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10+ Games To Help Your Preschooler Develop Impulse Control
  • Jean Piaget (thought by many to be the principal figure in 20th-century developmental psychology) identified the ages between 2 to 7 as the preoperational stage of development. This is when a child’s memory and imagination develop.

    Notably, this stage is when children are egocentric or selfish by nature and have difficulty thinking outside their own viewpoints. Therefore, it takes a lot of time and practice to learn things like waiting, taking turns, and sharing.

    Games to help your child develp impulse control

    One of the beautiful things about children is when you want to teach them something important — like self-regulation and self-control — devising it to be fun makes it easier for them to get.

    Here are 10+ preschool-friendly games that can help your child develop impulse control.

    How to play Mr. Wolf, What Time Is It?

    I cannot put into words how much my Kinder students love this playground game. You mark one area as the “playground” and across the space, another spot as the “home base.”
    One person volunteers to be Mr. Wolf, and believe me, it won’t be hard to choose because everyone wants to be the wolf.

    Then all the other children chant, “Mr. Wolf, Mr. Wolf, what time is it?”

    The wolf answers with different actions and as many as he pleases. For example, if he says, “It’s time for a nap.” Then all the other kids have to pretend to sleep. If he says, “It’s time for reading,” they pretend to read. And so forth.


    But once Mr. Wolf says, “It’s time for LUNCH!” everyone scatters and heads for the home base. Whoever Mr. Wolf gets to tag is the next “It” (or taya in Filipino).

    Why this game works

    Mr. Wolf can choose any number of tasks to do, and from experience, the children playing the wolf love to drag it out. This creates a lot of giggles and suspense, but it also forces children to pay close attention and wait for the moment to run. Anyone who listens once lunch is called reacts slower than the rest and gets caught by the wolf.

    And don’t think this can only be played by children. I used to play this with my own children at home in our bedroom, which brought us loads of laughs.

    How to play Duck, Duck, Goose

    The children sit in a circle, while the “it” goes around tapping them on the head, saying, “Duck,” as many times as she wants. But once she says, “Goose,” the child tapped has to get up and run after the It.

    The It tries to run away from the Goose as it attempts to find a way into the spot the Goose left open in the circle. If the It can successfully sit in the Goose’s spot before getting tagged, then the Goose becomes the new It. If not, then the It tries again.

    Why this game works

    Children will need to focus on the It as she makes her round, so they can react quickly once tagged as the Goose. Plus, when the running starts, whether you are the It or the Goose, you will need critical thinking skills to help you find your way to the safe spot or catch the It. And this means in-the-moment planning and executing. So it’s not just a matter of thinking fast, but acting quickly, too!

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    How to play Pepsi 7-Up

    Here’s another game that requires a little space for running. An It faces the wall, leans against a tree, or turns its back to the rest of the players at the other end of the room.
    The It says the word “Pepsi” as many times as he wants, which is the signal to let the other players keep coming closer to him. But once the It shouts out, “7-Up,” and turns around, all the others have to freeze.

    The It will turn around and continue, and he can choose to say Pepsi and 7-Up as many times as he wants until one of the players reaches him and taps his back. Once tapped, all the players have to run back to safety (which is their point of origin) without getting tagged by the It.

    Why the game works

    Like the previously mentioned ones, this classic Pinoy game builds suspense, which forces children to focus, wait, and quickly react when needed.

    How to play Red Light, Green Light

    This is a variation to “Freeze Dance,” which is another wonderful game to play. However, instead of using music to cue the children when to stop and go, you use red and green paddles that can easily be made by cutting circles from red and green paper and sticking them on tongue depressors (if you want them to have handles).

    There is no It in this game, just the chance for the child to run around either pretending to be a train, plane, race car driver, or even their favorite fast animal.


    Why this game works

    The child has to watch the adult raise the paddles to signal when to stop, how long to stay frozen, and when she can resume speeding again. Some adults build up the “hold poses” over time but make sure not to make it too long for the child to lose interest.

    How to play Following The Leader

    Younger children find Following The Leader easy to do because all they need is to watch and copy.

    A variation is playing “Going On A Bear Hunt,” based on the children’s picture book by Micheal Rosen. You can follow the different actions the characters in the book did from walking on the swishy swashy grass until they run back home and hide under the covers from the bear.

    The children love imagining and acting out the adventure! When it’s time to run away from the bear, the adult in the group usually has to make a growling noise to add to the fun.

    Older children can play “Simon Says” more successfully. Wherein Simon gives commands of actions the rest of the players must do. But if the words “Simon says” do not precede the command, then anyone who does the action must sit down.

    Why this game works

    It forces the players to pay attention to the leader and act according to the verbal instructions. As a result, listening skills are honed, and children practice following directions.

    How to play Relays and Obstacle Courses

    Relays and Obstacle Courses are best played when there are enough children to split into teams. But in households or areas where there are only one or a few kids, you can just prepare courses or relays that are timed.


    The most common preschool relays are balancing objects (like plastic eggs or calamansi) on a spoon. Or making an obstacle course using low plastic tables to crawl under or taped markings, footprints, or shapes to step on or jump over. If there is no one to race with, have your child try to beat the clock.

    Why these games work

    Having to balance something on a spoon while walking or using different actions to get to the end encourages children to focus and control their body movements to an end goal.

    How to play Listen to the Triangle

    This is a super simple game if you have a triangle instrument, little gong, chimes, or bell. Have your child close her eyes and listen as you tap or shake the sound maker. The goal is to listen until the sound ends or can no longer be heard. Once it is completely silent, they put a finger up in the air.

    Why this game works

    It forces your child to concentrate using only one sense, be aware of the slightest sounds in the environment, and listen with utmost focus to the faintest of sounds. Some teachers use this technique to help settle the class, as it’s a great way to help children calm down.

    How to play Board and Card Games

    There is a multitude of board games out there for children. My favorite ones for this age level are Candyland, Uno, and Bingo. The perfect card games for preschoolers are Memory games, War (who has the higher card), Crazy 8, Bold Maid (PC version of Old Maid), and Go Fish.


    Why these games work

    Every card and board game teaches your child to wait for their turn and watch what the other players do. They learn how to strategize, too. You cannot go wrong with engaging your child in these kinds of activities. Plus, it’s great for family bonding.

    How to play Talking Games: I Spy, 20 Questions, Categories, ABC Stuff

    These games were especially helpful in car rides and long waits such as in airports or airplane rides. But they can also be beneficial for just playtime with young children.

    With I Spy, all you have to do is describe something visible from where you are sitting. For example, “I spy with my little eye, something round, with numbers, and is colored blue.”

    After a clue is guessed, another person takes a turn describing something they see.
    In the game 20 Questions, you can pick from anything in your child’s world. For example, a movie, character, animal, or fruit. After saying the category, the other players can ask you any questions answerable by yes or no. Is it a boy? Is he from a movie?

    After 20 questions, if they have not yet guessed the answer, the It goes again. But after correctly answering, another person gets to be “grilled.”

    For Categories, the It just names a list of things that fall into a category, and the children have to guess what category they belong to. For example, shoes, socks, pants, shirts, jackets. The answer is clothes! Depending on kids’ age level, the parents might have to be the ones to come up with the lists, and the children are the guessers.


    ABC Stuff needs someone old enough to lead the group in following the alphabetical order by saying what letter comes next. My kids, who are Pokemon fanatics, love naming various characters whose names start with the different letters of the alphabet. But this could also be used on animals, food, or even places.

    Why these games work

    All these games require avid listening, participation, and quick thinking. They also help children put images in their minds and draw from their memory or knowledge, which are great for developing abstract and critical thinking.

    How to play The Quiet Game

    I don’t know a single parent that doesn’t love a good run of The Quiet Game. The rules are simple, whoever can stay quiet until a specified amount of time wins.

    Why this game works

    Self-control at its finest. Children have to control their urges to talk or even giggle if they want to win. And yes, children love to win!

    Many other games can encourage children to control themselves and have fun. Remember how you once crammed yourself up in a tiny space holding all urges to laugh and pee during an epic game of Hide and Seek?

    You may not have realized it then, but you were learning patience and self-control in one of the most fun ways possible. Teaching our children essential life skills is more efficiently and effectively done when it all seems like fun and games.

    Barbara Server-Veloso is known as Teacher Thumby at her preschool, Toddlers Unlimited, and Ms. Thumby at her grade school, Thinkers Unlimited, Alabang. She is also a partner in Spark Discovery Center. Teacher Thumby has a Master’s degree from the University of the Philippines in Family Life and Child Development. She has been teaching since 1993. She is also the mother of Lucas and Verena.

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