Expert Speak

Impulse control and self- regulation, the two skills to acquire as schools reopen

By Dr. Swati Popat Vats

As children come back to schools with new rules of masking and social distancing, the two skills to acquire include impulse control and self-regulation. Human beings are bound by habit and children would find it difficult to restrain themselves from old habits. Their natural instinct is to touch, hug, handshake, high five and smile!

Their first impulse will be to share items, objects, food and it will require a lot of practice and training to help them understand how to control their impulses for their own safety. Impulsive behavior can prove detrimental to our safety from Covid- 19. It is also important to understand that children may follow the rules when adults are around, but what when no one is supervising? This is where self-regulation comes in!

Both impulse control and self- regulation are executive skills of the brain. They also define children’s academic success but we rarely focus on nurturing these skills in our curriculum. Impulse control or inhibition is an executive function skill that can be defined as the ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time. This is part of the ability to self-regulate. Self- regulation is also needed for executive function.

We have an emotional brain (the limbic system) and a thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex), when children meet their peers the emotional or impulsive brain takes over and the rational or thinking brain takes a back seat. We need to teach children about mindfulness, being aware of where they are, what they are doing and how it can be harmful for them.

Schools need to start by teaching children non-contact ways of greeting, so out with the handshakes, hugs and high fives and in with thumbs up or the love and hello signs given here. Let them practice during virtual learning so that it becomes a part of their impulses!

Reopening schools is not just about restarting them! It’s more about preparing and equipping children to face the post- covid-19 world.

To help children be comfortable to communicate with masks on, play a game of guess the emotion. Ask children to show different emotions with their eyes and forehead. Slowly they will start focusing on understanding and communicating with their masks on.

Children will get exhausted wearing masks all the time. Teach children about ‘air gulps’, how to remove their mask when they are alone and breathe in and out or face the wall away from others to take their ‘air gulp’.

To teach children self-regulation, put signs and markings everywhere to constantly keep reminding them about social distancing. Signs or circles on the floor help remind children not to get too close.

Start with games like Simon Says (change to Bapu says or Mary Kom says!) musical chairs and Statue, all develop impulse control and self-regulation in children. Redesign musical chairs with squares and circles drawn alternatively on the floor, children move around when the music plays and when it stops they have to go and stand on a square, anyone caught standing on the circle is out as they were not social distancing!

Depending on the age of the children are some more games that help develop impulse control and self-regulation in children-

  1. Red Light, Green Light – kids move when you show a green light and stop on the red
  2. Freeze Dance – turn on music. When music stops children have to.
  3. Follow My Clap – The leader creates a clapping Children have to listen and repeat.
  4. Loud or Quiet – Children have to perform an action either loud or quiet. First pick an action i.e. stomping feet. The leader says Loud and the children stomp feet.
  5. Ready, Set, Dance – The leader calls out Ready…Set…dance and everyone can move their bodies. The leader calls out Ready…Set… No one should move. The leader calls out Ready…Set… Wiggle. No one moves. The leader calls out Ready…Set… Dance. Everyone moves again. You can change this to whatever wording you want. The purpose is to have the children waiting to move until a certain word is said out loud.
  6. Body Part Mix Up – The teacher will call out body parts for the children to touch. For example, the teacher calls out “elbows” and the children touch their knees. Create one rule to start. Each time the leader says “head” touch your toes instead of your head. This requires the children to stop and think about their actions and to not just react. The leader calls out “knees, head, elbow”. The children should touch any three parts except the ones said by the This game develops the ability to ignore the impulse of the word heard and follow the rule of the game. Great for older children.

It’s time for us to be ahead of Covid-19 by ensuring a curriculum based on mindfulness- of others and our safety.

(The author is President Podar Education Network, Early Childhood Association and Association for Primary Education and Research. As President of ECA-APER she has developed Safe Reopening Guidelines for schools and has written three stories for children to understand Covid appropriate behaviour.)

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