When this dynamic personality trait is more than just a quirk.

Maybe when you think of someone being impulsive, you see them as “in the moment,” “spontaneous” or the “life of the party.” They’re the leaders of the pack; the first one to jump in the pool with their clothes on or the one to say just what’s on their mind. However, when we look at impulsivity in the context of psychology, we see a different picture entirely. According to psychologists, impulsivity is a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences. People being impulsive do first and think after (if at all). Impulsive actions are typically poorly thought-out, unnecessarily risky or inappropriate to the situation and almost always result in undesirable consequences which may interfere with long term goals. Impulsivity is both a personality trait and a significant component of numerous disorders including ADHD, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders. It can also be a symptom of brain injury or certain neurodegenerative diseases and plays an active part in disorders such as gambling addiction. Some believe that impulsivity can even be linked to genetics.

Despite the issues listed above being most common in adults, the place that we see impulsivity most often is in children and young adults. Typically, children are already full of energy, have trouble editing themselves and display many traits related to impulsivity due to brain development. The difference between an enthusiastic child and one with impulsivity issues is an important distinction that’s important to understand as early diagnosis can curb potential issues such as substance abuse disorders or bipolar disorder.

Impulsivity in Children

Many conditions as noted above have impulsivity as a symptom, but the most common condition and the one that we see most in children is that of ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a multiple component disorder involving inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ADHD is broken down into the following categories:
• Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Predominantly Inattentive Type
• Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type
• Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Combined Type

Typically, children that have ADHD have the following symptoms:
• Fidgeting and squirming during class or whenever they have to sit still
• Talking nonstop or interrupting conversations
• Touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
• Having difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities
• Being very impatient
• Blurting out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
• Having trouble waiting for things they want

If you see these traits in your child and are specifically worried about their tendency to be impulsive, seeking the help of a mental health professional is a great step to take, They will help you better understand your child’s needs and suggest corrective action to reduce their symptoms.

Does your child, a child you know or another family member have some of the common symptoms of impulsivity listed above? Do you think you need the help of a professional to find relief? Talking to a therapist is the first step to becoming well, and the sooner you do it, the sooner you’ll be on the path to great mental health.

Besma (Bess) Benali, Clinical Social Work/Therapist, MSW, RSW, Counselling Ottawa Nepean. I am trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Brief Psychodynamic Therapy, ACT, and mindfulness. Clients come to me because they are struggling and feel like they are trapped in a darkness that no matter what they have tried (and many have tried therapy before) they can’t pull themselves out. I help my clients understand themselves in ways no one has ever taught them before allowing them to see positive changes.