Impulse Control

My youngest was at a tailgate party for her hockey team last week when one of the little boys on her team said to her "Girls playing hockey is stupid! You're stupid!" Now, before I go on with this story, keep in mind that this is my child who has never backed away from a fight, and by any measure, those were fighting words. Keep in mind, also, that she had a the perfect weapon -- a hockey stick -- in her hand. However, on this night, it appeared that everything we had been trying to tell her about hanging on to her tongue and not letting other people bother her, had sunk in. She looked at the little boy, said "So, what?" and walked away.

I wasn't there to witness this breakthrough moment in my child's life, but I was so incredibly proud of her when she told me about it. I was even more proud when she told me, "I wanted to say, 'I think you're stupid,' but I didn't." In this one instance, my youngest had mastered the fine art of holding her tongue and taking the high road.

Too often, we speak or act first and think later. We act on our first impulse, which in tension-filled situations is rarely the right one. Think of all the hurt feelings and fractured relationships that could have been prevented if one person in a situation had simply taken three seconds to think before they acted or spoke. Adults who should know better often don't practice this in their relationships and broken homes and hearts are often the result.

Before we talk about our kids, today, take a moment and examine your own response to situations. Is it your natural reaction to speak first and think later or do you take a moment to look at the situation and decide on the best response? If you struggle with this, ask God to change your actions so they honor Him.

James 1:19 says "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." The key word in this passage is slow. Too often, we are quick to speak and quick to take offense. If we simply slow down and take a moment to think, we will be able to either defuse a tense situation or simply walk away from a volatile one.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." Being quicker to hold your tongue than to speak is the sign of a wise person. We want our children to be wise in their choices, so we need to teach them how to control their impulses and think before acting.

  • Institute a three-second rule. Encourage your kids to count to three before they decide to say or do  something. They should use that time to think about whether what they are about to say or do is the right thing to do. Have them use the criteria found in Ephesians 4:29 and Philippians 4:8 as a measure for their actions.
  • Show your kids how just taking a few seconds to think can make a huge difference in the result. Set up a quick obstacle course in the yard (it can be as simple as weaving in and out of some cones). Don't let your kids see the course until after you have given them instructions. As soon as they approach the course, they have to run it -- no time to think or plot a strategy. Time them on a stopwatch. Then, let them run it again, but give them a minute to look at the course to decide the best way around it. Time them again. They're second time will usually be faster. Talk about how taking time to think about a situation allows us to choose the best way to navigate through it -- just like with the obstacle course.
  • Prepare your children for different situations they might face by talking about them beforehand. Ask your kids what they would do if someone was picking on them or being mean to one of their friends. Plan strategies for dealing with a situation with tact and grace. When they are faced with those situations down the road, they will have already thought them through with you and will be better equipped to handle them.

Employ these principles in your own life, so your kids have a model for how to deal with a touchy situation. This week, consciously take time to think before you act.