December 4, 2020

Teaching Impulse Control and Flexibility with a Deck of Cards

By Luke Blackwood / Clinical Psychologist

“Why don’t they just stop and think?”. “It has to be their way or the highway”. Most parents ask themselves these questions while their child is making impulsive decisions and lacking flexibility in thinking. People have turned to medication, therapy and more recently games to help children develop in these areas. 

Today, we will review a fun, game based alternative that can be played with any deck of cards.


This game works by modifying the rules of any existing game but this post will discuss it in the context of a family favourite, Uno. The usual rules of the game remain the same but additional rules are created by the players and the rules switch between the original and modified rules on a set timer, for example, every minute.

When a child goes to play a card during the modified rules, initially they will default to the rules they are familiar with. However, with repetition they will begin to stop, consider the situation and then act, which represents impulse control and ‘thinking before you act’ while the switching of the rules promotes flexibility.

An example of new rules or the ‘Blackwood family rules’ for Uno could be:

  1. 7 becomes draw 3.
  2. Draw 2 becomes 7.
  3. 8 becomes skip.
  4. Draw 4 becomes draw 6

There is no limit to the number of rules in each set and the number of sets can be increased to increase the overall complexity of the game. However, it is recommended to start with two sets of rules that switch every minute at the beginning, particularly when working with younger children. A stopwatch or interval timer application can be a great way of keeping track of the time as they are free and will beep at a set interval.

I hope you and your family enjoy this game and it helps them to ‘stop, think and do’.

Please leave any game ideas you and your family use to improve wellbeing and connect in the comments below.