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Foundation: Impulse Control

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing capacity to wait for needs to be met, to inhibit potentially hurtful behavior, and to act according to social expectations, including safety rules
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, children act on impulses. (Birth–9 mos.; Bronson 2000b, 64)

At around 18 months of age, children respond positively to choices and limits set by an adult to help control their behavior. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 34; Kaler and Kopp 1990)

At around 36 months of age, children may sometimes exercise voluntary control over actions and emotional expressions. (Bronson 2000b, 67)

For example, the child may:

  • Explore the feel of hair by pulling it. (4–7 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 226)

  • Reach for an interesting toy that another child is mouthing.

  • Reach for another child’s bottle that was just set down nearby.

  • Turn the head away or push the bottle away when finished eating (8 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 19).

For example, the child may:

  • Stop drawing on the wall when a parent asks. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003)

  • Choose one toy when the infant care teacher asks, “Which one do you want?” even though the child really wants both.

  • Express “no no” while approaching something the child knows she should not touch, because the infant care teacher has communicated “no no” in the past when the child tried to do this.

  • Look to the infant care teacher to see his reaction when the child reaches toward the light switch.

  • Stop reaching for the eyeglasses on the infant care teacher’s face when she gently says, “no no.” (Scaled score of 10 for 7:16–8:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 87; 12 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 27)

For example, the child may:

  • Jump up and down on the couch but stop jumping and climb down when a parent enters the room. (36 mos.; Meisels and others 2003)

  • Experience difficulty (e.g., cry, whine, pout) with transitions. (30–36 mos.; Parks 2004, 320)

  • Begin to share.

  • Handle transitions better when prepared ahead of time or when the child has some control over what happens.

  • Touch a pet gently without needing to be reminded.

  • Wait to start eating until others at the table are also ready.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Cry when hungry or tired.

  • Fall asleep when tired.

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Crawl too close to a younger infant lying nearby.

  • Refrain from exploring another baby’s hair when reminded to be gentle. (8–10 mos.; Brazelton 1992, 256)

  • Look at the infant care teacher’s face to determine whether it is all right to play with a toy on the table. (12mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 25)

  • Bite another child who takes a toy.

  • Reach for food on a plate before the infant care teacher offers it. (12 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 25)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Begin to use words and dramatic play to describe, understand, and control impulses and feelings. (Lally and others 1995)

  • Communicate, “Mine!” and take a doll out of the hands of a peer. (23–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 330)

  • Throw a puzzle piece on the floor after having trouble fitting it in the opening. (24mos.; Meisels and others 2003)

  • Open the playground door and run out, even after being asked by the infant care teacher to wait. (24 mos.; Meisels and others 2003)

  • Start to take another child’s toy, then stop after catching the eye of the infant care teacher. (24 mos.; Meisels and others 2003)

  • Use a quiet voice at naptime. (30 mos.; Meisels and others 2003)

  • Understand and carry out simple commands or rules. (Bronson 2000b, 85)

  • Have a tantrum rather than attempt to manage strong feelings. (Brazelton 1992)

  • Be able to wait for a turn.

Next Foundation: Social Understanding

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Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | itfoundations@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Friday, May 17, 2019