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Developing impulse control in middle schoolers: Here's what to know

The ability to delay gratification, or to wait for something you really want, is impulse control.
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The ability to delay gratification, or to wait for something you really want, is impulse control. The famous Stanford Marshmallow Test found a connection between impulse control and greater well-being, like higher test scores, better stress management, and higher academic achievement. Impulse control also helps teens achieve goals, develop perseverance, and make responsible decisions. What impulse control might mean for your middle-schooler is the ability to choose homework over video games. It can also mean resisting the temptation to text with friends all night instead of going to sleep.

Set clear expectations and boundaries for your child and stick to them. Those boundaries provide guidelines around which impulse control can be built. For example, consider enforcing a rule that all homework is done at a certain time in your household, and that it must be done before any video games are played, phone calls are made or texts sent. Teaching your middle-schooler to wait to do the things she wants to do will help her develop her impulse control and learn that she can go for an hour or two without communicating with friends or playing video games.

Encourage your child to be physically active. Sports, dance classes, or taking a run on her own can all help your child manage her stress. The ability to turn to physical activity during moments of frustration or stress is a great way for your middle-schooler to further-develop impulse control. Physical activity is great for stress management, but it’s also a strategy your middle-schooler can turn to whenever she’s trying to delay gratification, or make choices. Taking some time out from the immediate want or decision can help build her impulse control.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Judy Willis, Neurologist, Teacher, Author, International Lecturer, University of California, Santa Barbara; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author, and Educational Psychologist.