Some children have trouble ‘inhibiting’ their actions.
They seem to forge ahead without ever stopping. They often make mistakes but then immediately feel remorse.
For example, they might hit other children and then feel sorry, without being able to articulate what happened. Some children who lack inhibition may swear, run away, or scream. Many children with these difficulties blurt out in class.
This difficulty stopping themselves will often get them into trouble. Adults ask, “Why did you do that”, and the answer is generally the same. “I don’t know.” The fact is, they often do not know why they did it.
They are having trouble thinking through their actions and stopping themselves.
Sometimes, they do not understand cause and effect relationships. They may not think, “If I punch him, he will get hurt, and I will get in trouble.”
Often, they are having difficulty taking another’s perspective. They may fail to ask themselves, “I wonder if that kid knew he was cutting in front of me in line?”
Rather, they instantly get upset and retaliate. This inability to inhibit their actions can have serious consequences.
What do challenges with Inhibiting look like?
- Acting without thinking?
- Saying, “I don’t know why I did that!” or “I couldn’t stop myself!”
- Looking like he’s driven by a motor?
- Moving in a way that looks unorganized and aimless?
- Hitting someone and then feeling guilty afterwards?
- Making bad choices, even though she knows better?
- Seeming to have a ‘go’ button but no ‘stop’ button?
- Running all day and crashing hard at night?
- Getting in trouble for blurting out answers in class?
Why is Inhibiting happening?
Clinically, ‘inhibition’ is an executive function that refers to the ability to think through one’s actions and to stop oneself before making a poor decision. Children who are good at inhibiting their responses can think about how their actions affect other people. For example, “I know I want that toy, but if I just take it, the other kid will be sad.” They can hold onto a thought in class, rather than blurting out the answer.
Kids who are lacking inhibition struggle to think before acting.
This difficulty is clinically called ‘disinhibition’ and is a hallmark feature of ADHD. What happens is that the part of the brain responsible for planning and perspective taking is not working smoothly. Sometimes, a neurological difference is present, meaning that your child’s frontal lobe, which is the area responsible for planning and decision-making, is slow to mature, underdeveloped, or structurally different from other kids.
The problem-solving part of the brain may also be ‘hijacked’ by the feeling part of the brain. The feeling brain is also called the ‘old brain’ or the ‘reptile brain.’ Sometimes these different structures are referred to as ‘wizard brain’ and ‘lizard brain.’ If your child is struggling with inhibition it could be that his or her lizard brain is taking over and when your child is upset it’s just impossible to think straight. It is important to have compassion and support children who may still be maturing in this area. Many children will have issues developing inhibition throughout high school and even into college.
How can I manage Inhibiting at home?
If your child struggles with inhibiting, he or she is likely to need some support.
First, children with poor inhibition tend to have behavior problems. They may get in trouble at home and at school.
Secondly, healthy coping skills and the ability to think before acting are important for overall development.
In the upper grades of school, into college, and in career endeavors, we cannot just say and do what we want. We have to be able to think through our decisions and act logically. Thus, treatment is often necessary when a child’s skills are not coming along adequately. Further, disinhibition is a hallmark symptom of ADHD.
This means that children who have trouble inhibiting their actions often have a disability of the neurological system that impacts their activity level, attention, and impulse control.
They may struggle to get started on tasks, to focus on their work, and to complete tasks. In this case, an evaluation for ADHD might be necessary. Finally, some children with executive functioning problems, such as inhibiting, may have repetitive behaviors and poor social skills. In this case, autism should be evaluated.
If your child’s problems with inhibition are more minor, it may be possible to help him or her through education on the issue and through parental modeling. Often, when adults are chronically rigid, their kids tend to be also. In that case, ‘downshifting’ , and modeling positive coping skills can help.
Downshifting is the parenting skill of helping your child calm down while also allowing him or her to negotiate a solution to the problem . Parental modeling involves showing your child how to deal with tough situations more appropriately.
For example, “Oh, I am getting upset. How should I handle this? Let me take some deep breaths and calm down before I make a decision.”
If your child’s problems are more severe, resulting in frequent tantrums, serious rule-breaking behaviors, or significant problems at school, it will be necessary to have an evaluation and begin psychological or behavioral treatment right away.