Acting Without Thinking

The other day I went out and bought a pair of red shoes. Now that I look back, I can’t figure out why I did it–I have nothing red in my wardrobe. I bought the shoes on impulse, without thinking. Luckily I don’t do this often. For some children, however, acting on impulse is their normal way of behaving. Their spontaneous behavior may be caused by a genetic link, an organic problem related to hyperactivity, watching their parents act the same way, or anxiety interfering with their ability to think coherently.


  1. Discuss 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 and then choose a partner? In addition, explain how their inability to wait may influence other people’s opinions of them; for example, impatient children often look like spoiled brats because they always have to have their own way.

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg–not by smashing it. Arnold Glasow.

  1. Put up a big sign in your classroom, “All Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.”
  2. Train young children how to wait, by talking to themselves (self-instructional training).
  3. Be aware of your own style of behaving. Studies have shown that teachers who act impulsively have more students who act impulsively.
  4. Advise the class you are displaying their work on a regular basis, regardless of how it looks. This may inspire those children normally handing in messy, scratchy assignments to take more time in doing their schoolwork (Rogers, 1987).


  1. Teach children mental imagery to help them wait for longer periods of time. For instance, children’s waiting time can seem shorter for them if they imagine themselves doing activities they enjoy, like playing on a beach or eating an ice cream cone. This diverts their attention away from what they want right now.
  2. Let children experience the natural consequences of their unthinking behavior. This may mean taking a red sheet of paper when a child really wants a yellow one, following through on a larger-than-life promise he made, or being out in the rain without a jacket.
  3. Role-play situations where a child has acted without thinking. Help him explore other solutions, and discuss how other people may respond to each one.
  4. Assign the child a special word or symbol such as a “C” for control, which he can make with his thumb and index finger, to remind himself to stop and think before he acts.
  5. Ask the child to write down his thoughts or count to 10 before giving his answers in class. This will give him time to think about what he wants to say, and make sure he does in fact have something to say.
  6. Let the child use a timer or a watch to help him see how much time is left before a special event he’s waiting for. Reward him if he can wait the entire time period without asking you, “How much time is left?”
  7. Encourage the child to play games. Many games involve strategies like waiting to take turns, thinking through moves before making them, and planning sequences of moves–Checkers for instance.
  8. Pair an impulsive child with one who is more reflective and patient, and assign them a joint project. Some of the patient child’s study habits like rechecking work, diligence, finishing work, and taking the time to do a neat job will rub off on the other child.
  9. If a child has an interest in computers, ask him to develop a simple computer program. Each step in his program must have alternatives and logically connect to the next step. An easy computer program to start with is “Logo.” A book with additional information on computers is Dolores Hagen’s Microcomputer Resource Book for Special Education, 1984. Or, if you want some help in knowing what software to buy, get The Special Ware Directory (2nd edition): A Guide to Software for Special Education, 1986, by LINC Associates.


  1. Take the child out onto the basketball court, and teach him how to stop and concentrate before taking a foul shot. Each time he concentrates for 10 seconds before shooting, he gets a reward. Encourage him 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 him control his impulsive behavior (Berger, 1981).