it to them.
Like Simon Says, the child has to do whatever the listening helper tells them. Try it on things like your end-of-the-night routine for brushing teeth and putting on pajamas.
6. Slap Jack
Slap Jack is a card game for two or more players. All you do is set out a shuffled deck of cards and flip them into a central pile one at a time. The goal is to be the first to ‘slap’ your hand down on a Jack.
The player who slaps the Jack gets all the cards in the middle. The goal is to collect the most cards. Encourage kids to go fast, but not hard, so they don’t hurt anyone while slapping cards. This game helps with visual focus and counting skills.
7. Marco Polo
Marco Polo is a pool game, though you can play it in a grassy area if you have a lot of space. The player who is ‘it’ in this game has to move around with their eyes closed.
They call out “Marco,” and every other player has to respond “Polo.” The goal is to tag someone and make them into the one who is “it.” This game promotes fair play and good listening skills.
8. Freeze Tag
Freeze tag is best played outdoors, with three or more people, where you have lots of room to run. Someone is ‘it,’ and everyone else runs away. The player who is it tags other players, and they freeze in place.
However, any other player can ‘unfreeze them’ by running past and tapping the frozen player. Encourage kids to tag each other very gently. This game teaches teamwork, gentleness, patience, and fair play.
9. Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is a popular game all over the world. There are many variations like Sardines where only one person hides, and everyone else has to find them and hide with them until only one player remains.
Some variations have a ‘base’ where a savvy player can sneak back to where the original ‘it’ person counted, and they are ‘safe’ if they get there. The ‘base’ version has elements of tag because a player who gets caught before they get to base is automatically ‘it’ triggering a new game. However, in the traditional basic version, one person is ‘it,’ and everyone else hides.
The first player they find, or the last, is ‘it’ for the next round. Have the ‘it’ person cover their eyes and count slowly to thirty while anyone else playing goes to hide. The goal is not to be found. If the seeker can’t find you in a few minutes, or they’ve already found someone to be ‘it’ next, they have to call out, “Olly Olly Oxenfree” or some other indication they give up.
Mirror is a slow game with easy rules that is nevertheless hard to master. You only need two people for this one. One person is the original, and the other is the mirror. People stand facing each other.
The goal is to mimic the actions of the original as they move perfectly, but without touching them. You can set a timer or play a song and have the mirror and original trade places when it ends, so the other person is the mirror. Remind your impulsive kids that the goal here is to go slowly so the mirror person can do precisely what they see you doing.
Taking turns in an activity with minor consequences for moving out of turn is a great way to work on impulse control. For example, when you fail to stop during Red Light, Green Light, you go back to the beginning—doing these activities and others that help your child learn about positive reinforcement for patience in an entertaining way.
It can be fun for the whole family. Working on essential skills through play is a fantastic way to use excess energy and get more from your game time together. Try one of these top ten impulse control activities with your kids today.