What Is Inhibitory Control?

inhibitory control

inhibitory control

Inhibitory control, a form of self-control, allows individuals to regulate their actions, emotions, thoughts, or behaviors that might lead to poor decision-making. For example, choosing not to climb a steep mountain during a hike to avoid injuries showcases inhibitory control in action.

Adults often find it easier to practice inhibitory control. However, children, especially those with executive function disorders like ADHD, might struggle significantly due to a lack of inhibitory control. We’ll discuss the types of inhibitory control deficits your child might face and ways to enhance these essential skills.

What Are the Types of Inhibitory Control?

Inhibitory control is typically classified under three categories: motor, attentional, and behavioral. Let’s explore these further.

  • Motor: Hyperactivity in children is often characterized by compulsive movement or lack of control over movements. This can include a child bouncing on their feet, tapping pencils, needing to run around a room, or other seemingly impulsive movement-based behaviors.
  • Attentional: A component of ADHD or other executive function disorders is an inability to stay focused or being easily distracted. Conversely, they may be able to focus entirely on something that interests them for extended periods, and they may find it stressful to switch away from what they are focused on.
  • Behavioral: Lowered impulse control can often be seen in what might be termed “outbursts,” such as a child bursting into tears. In reality, children with lowered impulse control are simply processing emotions more readily without learning to modulate them.  

How Can Your Child Build Inhibitory Control Skills?

Building inhibitory control skills doesn’t have to mean completely upending your child’s routines or learning style. Instead, these skills can be built into their existing day-to-day routines. Below are some tips on enhancing inhibitory control for motor, attentional, and behavioral issues.

Embrace Routines

Children with executive function issues thrive through consistency and routine. Removing the unexpected also removes much of the impulsive nature of a day. Some examples include having a set time when they need to work on homework and set bedtimes or amounts of screen time before bed. It’s important for parents to model this behavior. If you tell your child you’ll do something, make sure to follow through on those words. This type of modeling is one of the most influential on children.

Model Control

In addition to modeling consistency, make sure you model self-control in front of your child. For example, if you’re frustrated with something at work, avoid yelling about it at home. If you accidentally burn supper, turn it into a calm, teaching moment with your child and let them help you prepare a new meal or pick a restaurant for takeout. 

Set Up Focus Areas

If your child has attention issues, ensure they have areas of low sensory input where they can do their work or other tasks they need to focus on. This should be an area away from electronics, with consistent and good lighting and low foot traffic. This will ensure family members won’t accidentally draw your child’s attention away from the task at hand. 

Get Their Energy Out

If your child struggles with motor control, consider getting them into a boisterous activity to focus some of their excess physical energy. If sports aren’t their thing, this could be a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood with you before they do homework.

Encourage Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Let your child know their feelings are valid but should not control them. Encourage healthy coping mechanisms, such as confiding in you, journaling, or—instead of reacting in anger—taking a walk or doing another activity. 

Ultimately, inhibitory control is something that everyone can build within themselves. Helping your child learn how to exhibit self-control is a rewarding process that will help set them up for success in various facets of life. 

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