Character Chats

What is impulse control?


Here at True Balance Karate, in Downers Grove, Illinois, we have a social emotional learning program called True Character, and this month we’re talking about impulse control.

I’m Master H, one of the head instructors and owners here at True Balance Karate. I have a special education background, two master’s degrees in special education, and I taught in the classroom for 15 years.

I’ve seen many, many children working on controlling their impulses, and that is why I am proud to say that this month we’re talking about impulse control.

Controlling how you react

So what is impulse control?

We tell our younger students that it’s thinking before you act. We liken it to a stoplight. We want to make sure that they are safe. We want to make sure that they are fair in their choices that they make. And we want to make sure that they’re truly evaluating how they are acting.

We all have feelings. We all get happy, and we all get sad. At times, we all get angry or upset. And we all get frustrated from time to time.

Our impulse control comes in when we control how we would react to how we are feeling.

When we’re happy and super excited, are we jumping up and down and bouncing around and possibly knocking things over?

When we get angry, do we say mean things? Do we throw things? Do we yell at people?

That’s when our impulse control comes in. It’s how we express those feelings safely and fairly to others around us.

Mind the stoplight

Going back to the stoplight, if you’re a young student or if you have young children, you can talk about it from the idea of red light, yellow light, green light.

We’ve all seen stoplights and we all know what they mean.

Talking about it from the standpoint of red light means we stop. We can’t act that way. We need to totally stop what we’re doing and think about what we’re about to do.

Yellow light: give yourself a second to question. Yes, is it good? No, is it not?

Green light: proceed or choose a different avenue.

Take the safe action

Before we act, we ask ourselves, “is it safe?”

If I’m getting angry and upset, is it safe for me to throw a toy? No, so maybe it’s a better idea to do something different.

Would it be safe for me to throw a pillow? That might be a safe thing, depending on the room. If there’s a lot of fragile things in there, it wouldn’t be safe.

We need to ask ourselves, “is it safe?” and “is it fair?”

Give yourself a PEP talk

For my older students or for the adults, we need to give ourselves PEP talks.

We need to pause, that would be the “P” in PEP talk. We need to pause, take a moment, take a deep breath… breathe. Are we super excited and really happy and just need to tell it to everybody in the whole world, or are we really frustrated and really angry and need to pause and breathe and just recognize those emotions?

The “E” in PEP talk is for evaluate, examine, see what’s going on. What is my best course of action? How can I proceed in a safe and fair manner?

Then the final “P” is for pick and proceed. What option are we going with? How are we going to address how I am feeling, what is my impulse, and how am I best controlling it?

If we give ourselves a PEP talk, we can make sure that not only are we safe but that everyone else around us is also safe as we’re getting upset.

Recovering when we lose control

Now, I know there are times that we lose a little bit of that control.

We lose a little bit of that ability to keep our emotions in check, and that’s when we need to really, truly just put on that red light, put up that big red stop sign, throw out the gigantic pause, and breathe.

Walk away, think it through, and figure out ways to best control those impulsive feelings that we have. We all have them.

We’re working on teaching our younger students how to recognize them as adults. I call it practicing patience because it is something that we’re always practicing. With our impulse control, it is also something we’re always practicing.

You know as well as I do that when we’re in the car and somebody drives without respect to other drivers, we often get angry and have a immediate impulse to do something — maybe speed a little bit, or ride on their bumper.

That’s when we need to make sure that we are proceeding with safety in mind. That’s when we’re proceeding with an ability to lead by example. When we’re controlling our impulses, we’re leading by example.

Thanks, and we’ll see you on the mat.