inhibitory control teenagers

Inhibitory Control and the Teenage Brain: A Survival Guide

Inhibitory Control and the Teenage Brain: A Survival Guide

Whenever I start working with a student with inhibitory control challenges, I focus on building trust. I show them that I can be patient, understanding, and flexible. They don’t have to lie. It takes some time, and students are skeptical at first. However, trust is so important for someone that has impulse control disorder. Let’s try to understand their perspective. There are factors on a brain chemistry level that prevents them from response inhibition. It leads to random outbursts that they can’t explain or control. They don’t want to have these. They just happen. Furthermore, their attention control is such a struggle that it is hard to communicate with those they care about the most. What is worse is that everyone around them is looking at them with bewilderment and confusion. The isolation and walls that someone with inhibitory control challenges can put up can be quite intense.

Parents and Their Struggle with Inhibitory Control

I don’t want to overlook the tough position that a parent is put in when their child has impulse control disorder. Parents know how judgmental the world is. So when they see their child abuse the family dog or steal from their wallet, they beg them to stop. However, no amount of explaining, yelling, or consequences are working. They can tell that there is no attention control, whatever is being said is in one ear, out the other. What I think is probably the worst experience for parents is this thought. My child won’t be accepted. Or maybe even worse “my child is just like me.” They will be rejected, and it is all my fault. Naturally, when this happens, parents, too, lack response inhibition and scold their child for their action. However, for a child with inhibitory control challenges, this is their first experience of being rejected.

As time passes, the relationship worsens with both the parent and the child feeling a great amount of resentment and sadness. Any attempt to teach inhibitory control is met with defensive pushback. At some point, one side shuts down. This is usually when I enter the picture. Parents explain to me that working on impulse control disorder has really hurt their relationship, driving them further apart. They need help.

The Uphill battle with Attention Control

When a child struggles with response inhibition, it can be really frustrating for them. They see all around them that their actions are being rejected, but it is hard for them to stop. To be fair, neurologically, they are wired to do what others don’t want them to do. This can be quite frustrating, and what happens when we are very frustrated? We lack attention control.

Furthermore, the frustration of impulse control disorder is amplified by their distrust of mental health professionals and authority figures. Nothing is really working. Getting their attention and engagement becomes an extremely uphill battle. How can we, the support system of those who struggle with inhibitory control, help and not worsen the situation? 

5 Steps to Working on Impulse Control Disorder with Your Child

  1. Create awareness around impulse control disorder. Before anything, educate yourself on why it is so hard for your child to have inhibitory control. When we have a better understanding of the situation, we are less frustrated. Less frustration equals more focus and patience.
  2. Let your child know that sometimes people have trouble stopping themselves from doing things that they know aren’t good for them. Let them know that this is okay and ask them if they want to work on response inhibition with you. Let them know you are on their team, and most importantly, that working on it is their choice. Their commitment will increase their attention control.
  3. Create expectations with your child that are based on patience and trust. Solidify these expectations by modeling them for your child. 
  4. Create a space for open discussion. One of my favorite executive function coaching techniques is metacognitive reflection. This is where we focus on talking through the thought process behind my student’s impulse control disorder. With time, this will strengthen both you and your child’s understanding of their inhibitory control challenges. 
  5. With better understanding, there will be unique solutions that arise that actually work. As things begin to work, your child will feel and gain more autonomy over their inhibitory control. 

What I find to be the most important aspect of creating an action plan for impulse control disorder is trust in our children. Trust that they too want to improve and trust that they have valid ideas. These ideas will need to be refined, but it has to be done as a team. So many parents lack the response inhibition to let their child reflect, and instead, they steamroll their child. Hold the excitement in and allow our children the room and attention control they need to come up with their own solutions. Support them in their endeavors to overcoming inhibitory control by giving them control of their lives.

Getting Help with Inhibitory Control

I understand that working on impulse control disorder with your child can be very challenging and parents need support too. This is why it is critical to have an executive functions coach on your side providing the structure and guidance needed to give your child the support they need. Let’s work on your child’s response inhibition together. Schedule a free consultation below and if we can help, the first session is free. Contact Executive Functions Coach for help.

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